Episode 40: From commercial lawyer to psychologist – with Pavitt Thatcher

Pavitt Thatcher explains how starting a family and overcoming body-focused repetitive behaviour led her from a legal career in commercial litigation and arbitration practice to studying psychology and an ambition to help people in mental health matters.

Today’s guest

Pavitt Thatcher of The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

Website: The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

As a teenager Pavitt decided she wanted to become a lawyer to be a voice for people who were unable to speak to themselves.  Having built up a successful arbitration and commercial litigation practice, Pavitt found when she started a family that her priorities had changed and she didn’t want to be in a position where she didn’t see her children and so eventually gave up her practice to become a full time mother.

It was whilst facing her own issues with trichotillomania, a body-focused repetitive behaviour that involves hair-pulling, that Pavitt realised that there were limited resources available in the UK to support her and so she decided to “become the help”.

Having been instrumental in building up a network of support groups for sufferers of body-focused repetitive behaviour in the UK, Pavitt decided to study for a masters in psychology in order to help and treat people with mental health issues.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • How money and ego influence early career choices
  • The impact starting a family has on your priorities
  • The importance of facing and dealing with mental health issues like anxiety
  • How dealing with adversity can lead to opportunity
  • Recognising that no longer caring about the work you are doing and who you work for is a good indicator that it’s time to move on
  • Why it’s never too late to study something new

Resources mentioned in this episode

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To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.

Episode 40: From commercial lawyer to psychologist - with Pavitt Thatcher

Jeremy Cline 0:00
I'm Jeremy Cline and this is Change Work Life.

Jeremy Cline 0:17
Hello and welcome to the Change Work Life podcast, the show that's all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. My guest this week is Pavitt Thatcher. Pavitt started out as a lawyer, but as you'll hear a combination of starting a family and dealing with her own mental health issues led her down a completely different career path. Here's the interview with Pavitt. Hi, Pavitt. Welcome to the podcast.

Pavitt Thatcher 0:39
Hi, Jeremy. How are you?

Jeremy Cline 0:41
Very well thank you. Pavitt, can you start by introducing yourself and telling everyone what it is that you're doing at the moment?

Pavitt Thatcher 0:46
Yeah, sure. My name is Pavitt. I'm 40 years old and I'm currently a student at the University of Hertfordshire studying a Masters in Psychology.

Jeremy Cline 0:55
Now when we were first introduced, you mentioned that this is something of a career change for you. So what were you doing before you started studying?

Pavitt Thatcher 1:04
My undergraduate was in Law and French. And I then went on to do the legal practice course. And I worked in law for well over 10 years.

Jeremy Cline 1:15
And what started you down the career of becoming a lawyer?

Pavitt Thatcher 1:18
I always knew well, from around the teenage years, that I wanted to become a lawyer. I was really interested in the law, I was interested in helping others that weren't able to speak for themselves. And I wanted to almost give those people that weren't able to have a voice for themselves. I wanted to be that person to represent them. And I was interested in helping others and excited about it - excited about learning about the law.

Jeremy Cline 1:50
Where did that interest as a teenager come from? I mean, I'm going to say not many teenagers think that they're going to be a lawyer - although that did actually happen in my case - but what made you decide in your teenage years that that was something you wanted to do?

Pavitt Thatcher 2:01
Well, it wasn't watching LA Law, which is what most people, you know how they depict the TV shows about how interesting the law is - like Ally McBeal and stuff. It wasn't due to those shows. Although I did like them. It was more...

Jeremy Cline 2:15
I think it was Kavanagh QC for me!

Pavitt Thatcher 2:17
Yeah! Oh, nice. I like that one! It was more deep rooted within me I think. My parents are GPs, they studied in India, and they came over here and were posted in rural Wales practice medicine. And because we had a lot of adversity, we kind of had a difficult upbringing, we had a difficult time, they had a difficult time adjusting. And saw a lot of things from a young age that really sort of, and when I looked around me, I was like, well, I want to do something about this and how am I going to use the law in order to help others and give other people a chance that didn't necessarily have that chance.

