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Mental Health in the City – Amanda Falkson – S3E16

This week on our Legally Speaking Podcast, Powered by KC Partners,  our host Robert Hanna was joined by Amanda Falkson.

Amanda is a highly experienced psychotherapist, counsellor and coach, who helps City of London professionals overcome issues such as career dilemmas, imposter syndrome and bullying. Amanda is also a mentor, helping professionals figure out if they’re in the right job.

Amanda discusses:

  • Her journey into psychotherapy and coaching.
  • The impact of COVID 19 on lawyers’ mental health.
  • How to tackle Imposter Syndrome.
  • Why Law Firms should invest in coaching and psychotherapy.
  • Career Development mentoring.

Transcript

Robert Hanna (00:00):

Welcome to the Legally Speaking Podcast! I’m your host, Rob Hanna. Today, I’m delighted to be joined by Amanda Falkson. Amanda is a highly experienced psychotherapist counsellor and coach who helps professionals in the city of London overcome a number of issues such as rare dilemmas, imposter syndrome, and bullying. Amanda also provides mentoring for career development and health professionals figure out if they’re in the right job for them. So a very big welcome, Amanda!

Amanda Falkson (00:31):

Thank you so much!

Robert Hanna (00:31):

Pleasure to have you on the show! Before we go through all the amazing work that you do, and in particular with lawyers, we must start with our customary icebreaker question, which is on the scale of one to 10, 10 being very real, from your dealings with lawyers and your time in the city how real would you rate the reality series Suits in terms of its reality?

Amanda Falkson (00:59):

I really wish that I watch Suits! No, I’m afraid that I don’t; you can ask me anything you like about The Good Wife or The Good Fight, or even Ally McBeal, and I’d talk to you for the next three hours about any of those, but I’ve never watched suits. So I’m really sorry

Robert Hanna (01:15):

Based on that, it’s a zero, and let’s move on. So let’s start at the beginning. As we like to have all of our guests. Tell us a bit about you, your family background and your upbringing.

Amanda Falkson (01:27):

Oh gosh – you’re a glutton for punishment, aren’t you? Because asking a therapist about her childhood, you know, you could be in for a very, very long session. Couldn’t you really? Well, what can I say? I had a very loving childhood in Northeast London with wonderful parents and grandparents. And if you took a cursory glance at my childhood, you would simply just carry on walking by because it looked like there’s just nothing to see here. However, I was extremely sensitive and empathic child acutely aware of mood and undercurrents and what was, and what wasn’t being said. I was born 13 years after the end of world war two into a family of British Jews, but only a couple of generations on from Lithuanian, Latvian, Russian and Polish refugees. And 13 years was a blink of an eyelid in what I can now see was a highly traumatized community.

Amanda Falkson (02:26):

A cursory glance would show you a community of happy families, but if you took the roofs off the houses and peered in, what you would see would be immigrants who fled Nazi Germany and Russian pogroms, full of trauma and survivor guilt, and several family, friends had concentration camp numbers tattooed on their arms, and stories constantly were circulating in hushed tones of someone’s husband who was screaming in his sleep in the night, or such and such person who lost everything, which was code for being the only survivor of a family who’d been murdered. (Alan Fishmonger) had been in a prisoner of war camp in Japan, and some of my school teachers were Auschwitz survivors. So the sensitive and empathic girl was also a pretty fearful and anxious one because of the atmosphere that I was being marinated in. And I mentioned all of this because I believe it’s where the journey started for me to eventually become a psychotherapist because right from the day I hatched, I was catapulted into learning experientially about trauma, anger, grief, loss, fear, anxiety, and perhaps most importantly resilience.

Amanda Falkson (03:49):

And these are the things that I work with on a daily basis in my practice room within my own family, dramas were being played out and whose family doesn’t have dramas in them. There was mental illness on my father’s side of the family. My grandfather had bipolar disorder, which was wholly unknown back in those days. My father was very young fulfilled professionally having been steered away from a career that he really wanted, into something that made him very unhappy and quite unwell. Something else that I deal with on a daily basis as well, and not in control of his own life. He became a controlling person who was critical of others, which left some things that my mother and I had to contend with. These were real kickers that left me with very low self-belief and anxiety issues to deal with, but that led me into therapy as a young woman.

