As I mentioned in the last post, today we are going to focus on an interdisciplinary model. While I wanted this post to highlight that model, I thought that it would be more prudent to go up the abstraction ladder and talk about the lack of communication between the various professionals in the system.
I am a lawyer. Thus, the profession I understand best is lawyers. My father, however, is a psychologist, and discussions about custody evaluations permeated dinner conversations of my childhood. Lawyers, judges, mediators and psychologists are the professionals we most often think about in a family law case. If we add in the dependency system (and I think we should), all of a sudden the number of professionals involved increases exponentially to include social workers, therapists / counselors, those who work with addictions, childhood behavioral specialists, etc.
In the United States specifically, but also around the world, professionals are specialists. We are trained to do what we do, and we are not expected to understand what other professionals do. I cannot recall how many times I have heard the phrase, “we are lawyers, not social workers” uttered by lawyers not wanting to get too involved with the family, and instead to keep the fictional distance between themselves and their clients. In other words, we like to keep our professional boundaries, both between us and our clients, but also between us and other professions.
It is always a breath of fresh air to me to talk to someone who has a dual degree, or who was in one profession for many years, and then decided to go back to school and learn about another profession. The wealth of information and experience that they bring to discussions, and their ability to see outside the professional box created in our training is eye-opening.
Sadly, they are not the norm, and we are stuck specializing in a system that defies any specialty. Family law is just that; it is legal, a set of standards created by the State and imposed on people who are unable to make their own decisions, either about their marriages or how to raise their children safely. But families are not legal. Families are emotional. They are the center of what makes us human. And this is why so many different people get involved in a family law system. It is why we cannot force specialization on families.
But we are left with a dilemma. Lawyers are trained to be lawyers, and psychologists are trained to be psychologists. Lawyers cannot understand why a psychologist “refuses to answer the questions asked,” and psychologists cannot understand why lawyers only see the world in black and white. As my law school clinic supervisor reminded us, everyone in the system has an agenda.
But if we are going to create a system that works for children and families, we must begin by understanding the different people that are involved in the system. We must accept that generally, people involved are doing their best by the families. We must begin by asking questions and trying to understand the goals of other professions and professionals. I currently know of only one truly interdisciplinary organization – the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. It is at AFCC conferences where I have the opportunity to ask these questions, where I can learn what drives others in the system. But outside of AFCC, I work with lawyers. I talk to lawyers. I am a lawyer.
So, our first step is to reach across the aisle and begin to understand, to make our agenda not only that which we were taught in our specialties, but creating a different system. From there, we can begin to work together to change the system to one that works for families and children. No profession has all the answers, but as we learn to understand each other, we may be able to find the answers together.
Please use the comments to share one thing you wish other professions understood about yours or one thing you simply do not understand about others. Try to be kind. Let us begin the discussion and move forward together.
© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved