Feelings emerging after move to law school

Issue July 2013

Q: Maybe the essence of my problem is homesickness. When I first moved to Boston for law school, I was very motivated and performed really well academically. I had wanted to try living in a city, after spending my life in a rural area in the southwest, continuing to live at home during my undergraduate years. But over the course of the past semester, things have changed. My ability to focus in class has deteriorated, and between classes I often need to read the same pages repeatedly in order to retain information. Sometimes I unexpectedly find myself in tears. I have largely lost interest in going out with my roommates as I used to, and even when I do, I don't enjoy myself. These changes became more noticeable after spring break when I visited my family. I guess that visit didn't go so well; among other things, I was less able than in years past to ignore my mother's drinking and negative comments. I feel kind of lost, and I'm not sure what to do about it.

A: It sounds like what "homesickness" might mean in your case is that you are belatedly feeling the impact of years of family dysfunction, now that you are removed from that environment. It may be that, growing up in an apparently alcoholic family system, you developed coping mechanisms including numbing yourself emotionally and focusing on excelling in school (where you probably didn't talk about what life was like for you at home). The coping styles that people adopt to best survive childhood and adolescence, however, can be too limiting in adult life, and delayed emotional reactions often emerge once a person is stably removed from the family environment.

While it's true that these delayed reactions (if indeed that is the case) may be somewhat disruptive to your functioning as a law student, you can also think of this as an opportunity to identify and work through important issues that have been necessarily shelved until now. You are not going to lose the various coping strategies that you have developed, but can now allow yourself to develop a broader and more flexible repertoire of ways to deal with feelings and relationships. At the moment, it sounds as if you may be, quite understandably, experiencing some level of depression.

If you come to LCL for a confidential/free clinical interview, we can first of all make a better assessment of what is going on, and then refer you to helpful resources, which might include a professional therapist (and possible course of antidepressants to help reduce symptoms like impaired concentration) as well as a peer support group. You no longer need to keep yourself as cut off from feelings and from more expressive relationships with others.

Questions quoted are either actual letters/e-mails or paraphrased and disguised concerns expressed by individuals seeking assistance from Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. Questions for LCL may be mailed to LCL, 31 Milk St., Suite 810, Boston, MA 02109 or called in to (617) 482- 9600. LCL's licensed clinicians will respond in confidence. Visit LCL online at