Jeremy Cline 3:02
When you did your law degree, did you enjoy the actual study of law or was it a means to an end?

Pavitt Thatcher 3:08
No, I absolutely loved it. I remember being at university and I loved certain modules for some really weird reason - I always loved criminology. I surprised myself that I actually loved EU law and like company law and like all the really boring stuff, in my opinion, boring! But I loved studying law, I loved the lifestyle and the people and being a student and everything.

Jeremy Cline 3:37
And when it came to applying for training contracts and for jobs, did you particularly target firms which you thought were going to be able to help you with being a voice for other people, for disadvantaged people?

Pavitt Thatcher 3:50
Well, I didn't really target certain firms, no. I was 22 when I graduated, I just applied to a lot of different firms. And I had a lot of rejections and a lot of interviews, and I did a lot of work experience actually before I started working properly, and I just kind of hoped that I would land on my feet somewhere, which I did, but it was in the area of arbitration and litigation. So it wasn't quite the area that I planned, mainly because I didn't really have a plan, but that's what I kind of was led towards and that's what my experience was in and quite honestly Legal Aid and that side of the law, which I'd had some experience in, it wasn't paying as well as working for a city firm working in this area. So that's what drew me to it initially - it was so much more well paid, which was I guess for me at that time, that was the kind of thing - I was 22 and just graduated and it was a bit of an ego boost if I'm honest that you know I could kind of have this lifestyle and earn this money and I enjoyed it at the time, but things change as you grow up.

Jeremy Cline 5:06
So how did you come to do commercial litigation and arbitration? Was it just you did it as part of your training contracts and enjoyed it and decided to qualify there? Or were you sort of pushed into it by the firm you're working for? Or was it the place where there were jobs at the time?

Pavitt Thatcher 5:20
It was basically where there were jobs at the time, and I wanted to work for this particular law firm. And I applied and I went for it. And somehow I don't know how but I managed to get the job. And I was like, I'm going to take this because it's a really good law firm. It wasn't so much me saying, I love this area of law and you know, I'm really excited about working in this area. It was more that the pay's good. The law firm's good, it's in a fairly good area of London that I can get to, commute to - why not? And I don't mind the subject. So at that time in my life, I was driven by something. But I wasn't that driven where I would actually... well, I made choices at the time that were important to me at the time, and those things were things like money and working for a reputable law firm.

Jeremy Cline 6:17
So when you qualified, did you anticipate that that was going to be your career? That was it, you were set? You were going to stay in that for pretty much the rest of your working life?

Pavitt Thatcher 6:27
I mean, I did. Yes. I mean, as you know, being a lawyer yourself, you know, you train for a number of years so I had a four year undergraduate because I had a year in France and then the LPC and then I was working a lot - I was temping a lot before I started working permanently. And I'd put a lot of time and effort into studying law, which I loved. And yeah, I mean, I didn't really think too far ahead as well. I mean, I thought this is what I've done, this is what people do when they're at school. They apply through the UCAS system and then they go to university, they choose the topic, blah, blah, blah, then they graduate. And then the next thing is to now work in that field. And I didn't really think further than that, really. So you mentioned that you were in that job for was about 10 years.

Pavitt Thatcher 7:14
Yeah, it's probably more but you know, I don't like to think about how old I am Jeremy!

Jeremy Cline 7:20
When did things start to change? When did you start to realise that perhaps you weren't destined to stay in law all of your life?

Pavitt Thatcher 7:27
It was after I had children. So basically, I got married, moved out of London. Actually sorry, before we moved out of London, I had a child - a girl called Jasmine. So I had Jasmine and even though I had a great maternity package, I went back to work when she was around 13 months, probably a bit less and I was dropping her at nursery around half even and and picking her up at six if I was lucky, and I didn't really spend time with her, apart from the weekend, so it felt like I had a weekend baby. So I had to reassess things. And suddenly those priorities that I had when I was 22 ish and started all of a sudden to move in a different direction.