Amanda Falkson (04:46):

And that therapy helped to shape me into the person that I am now. Would I rather have learned about these real life issues from books at psychotherapy school? I suspect it would have been a lot easier, but no, I wouldn’t prefer to just read about them because I can have an approach that is imbued with far greater compassion and understanding in my work than I could, if I were to just pick stuff up from books. My school days, I hated, I absolutely loathed school. I felt uncomfortable at school every single day. I was a fish out of water, and I only learned decades later that I’m quite dyspraxic, which in my case shows up in finding formal learning quite difficult and also having completely rubbish hand-eye coordination that I now know that I soak up information like a sponge when I learn experientially. That book learning for me was a pretty hopeless endeavor, I simply don’t retain two-thirds of what I’ve read. The dyspraxia also meant that I was dreadful at sports and games, and this led to me being very badly bullied. So can you hear the track that I’m on of how much I was learning through my early years of things that I then started to work within the practice room many years later, other than going to a few football matches when I was a youngster? To this day, I never watched sports. I’ve watched the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics, but I’ve never actually watched an Olympic event. As you might imagine, I didn’t do too well at school and all I ever dreamed of when I was at school was the day that I could leave. The thing that I really did enjoy was the connection that I made with my friends.

Amanda Falkson (06:36):

I’ve always been unknowingly interested in people and curious about what was going on for them. You could always find me in the corner of the playground or a classroom deep in conversation with someone grappling with some nausea. I would feel a loss of time and energy mulling over what I’ve been told, trying to unravel what was going on and seemed to make sense of something that made no sense, wanting to work my way through a problem with my friends. Unfortunately, this wasn’t recognized as anything positive. And my school reports would usually say, Oh, if only Amanda was as interested in her studies, as she is in her friends, she would be an excellent pupil. What they couldn’t see was that my interest in people was useful. I was studying, it’s a real shame that this quality, it wasn’t valued at all, but unfortunately it is what happened, and I left school thinking I wasn’t very good at anything. It wasn’t true, but I didn’t know that for a long time. So a bit of a unusual start to my career. Really.

Robert Hanna (07:42):

Thanks for sharing that. I think it’s great that you’ve been so open, honest, authentic, and as you say, a lot of those experiences have shaped what you’ve gone on to do. So just to sort of talk a little bit more about the background that you came from, because originally from what I understand that the sort of advertising and business management, what made you realize you wanted to sort of retrain as a sort of psychotherapist and coach?

Amanda Falkson (08:06):

Well, yes, it took me quite some time to become a therapist and I went down some labyrinth on roots. I started out in perfume at Chanel. Um, yeah, and the pay was absolutely dreadful. Um, so I took a Saturday job at Selfridges on the Chanel counter and found that I really, really loved selling and found it very easy. And it gave me also a lifelong fascination of fragrance. And one of the things I really miss in our current COVID situation is if I can’t spend a couple of hours in Liberty smelling new perfumes, my interest in selling a marketing took me into advertising – very, very, very fortunate to have stepped into an industry within the late seventies, early eighties. I stepped in when advertising with absolutely at its zenith – I mean it was enjoying its heyday and it was, it was very mad men, if you like, if you’ve watched that series, it was very kind of champagne and expense account lifestyle, very fun, very creative.

Amanda Falkson (09:13):

I loved a lot about it, but I knew it wasn’t for me for the long haul, because at my core, I knew I was about people rather than product. I took myself off to hotel school and got a degree in hotel and catering management, which I very, very much enjoyed and learned that I could learn things experientially, like cheffing and how buildings work and hotel school I located my entrepreneurial spirit and came out of that school and set up an outside catering and events company and Soho. And I learned on the job about pitching for and winning new business and account management and client servicing , and how to make sure I got paid and nurturing relationships with suppliers and things like that that have been so useful in working with clients who are very grounded, commercially, it’s been immensely helpful that I have that background before I took a shop’s worth towards becoming a therapist in the late eighties when the AIDS crisis hit.

