Courtroom Anxiety: How I Survived a Subpoena

For today’s post, I decided to resurrect an old blog post originally posted on March 24, 2015… It is an oldie but a goodie…

SHOCK, is this really happening? Am I really being served with my first subpoena as a therapist to attend court in a custody battle of a former client. I mean I have only been a therapist for a few short years and that includes my practicum and internship. I was thinking, HOPING, PRAYING, that I would never be called to court and compelled to speak while there. Maybe 20 years from now if at all, but not just five years into practicing.

BUT is was very real.

I DID NOT WANT TO GO! My anxiety was through the roof.

After the initial shock wore off, I created a plan to protect myself professionally and keep my anxiety down.

STEP 1: Called and spoke with my supervisors and lawyer. Thankfully, in this situation, my husband is my lawyer, and he was able to share many pearls of wisdom to help keep me calm.

STEP 2: Call the attorney who served the subpoena and advocate for myself around protecting my former client's confidentiality. I wanted to persuade them that they really did NOT WANT ME THERE.

STEP 3: Review my notes. After advocating for myself, I knew I was going to court. I was not going to get out of this one. Naturally, I was scared to death, so I spent time reviewing my notes and understanding the sequence of events.

STEP 4: Prepare for court. I asked the attorney of my former client to send me a list of questions she might ask me in court. She sent them to me early and this also helped reduce my anxiety. I felt more prepared. 

STEP 5: GO TO COURT. After seeking much support, supervision, and wisdom from those around me, it was time to go to court. I was prepared. I had my notes (just in case). I had done all I could do. There was nothing more I could prepare. I knew on cross-examination, I would be attacked, beaten up verbally, judged even AND I was. I was brought through the fire, but not burned.

While waiting to approach the stand, my heart and adrenaline were pounding and racing so intensely that I thought everyone around me could see my body pulsate. I TOOK SOME DEEP BREATHES! Breathing helped. Twenty minutes later, it was time. I was called to the stand. When I approached, I remember thinking, "Here I go, God, help me with my words! PLEASE HELP ME!" Praying helped too! After having to explain to the judge that I wanted to protect myself professionally, the judge ordered me to speak on record and waived any confidentiality between me and my former client. I also had the client sign a waiver form. I was questioned on direct examination. I kept my answers short. I did well.

THEN, it was time for CROSS-EXAMINATION. My heart pounded faster. The judge so graciously offered me some water and I accepted. I DRANK MY WATER while on the stand which also helped reduce my anxiety.

After the first few questions on cross-examination, God spoke very clear to me DEEP in my soul. He knew how shaken up I was. He said, "They are going to attack your credibility as a therapist, be on guard. I AM WITH YOU." And the questions about my professional background and history came. Questions around my own postpartum depression and miscarriage came. Questions attacking my past decisions as a therapist came. Attacking my very core values, methods, and approaches I use with clients to connect and relate to them. My WHOLE CAREER as a therapist was questioned. The self-doubt entered. I felt drained. If I had to come to court on a regular basis like this, I did not want to be a therapist anymore.

AND FINALLY, THANKFULLY, COURT was done...a LONG one and a half hours later. My incredibly supportive husband was there for my entire testimony. I was able to share my feelings and thoughts with him immediately afterwards. While I was on the stand, I was able to look over at him when I needed support. Seeing him there and wondering what he as an attorney might be thinking was incredibly helpful in reducing my anxiety throughout the process. His support was priceless. I am so grateful to him.

In the days after court, I had to fight the lies in my head that come with feeling condemned as a therapist. I sought support from friends and family. I found closure by sharing my story here and hope that you may find some nuggets of wisdom contained within.

Until the next time…Bethie