Jeremy Cline 8:15
So it was after you went back from maternity leave with your first child that you were starting to think - what were you thinking at that point in terms of where you were in your career and that sort of thing?

Pavitt Thatcher 8:26
I was thinking, is this worth it? The trade off of not being a stay at home mum versus going to work. How much benefit was I getting out of work, making that sacrifice? What does it mean to me personally, and I think really, things only really kind of like dawned on me or when I started sort of making changes was after my second child and the thought of going back to work after my second child, it was daunting, it was daunting to say the least, going back to working such long hours, and the fact that things that attracted me when I was younger, no longer were attractive. So I didn't want to go out for drinks after work, two, three nights a week - that didn't interest me. I wasn't interested in having stuff if that makes sense. It wasn't about the money anymore. How much do I really like my job? My employer was a great employer, they're excellent. You know, I don't have a bad word say about them. But for me personally, my circumstances had changed. My priorities have shifted and have to reassess after my second child what was important to me and at the same time, I was going through a really difficult period in my life, probably one of the worst. I mean, I've had a few but you know - everything just came to a head at that point. I felt overwhelmed.

Jeremy Cline 9:50
Did you after your second child carry on with the work, because at that stage you mentioned that you'd moved out of London. Were you still working after you're second maternity leave and commuting back into London?

Pavitt Thatcher 10:03
I didn't go back after my second child, although I did do a little bit of work from home. It was not very much, but I decided that I was not going to go back. And so that was that. In some ways it was a big decision, but in other ways, it was just quite an easy one. If I looked at the situation, I was either going to put the two children in nursery and go back to work and not really see them very much, work the long hours and paying for nursery is like a mortgage in itself. So worked it out financially what I was getting back per month, or actually what I was making was not enough for me to say this is worth it and that price, that sort of remuneration would have had to be high enough for me to make it worth it. Am I making any sense?

Jeremy Cline 10:53
Yeah, certainly from a financial point of view that makes perfect sense. I'm just wondering, from a what you actually wanted to do at the time sort of sense. So at the time, you were very much in a place where even if you had been remunerated better that you wouldn't necessarily have wanted to carry on putting your kids in nursery and going to work. Is that right?

Pavitt Thatcher 11:15
Yeah, I think that is that about right, yeah. I think it would have had to be a lot. And even then, you know, it would have taken me a lot to go back to work really, because my children were really important to me. Just personally, I wanted to stay at home with them, and I wanted to be with them when they were young. That's just my preference, and everyone's different, but that's what I wanted for me and my children. At the same time, like I said, I was going through a lot stuff and I suffered with my mental health, I got help for that, and things started to change and open up into a whole arena that I never thought I would be in and now that has opened up so much so that it's become my whole career and my whole life is around that - working for and volunteering for a charity and getting qualified as a psychologist.

Jeremy Cline 12:07
This all started when you're basically a stay at home mum, is that right?

Pavitt Thatcher 12:11
When you say 'all,' do you mean the changes, thinking? Everything?

Jeremy Cline 12:16
Yeah, that's a very good question. Well, maybe let's carry on with the story. So you take a decision that you're going to be a stay at home mum. And I mean, maybe you can talk me through the journey, how you went from quitting work, looking after your kids full time to deciding that you were going to study psychology? How'd you get from A to B?

Pavitt Thatcher 12:36
Okay, that's a very good question. And I can see why you'd ask that. Basically, it's my own personal journey. So from about teenage years, I have a condition called trichotillomania, which is a body focus repetitive behaviour. It's a compulsion to pull your hair out. And I don't know if you've heard about it, but they're called BFRBs. So it's a general term that refers to repetitive self-grooming behaviour like picking or pulling or biting of the hair or the skin or the nails, but it does damage to the body. So you do it so severely that it's actually a condition. It's listed in the DSM five, which is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. And I have had that since I was probably about 11. So whereby I was studying law and trying to be as satisfied as I could be, and progressing my career, I always had this underlying anxiety and I always had this problem, and I never really was open about it. I didn't really talk to anyone. I was very much in isolation with it. And I think what happened was after I had my second child, I kind of had to face these difficult things in my life where, you know, I couldn't hide anymore. I didn't want to hide anymore. I had like bald patches on my head. I was very anxious. And actually, a lot of people haven't heard of these conditions, but the prevalence rates are something like 2 in 50. So I started to become more involved, I started to get help, I found this charity, which has scientific advisory boards, so clinicians and psychiatrists and really our global leaders of the world, unfortunately, based in America, and we don't have one in the UK. So this is where the whole change comes from. It came from within me because of my own personal growth but it also stemmed from having children and reassessing what was important to me and what I was going to give to them and what sort of role model I would be to my two girls. So I couldn't just sort of go to work every day and still live with anxiety, never deal with it, never speak out about it and constantly be in isolation about it and just work and be successful in that arena and then raise children - things weren't congruent to how I was feeling and my lifestyle. So yes, it was more of a personal growth for me of how I got into mental health and the fact that I have young children that made me see these changes that I think were inevitable if I think about it, I think that this inevitable for me.

Jeremy Cline 15:22
So I can see how that would definitely spur you on to dealing with it rather than just avoiding this. How do you then go from that to deciding that you want to study it and presumably help others in a similar situation?

Pavitt Thatcher 15:39
Basically, after my second child, I had tried to get a lot of help. I mean, I have a lot of medical people in the family so you know, psychiatrists and clinicians and therapists and things in our family personally, but also I went to try and get help in the area. So through the NHS, I also had courses of CBT, I had some treatment with the Maudsley hospital and Bethlem Royal Hospital, and in Hitchin as well. I had a lot of treatment. And fortunately for me and for these types of disorders - these body focused, repetitive behaviours - there may be resources, but there are not enough niche resources, there are not enough therapists, there are not enough people in the UK that can treat people with these disorders. They're quite specific, even though they're like I said, 2 in 50 people suffer with this. A lot of people have a lot of shame, so less people come forward and you have less treatment and less access to specific types of treatment that works. So when as opposed to like CBT that's just a general type of therapy, the charity that I was involved with in America have a comprehensive behavioural model that is a niche of CBT that you can treat with people with these conditions. Unfortunely it's not available in the UK, and no one's trained on it in the UK. So you know what, it was a simple decision. I felt like I was not getting the help that I needed. And I just thought to myself, if I'm not going to get the help, then I'm just going to become the help. I mean, I also probably should be a bit more clear. So I went to America attended conferences, I learned from people that were putting their research out there, from a lot of doctors about their treatment plans and people that were there, clinicians were there to learn, people were there to attend - there were lots of parents and teens. So it's like a big mental health conference. And I go there every year. So what I've tried to do with a few other people in different universities - two of them are in Scottish universities - we've tried to implement something in the UK, so we've started up support groups. We've started up just reaching out to a whole community which is thriving, really. We've been doing that for about four or five years. And it was time for me to get a qualification in order to back up what I was saying in order to get some credibility in order to take on this arena that nobody else around me I could see was doing.

Jeremy Cline 18:16
So when did this change from being something that you needed to do to help you to being something that you wanted to do to help others?