Amanda Falkson (10:17):

So why that’s relevant is because my boyfriend at the time was hemophiliac and contracted HIV from dodgy plasma that the UK was buying from the USA. And needless to say, I had to go through the whole being tested scenario, and I had experiences of seeing counsellors at that time. Thankfully, I didn’t contract HIV, but sadly my ex died too young. And this left me, this experience left me with a very great desire to want to do something, to help others living with HIV. So in 1988, in a time before effective medication was available, physical wasting was common and good nutrition helps support the immune system and maintain a healthy body mass. And there I was with my hotel and catering degree. So knowing how to cook, knowing how to create menus, knowing how to get food delivered safely healthily to people understanding about diets… so I became a volunteer for a charity that cooked and delivered meals on Sundays, to people who are housebound with HIV – related conditions.

Amanda Falkson (11:35):

And about a year later, I was invited along with another volunteer colleague to take over the running of the charity. And we did, and we added a lot and changed a lot. And the upshot is today that the charity, which is called The Food Chain is still flourishing and offering a range of nutrition services to people who are living with HIV in London. And it was around this time that I took my first counselling course and started my training as a counsellor and the dovetailing in between charities. And my therapy work is that over the years I’ve been employed by charities, I’ve consulted for them. And for the past 16 years alongside my psychotherapy practice, I’ve coached and mentored charity and NGO, chief executives one-to-one and in professional support groups in the late nineties. And after many, many years of my own therapy, personal therapy, I decided to take the plunge and train for psychotherapist.

Amanda Falkson (12:41):

And I’ve been in practice in the city for the past 16 years. 60 plus percent of my clients are lawyers. And that’s partly to do with logistics or not partly it’s greatly to do with logistics because my practice is positioned between Linklaters and Slaughters, um, because I’m in the bar. So that doesn’t mean that all my clients come from Linklaters and Slaughters, but it means that there’s a lot of lawyers around where I am and logistics has turned into recommendations. And I’m very grateful. I’m very thankful that the word has gone round and I’ve become known as a therapist and a coach and mentor for lawyers, which delights me. I love working with lawyers as a professional body. Absolutely love it. And the rest of the other 40% are made up of clients from financial services and the consultancy world, some creatives from Hoxton and (clock unwell). But of course now I’m working online. So I can work beyond the city, which in the past, I never really would have been able to other than with existing clients who I might do online work with when they go abroad. So that’s my track through to becoming a therapist, which I’ve always wanted to do, but I didn’t know that really until I got here, if that makes sense.

Robert Hanna (14:13):

Yeah, no, absolutely. And as you mentioned that you do a lot of work with lawyers and COVID-19 has laid bare a lot of issues, but even the most seemingly lawyers suffer at work. So what types of issues have you seen more of recently?

Amanda Falkson (14:30):

Recently since the advent of COVID, I would say that people are really grappling with real, existential, impractical questioning about how we’re living our lives. There’s a lot more soul-searching going on right now than I’ve ever known before, how we are living on working, what we really want to be doing. What’s important, which relationships work and which don’t work, uh, relationships. I mean, in the kind of the micro and the macro, the macro being my friendship group, my colleagues, My crew, I suppose. So, I mean, intimate, close partnerships, relationships, people are really questioning themselves now in an unprecedented way. I know there’s an unprecedented use of the word unprecedented at the moment. I’m really aware of that, but really I would say this is quite remarkable, how focusing COVID is being for people as well as that there’s a marked uptick in sleep issues.

Amanda Falkson (15:38):

Absolutely. And March and April intensely increased anxiety in people. And I’m expecting that to repeat a bit now, since there’s new measures been brought in, I’m anticipating potentially increased anxiety in people. Um, once I’m looking to, I haven’t encountered it much just a little bit, but I’m looking to possibly sadly more bereavement work coming into my practice because people are going to be well, they have lost loved ones and colleagues in the first wave of COVID and it looks like regretfully, there’s going to be more. What I’m working on right now, professionally to gear up for this is on creating a one-to-one bespoke online sleep session for people which I will devise a bespoke session for people to their specific needs, because some people have difficulty falling asleep, but they’re fine once they’re there actually there, some people spend ages away in the night and some people experience nightmares or anxiety during the night and the fear surrounding COVID, um, people who are suffering with that aspect of COVID that we’re now calling long COVID have created a need.

