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Why Psychology Was A Good Background For What I Do Today
Richard Gray Published in Old Dominion University’s Newsletter as Featured Alumni
Richard A. Gray, Esq., ODU, class of 1973
I am a graduate of Old Dominion University, class of 1973, the same year that the Vietnam War ended and within a decade of the assassination of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. These monumental events had a profound influence on why I went to college and what I hoped my education at ODU would allow me to accomplish once I left the University and started to make my way in the world. The Vietnam War was something that brought to the forefront of my consciousness the injustice of an undeclared war against a population of a far-off land for what I saw as specious reasons including the prevention of the “domino effect” (the theory advanced by our government was that if Vietnam fell to the Communists, Thailand, Laos and the entire Asian continent was sure to follow). The assassinations of our greatest leaders of a generation made me cynical that anyone with a great vision and the determination and bravery could succeed and carry through on that vision.
When it came time to go to college I did not know how these events that were shaping my generation would play out on the college campus or frankly, what I wanted to study. We were all caught up in the maelstrom of unfolding and undecipherable world events. The Baby Boomers – off to college and to change the world, or so we all thought. I was idealistic, and I went in thinking I’d study politics and political sciences and perhaps sociology, but I soon found that a fundamental basis for understanding human thought, actions, interactions, and even war, was based on how we interact with each other – the psychology of mankind if you will. I therefore decided that if I studied human behavior from its most basic instincts (Pavlovian responses) to its need to procreate (natural selection) to the human species seemingly inability to love each other as a people, race, ethnicity, creed or culture; then I might be able to do some-thing with this knowledge to benefit mankind in some small way. After all, when we leave this world, I think we want to have left some measure of ourselves behind that says not only “I was here” but “I made a difference.”
So, still idealistic, at the age of 33 I entered law school. When I graduated in 1987 I knew I was meant to be a public service attorney and, so I worked as a public defender for the next dozen years. When I opened my own law practice, family law became a cornerstone along with criminal defense, representing the downtrodden and those least able to defend themselves. My family law clients often were in distress and needed a strong advocate to represent their interests as to custody of their children, equitable division of their assets and future well-being. The overriding question I was always asked by both criminal and family law clients was “Am going to be all right when this is over?” The realization that I had people’s lives, those of their families and children in my hands was a great motivator. However, the need to understand what motivated people to commit crimes, to end their marriages, to commit acts of family abuse and a myriad of other Shakespearian dramas that routinely occurred in my law practice kept bringing me full-circle back to psychology: Why do we do the things we do and what is the best path forward to resolving disputes? I do not think you can adequately tackle this task without a fundamental understanding of psychology.
My legal career would not have been possible without the basic education that I received in college studying psychology, sociology and the liberal arts. So, when I answer the question “Why was Psychology a good background for what I do today,” my answer is that there was no better path I could have chosen to try to make a difference in the world, one person and one client, one family and one case at a time. Psychology gave me the fundamentals. I don’t know that I’ve made any huge impact on the world, but I feel good about the cases I’ve handled over 30 years of practicing law. Without psychology as a foundation I doubt I would have had the success I’ve enjoyed in the practice of law or been able to help the people I have to date.
ABOUT RICHARD A. GRAY
Richard A. Gray focuses his practice on Family Law. Drawing on his undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology, Richard is sensitive to how these feelings can affect important decisions that a client is trying to make. Knowing that divorce cannot change the past he directs his clients to the future and helps families rebuild their lives with dignity and emotional stability. Rather than spending unnecessary resources prolonging conflict, Richard works with clients to find solutions for moving forward and maintaining civility with each other, especially for the sake of children.
Richard is an experienced litigator, yet he always looks for ways of reaching an agreement outside the courtroom. By educating his clients on the full continuum of divorce options, including collaborative law, mediation and litigation, he enables them to be in control of their decisions. Clients appreciate his one-on-one involvement with their cases and the direct access he provides. Richard listens carefully to clients’ goals and strives to achieve them. As a voice of reason he will also advise his clients if their goals are unreasonable or will cause great harm to the parties’ relationship.
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