Pavitt Thatcher 18:25
Well, from starting up the support groups, my friend and I, she works at the University of Edinburgh. And she had a similar sort of journey to me, and I have another friend who works in the University of Glasgow, so they're both researchers. And we all met at the conferences in America. And we were like, right, we need to do something in this country, because nobody is doing anything to access and to reach out to these people who are picking and pulling and severely distressed and they don't know how to stop and they're very debilitating. I don't know how much you know about body focused repetitive behaviours, but it's very difficult to live with on a daily basis. So through the support groups that we had, there was people just coming out, people attending, people coming forward. It was the first support group in the UK. First one was in Edinburgh, and then we started one up in London. And in the Midlands, we have one, I think there's one in Ireland now. So these people that have been hiding, you know, whether they're picking or pulling their eyelashes, or their eyebrows or the scalp from the hair, or if they're like picking or pulling their skin, it's severe. They need help, they need treatment, and they need to be taken seriously. And seeing them change, aeeing people that came to the support groups, seeing them change, turnaround over two, three years was just incredible. It was a gift that I could give to them, to not be alone.

Jeremy Cline 19:58
So talk me through more about how you then decided to do a qualification, actually do your MA in psychology - what was missing from what you'd already achieved with the support groups that you needed to fill with this?

Pavitt Thatcher 20:13
I looked into psychology just because I was interested in it, and I kind of knew this was going to be my career now, this was going to be my career path. And I was passionate about it. And because I had undergraduate, I just could do a conversion course. So this is MSC psychology conversion. So I can do it part time. It was something that was flexible around my family life. And I feel like I wanted to become qualified in order to treat people and help people with various things. You know, whether it's depression, anxiety, not just these disorders, but with variety of different mental health issues. And I really do feel strongly so if I do something, I do it properly, and sometimes it's the long way round, but I thought about it in the long term that it would be better for me to be become someone qualified to do this, rather than just somebody that's offering some advice that is not really qualified to do so. And also the whole area of psychology, I think, personally for me, because I've been so cut off, if you will, that it's opened up a whole sort of wide world of things that I feel passionate about and interested in. So yeah, I hope that answers your question.

Jeremy Cline 21:31
What sort of things has it opened up?

Pavitt Thatcher 21:34
Gosh, so much stuff. I mean, if I compare my life to when I was a lawyer to now I mean, it's so different. I'm not in an office every day. I can pick and choose the times that I'm working. So I'm still at university, but I also volunteer, I still run for the support groups, and I have the children - so I can manage my own time, which is great. And just like the daily stuff is just so much more meaningful to me, like I am not being funny Jeremy, but when I was going to court and arguing I just didn't care. I know that sounds bad. I just was not bothered about whether someone lost a million pounds in their hedge fund company or whatever. I'm just like I'm over this, this is not what I'm passionate about. This is not what I care about. This is not why I'm on the planet. You know, this is not what I'm meant to do. This now, today, is what I'm meant to do. I have real conversations with people. I can open myself up to being vulnerable so that they can be vulnerable back to me, and my children - I've got two young girls that are very influential and the way the world is going at the moment with mental health and Instagram and social media and all this stuff, mental health is being brought in so much more in schools, you know, things like mindfulness and people being able to share how they feel rather than say, Oh, it's okay, I'll just battle on or whatever. My whole day is around real people and real things and how people feel and how I can help them as opposed to sitting in an office, working all hours, doing something, I don't care about that much.

Jeremy Cline 23:19
Once you have the qualification, what will change? What will that enable you to do? And wwhat's your goal in terms of what you'll be doing?

Pavitt Thatcher 23:27
After I've done my MSC, at the moment I'm applying for assistance psychology places within the NHS, and then I hope to do a doctorate in counselling psychology.

Jeremy Cline 23:38
And then what will it lead to in terms of your day to day?

Pavitt Thatcher 23:41
Well, hopefully I'll be doing a bit of NHS and private practice. I think just purely private practice because it's needed in that treating people with body focused repetitive behaviours are not always going to be going through the NHS. And because I've started in that area, that sort of private area working with a US charity, for me, I can see a mixture of both of having like private practice but also the NHS getting the experience and working and training there.

Jeremy Cline 24:12
And will your intention be to specialise in body focused repetitive behaviour?