Amanda Falkson (17:02):

I believe to bespoke work rather than, uh, a one size fits all therapeutic approach to insomnia. So I’m, beavering away preparing something on that. And I’ve also put together a briefing workshop for companies where there’s a bereavement in the workplace, because of course not, everyone’s ofeh with what to do or say when a colleague dies and managing a team that suffering with bereavement is unfortunately something that’s going to be part of the professional landscape. Now I’m already working with the HR director of the city law firm on preparing for this, and I’m directly supporting a team at a publishing house. He recently lost a much colleague. It’s work. I would really, really rather not have that. This is part of what we’re looking at now. So these are things that are very much now the zeitgeists of now, I suppose I would say, but that’s obviously not what I would usually be working with. There are some things that I work more commonly with. Obviously lawyers come in all shapes and sizes the way everybody does. So obviously, or I hope it’s obvious that lawyers would come into my practice with any of the usual life events that might take people into therapy, like the loss of somebody’s relationship issues, divorce, what I call life-cycle issues.

Amanda Falkson (18:35):

Am I in the right? You mentioned earlier on, I do a lot of work with people thinking, am I in the right career? Where am I going with my work? So I work usually quite a lot with that, but specifically with lawyers I work with, I’m going to flag up, I think, three different things that I work with commonly with lawyers – overwhelm, imposter syndrome (which might surprise you), being undermined. So I would love to see more than a nod towards mental health in law firms. And by that I mean firms doing proper risk assessments and lawyers themselves taking their mental health seriously as they would, their physical health in an ideal world. I would love it if lawyers had the same systems in place as psychotherapists, because psychotherapists and lawyers have very similar professional rigor and requirements for us as professionals, we have similar rigor in training requirements, and we have similar rigor in checks and balances to see how we’re doing via continuous professional development. But as lawyers, you don’t have the ongoing support that therapists have throughout their careers. So it’s a professional requirement that psychotherapists have a mentor or a supervisor, right the way throughout their career. Whereas that’s not the case for lawyers. And I really wish it were, I would love to help law firms set up either an internal or an external structure for ongoing professional support, right?

Amanda Falkson (20:18):

The way through lawyers, careers, because it wouldn’t be so many casualties. And what I get to see are the casualties. So going back to, I took a little detour there, going back to the three issues that I flagged up overwhelm is the first one. So this is the most common reason that lawyers turn up asking for help. They arrive when they’ve gone, way beyond the stress symptoms that they’ve been trying to ignore for. I’ll run through some of the things that people commonly tolerate and ignore – sleep problems, being quick to anger, feeling anxious, personal relationships, suffering becoming too reliant on alcohol or recreational drugs, signs of a suppressed immunity like repeated colds and inflammatory conditions, inflammatory conditions being anything with itis on the end, like arthritis, headaches, shoulder tension, (knotted) pangs in the chest, feeling like you can’t take in enough air, lower back pain, bouts of dizziness, irritable bowel.

Amanda Falkson (21:25):

These are things that people live with all the time and commonly ignore, which is really awful that they usually only ask for help when the next stage is reached. And that’s the stage of overwhelm and overwhelm is to where you’ve ignored all of these things and are now at a point where you can’t, because clearly you feel drained. You have memory lapses, the smallest tasks feel impossible to do. You can’t meet deadlines. You might be feeling depressed and having panic attacks and you really don’t feel you’re able to cope. And as you tend to measure everything by your professional ability and realized you can’t work properly, that’s when you know you need help. So you, you you’ve overlooked yourself completely. You’re now seeing yourself through your professional lens. You realize you’re not doing your job properly. So the road to recovery would be so much easier.

Amanda Falkson (22:23):

If you took notice of how your stress was affecting you and sought support. It’s an earlier stage. The stage, by the way, beyond overwhelm is burnout. And that requires a minimum of a year’s recovery. And by that I don’t mean that you go to work and visit your therapist for a year. By that, I mean you cannot function for at least a year, at least a year, and you will probably need a few years to recover fully with regular sustained therapy all the way through. And yes, needless to say, I work with stress lawyers, anxious lawyers, overwhelmed lawyers. And unfortunately I’ve also worked with several lawyers who have burnt out and it’s so, so sad that people don’t keep an eye on themselves. And the duty of care that employers have, which is fantastic in many ways, confirm times just be a nod towards on the mental health side of things.

Robert Hanna (23:28):

Do you think law firms should invest more in coaching and psychotherapy for lawyers then?

Amanda Falkson (23:32):

Yes, and I absolutely, I don’t say this as a way to capture business. I absolutely feel that there’s a incredibly important professional group out there who are really, really under-supported in the main, in their work. I think it’s chronic. I think it is a chronic problem within law that there’s not enough investment in coaching support. There’s plenty coaching support in the professional side of things. So I believe there are usually, not always, but usually people have more senior people they can go to, to talk about how they’re running cases, for example, but the senior people don’t have that. The partners don’t have that – partners don’t have more senior people that they can sit down with and say, I’m completely at my wit’s end. I’m not coping. This is too much for me. How the hell did I get here? Is it worth it? I tend to deal with in my practice, I tend to see as clients for the more senior people who don’t have anywhere to go with their trials and tribulations. And sometimes all people need to do is just sit down and say, it’s like this. And sometimes people talk to me about how they’re running their cases and how they’re managing their teams. And what do I think about X, Y, and Z clearly not the technical side of the law, obviously not, but just how they’re running their teams, how they are with interpersonal relationships in the office. And I wish there was more of a structure in place. I wish there was more pastoral care, if you like, within the firms.

Robert Hanna (25:09):

Okay, you’ve been so honest open about the current situation, because as a lot of our listeners listening will know there are so many benefits and it’s a wonderful career being a lawyer. But the takeaway here is we do have to take self-accountability and look after yourself and reach out to people because there are resources out there and you’re doing a such amazing, wonderful thing. And it’s been so enlightening having you on, and you’re talking about your own personal journey and what you’re trying to do and how you’re helping lawyers in thost unfortunate situations that you’ve mentioned. But just as we sort of look to wrap up, as well as coaching, you also provide mentoring for career development. CGS wants to tell us a little bit about that and what that involves. So I’m sure a lot of people have been inspired having listened to you today.

Amanda Falkson (25:55):

Oh, thank you so much. I’m really enjoying talking with you. Yes, the mentoring side of work. So that has been historically a lot to do with walking alongside somebody throughout their career. So this is not a brief coaching or a short trip into therapy way of working. This is me accompanying somebody for several years on their journey throughout their career so that they always have somebody say on a monthly or six-weekly basis to check in with, for an hour or 90 minutes. Talk about how they’re doing, talk about their professional work, talk about how they are with what they’re doing. Debrief, decompress, give vent, be authentic with no fear of being judged, if you like a journey woman with them. And historically, I’ve done that with charity chief executives, people who are in London, or although this might not be so much at the moment, but people who come to London to work from overseas, So lots of Americans and Europeans would like a mentor when they arrive. Sometimes they stay for a number of years. So it’s an ongoing developing relationship of trust. That is part therapeutic, but not wholly therapeutic. It’s the blend. If you like of both coaching and therapy – it’s work I enjoyed very, very much.

Robert Hanna (27:26):

Good stuff. Well, Amanda, I must say, I loved listening to you today and everything that you stand for and everything that you’re trying to do to help people that really do need it. So thank you so much once again, for sharing those very authentic, open insights. And if people want to follow or get in touch with you about anything we’ve discussed today, or even book a session, what’s the best way platform for them to do that? Feel free to shout out any website links on a relevant social media. We’ll also share this episode with our wider networks as well.

Amanda Falkson (27:59):

Ah, thank you so much! Okay, so the best way to get hold of me is through my website, which is www.psychotherapycity.co.uk and my email address is amanda@psychotherapycity.co.uk, and you can reach me on LinkedIn as Amanda Falkson (F-A-L-K-S-O-N). And you can follow me on Twitter – my Twitter handle is Therapist At Large.

Robert Hanna (28:30):

Well, they you have it, folks. Thanks so much once again, Amanda – really, really appreciate it. It’s been an absolute pleasure and listening to your journey has been truly inspiring. So wishing you lots of continued success with everything that you’re doing, but for now, from all of us over and out.

Amanda Falkson (28:45):

Thank you!

Robert Hanna (28:46):

For bonus content insights and tips from us, our guests, you can now sign up to our brand-new Legally Speaking mailing lists. So sign up via our legally speaking website, which is just www.legallyspeakingpodcast.com. We’ll also link it in the description along with this amazing episode!

 

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