Do We Really Want to Know?: Recognizing the Importance of Student Psychological Well-Being in Australian Law Schools
QUT Law and Justice Journal, Forthcoming
13 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2009 Last revised: 17 Nov 2009
Date Written: November 4, 2009
Recent research in Australia has suggested that law students are four times more likely than students in other degrees to suffer from anxiety and depression. The Brain and Mind Research Institute’s (BMRI) 2008 survey of lawyers and law students found that over 35% of the law students studied suffered from high to very high levels of psychological distress, and that almost 40% reported distress severe enough to warrant clinical or medical intervention. This contrasted with just over 17% of medical students and 13% of the general population. Similarly, a significant portion of the lawyers surveyed were found to suffer from elevated levels of anxiety and depression, with 31% falling in the high to very high levels of psychological distress.
With research on student well-being now becoming available in Australia, this article takes up the point of how Australian law schools will respond to these findings. It suggests that even before we start to consider the question of what we should do about the problem of student well-being, we must recognize that there are common psychological processes which can undermine our response to these issues. In particular, research in cognitive dissonance and rationalization suggest that even as we become aware of negative information on law student distress, we can unconsciously ignore it or rationalize it away on the basis that it is not relevant to us. Furthermore, these same cognitive processes can affect our students, such that they can fail to appreciate the significant implications of this research for them.
Keywords: Legal Education, Psychology, Cognitive Dissonance, Rationalization, Well-being
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