What is NJLAP's Women's Attorney Peer Counseling Group?

"It's a safe place to share the special concerns and issues that female attorneys experience in this predominately male profession. At the same time it is a place to share the issues and concerns that recovering addicts face. I have learned a lot about being a lawyer from the more experienced lawyers in the group, but always with an emphasis on healthy and balanced life."  — Maryjean E., a member of the Women's APC group.

 "Every month there is a topic and a discussion that has helped me both to remain sober and to deal better with the stress of being a lawyer." — a WAPC member

 

by Denise Golonka, Clinical Manager
New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program

 

In June of 1994, one year after the NJLAP program was founded, the Women's Attorney Peer Counselor Group was created as a specialized program of female attorneys reaching out and helping other women attorneys experiencing difficulties with substance use and gambling issues. It evolved into a regular, monthly support group for female attorneys, judges, law students and law graduates in recovery. The members act as peer support for one another and for those in need of a contact with the program.

 

Meetings are held on the second Saturday of every month, from 9:30am to 12:00pm, at the New Jersey Law Center, which also houses the NJLAP offices. Attendance is "by invitation only." This policy ensures that the meeting's integrity is maintained for its current members. Those newly entering the group have been screened for appropriateness by one of NJLAP's counselors. Meeting with an NJLAP counselor provides each new client with an evaluation and specially designed Helping Plan with the broadest range of appropriate resources. NJLAP's goal and approach is holistic and offers each individual resources that address the whole person, not just one aspect.

 

The Women's APC meetings include a breakfast for the members and a one hour educational session. The educational sessions are delivered by female mental health/substance use professionals and cover a wide range of topics. A Senior Attorney Counselor also delivers educational presentations and facilitates group discussions on topics of interest. These range from Women's issues of health and wellness, to grief, co-dependency, anonymity in the workplace, relapse triggers, and family of origin issues, to name only a few.

 

The second hour of the meeting is devoted to closed sharing and is based on a 12 step meeting format. Members are encouraged to express concerns about their own recovery or to discuss their feelings and ideas regarding the educational presentations in a safe and supportive environment. NJLAP and the Women's APC group employ a 12 step format. However, this orientation is not exclusive nor does it constitute a disqualifying factor for admission to the group. Once meeting with a counselor and being referred to the group, any female attorney is welcome, regardless of their recovery orientation.

 

The value of any group, and especially the Women's APC group, is the realization that one is not alone in her recovery and struggles. Many members indicate that being a female attorney is a challenge in itself, and that being a female attorney in recovery is even more challenging.

Women may face unique issues when it comes to substance use, in part influenced by:

  • sex — differences based on biology
  • gender — differences based on culturally defined roles for men and women

Scientists who study substance use have discovered special issues related to hormones, menstrual cycle, fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause that can impact women’s struggles with drug use. In addition, women themselves describe unique reasons for using drugs, including controlling weight, fighting exhaustion, coping with pain, and self-treating mental health problems.


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