Pavitt Thatcher 24:17
Well, I hope so. But then you know, it's a whole arena of things that go with that as well. It's not often just one thing. It's these things are like coupled with lots of things like anxiety and depression, BDD, Body Dysmorphic Disorder is very similar, OCD, those types of things are similar. So yeah, I mean, I've got a long way to go. So that's the plan anyway.

Jeremy Cline 24:45
In terms of the lifestyle that you've got now, being able to look after your kids, do the volunteering where you want it. Do you think you'd be able to continue that once you qualify and start working for the NHS privately?

Pavitt Thatcher 24:57
No! [Laughs] In an answer. Basically I've got some time now, financially I'm okay because I saved a chunk of money when I left my last law firm. Fortunately in some weird way I was saving a lot of money and I don't know why now but now I kind of look back and think well you were planning to exit from it, you just didn't realise it but I saved a chunk of money and I used that to pay for my course that I'm doing now. So I don't have an income but I don't really have any outgoings because I'm basically skint because I'm just studying. I'm just a bum student, Jeremy.

Jeremy Cline 25:39
But you wouldn't be a bum student for all that much longer, presumably.

Pavitt Thatcher 25:43
No, I'll be too busy to probably look back and think, Oh, those were the days! I'm really looking forward to what's ahead of me and I'm incredibly proud of the things I've achieved and I hopefully will go on to do great things.

Jeremy Cline 25:59
It certainly sounds like you've got the motivation for it!

Pavitt Thatcher 26:03
A bit too much!

Jeremy Cline 26:06
In terms of what's helped you in your journey, I mean, there's obviously the discovering what was available in the US and starting the groups over here - have there been any other particular things which have helped you, maybe books, inspirational quotes, or anything like that.

Pavitt Thatcher 26:22
Yeah, both my parents have actually been an inspiration. So my mum, she studied when we were kids, she did a course in diabetes and dermatology while she was a GP and my dad, funnily enough, when I went to uni to do law, he did an undergraduate in law. So he's also he's a barrister, and he was 55 when he went back to uni. That was an inspiration that it's never too late to do the things you want to do. And also I have a quote, which is 'the meaning of life is to find your gift, and the purpose of life is to give it away.'

Jeremy Cline 27:07
Do you know who that quote's from?

Pavitt Thatcher 27:09
I believe it's Pablo Picasso.

Jeremy Cline 27:12
Brilliant. Well, thank you very much Pavitt for sharing your story. It's been absolutely fascinating and best of luck with it.

Pavitt Thatcher 27:18
Thank you very much. Thanks for having me on your show.

Jeremy Cline 27:22
A couple of points really stuck out for me in this interview. One was how easily seduced particularly at a young age we can be by ego and money. I don't have any statistics to hand but I'd be really interested to find out how many people start careers in high-powered well-paid jobs like law and accountancy, particularly with large city practices and who then stay in those careers past the age of 40 or 50. I think it'd be a really interesting statistic to find out just how many people do stay in those jobs and to use that information to help work out whether young people are being given all the right information and what more information they can be given to help them make their career choices. The second point to draw out is another recurring theme. And that's how Pavitt was trying to find a resource to help her in the UK to deal with her body focused repetitive behaviour, and when she realised that there were really very limited resources, she decided, as she put it, to become the help, and it's doing that that's led her to decide to study and practice psychology. You'll find show notes on the website at changeworklife.com/40 and whilst you're there, check out the tab on the website, you'll find it at the top, marked 'Find career happiness'. I've got a couple of exercises which might be of interest to you, if you're in a place where you know that you really need a change of career but you just don't know where to start, you don't know what you might change to. You'll find on that bit of the website there's a couple of exercises which might help you start to think about these things and start to clarify what you would enjoy doing and where you're looking for your career to take you. So do you have a look. You'll have another great interview coming to you next week, so make sure if you haven't already that you hit subscribe and I can't wait to see you in the next episode. Cheers. Bye.

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