Subtle Signs It May Be Time To Call In The Therapist

Subtle Signs It May Be Time To Call In The Therapist

Often, it’s not glaringly obvious that an organisation might benefit from seeking professional help. So it waits until it’s experiencing a crisis – people leaving in droves, customers screaming about quality, deep internal strife or seething self-loathing – to finally contact a therapist.

In fact, many organisations can delay for years. Decades even.

However, calling in the therapist early — before problems become critical — means the organisation can feel better faster, and start the process of healing sooner.

Calling in a therapist when you experience some subtle signs of dysfunction is no different than going to see an osteopath when you feel a slight twinge in your back. If left unaddressed, these subtle signs can become acute, and – like a twinge – can turn into extreme distress.

In other words, when ignored or disregarded, subtle, occasional symptoms can turn into frequent, intense issues.

Understandably, it’s not easy for any organisation to acknowledge that it needs help.

Displacement Activities

Senior folks – those most responsible for the health of their organisation, of its psyche – might bury disturbing thoughts and feelings by becoming extremely busy, by blaming circumstances – or, worse, employees – or by “medicating” with consultants, processes, training and tools.

Organisations also might berate and judge themselves for struggling in the first place – and for even needing help. Or they might dismiss an issue, believing, “I don’t have it as bad as the company down the street … who are we to complain?”

Admitting the need to see a therapist may be difficult. But in the long run, it can improve the organisation’s health and well-being. Not to mention success. Therapy helps individuals, groups, teams and the whole organisation better understand themselves; learn healthy ways to cope with stress; make decisions about changing markets, technologies and relationships; adjust to big transitions; and be more fulfilling, satisfying places to work, with happier folks working therein.

Here’s a range of subtle signs it might be time to seek therapy. (This isn’t an exhaustive list.)

Physical Symptoms

Spotting symptoms of mental distress or dysfunction in an organisation’s collective psyche can seem daunting. Organisations do not have the same physical “body” as individuals – bodies in which mental and emotional conditions can “present” with noticeable physical symptoms, such as tightening muscles, elevated heart rate, or a sick sensation in the stomach.

But organisations can ”present” with their own kinds of physical symptoms:

  • Meetings called frequently and at short notice
  • High levels of failure demand (work needing to be done through failure of the organisation to do it right first time)
  • Precipitous and/or reckless decision-making
  • High levels of rework (work that has to be redone over and over)
  • Signs of learned helplessness (people not taking responsibility, not showing initiative, not taking ownership of issues, etc.)
  • Firefighting
  • Social loafing
  • Lack of social events, socialising, etc.
  • Failures of change programmes
  • Inconstancy in or ignorance of the organisation’s purpose
  • Inability to focus and see something through to a conclusion
  • Aggressive behaviours
  • Outbursts of Anger and/or irritability
  • Violence
  • Vandalism and dirty/unkempt common spaces
  • Reliance on back-channel scuttlebutt
  • Blameflow
  • Inter-departmental conflicts and strife
  • Widespread pessimism

Here’s an example: The organisation has an important presentation to a major client. Days before, people are running around stressed and panicky. Folks start chatting: “If we screw up this presentation, we’ll lose the account. We won’t make the numbers. We might fold as a business. We’ll have to resign ourselves to being an also-ran or even a has-been company.”

Working with a therapist can help an organisation question and revise this thought process to a healthier outlook: “We have setbacks all the time, we can deal with this, too. We are a worthwhile company whether we excel or not. We don’t fret about being superior or inferior. We focus on the work of the moment. Worry would only undermine our purpose.”

Negative Self-Talk

How we talk with and amongst ourselves is a clue into our well-being. It also drives our behaviour – sometimes unbeknownst to us. Self-defeating thoughts may prompt self-defeating actions, such as staying with a strategy or approach the organisation doesn’t even like, because it’s convinced this is what it “deserves”.

Here are several examples of negative self-talk, which might warrant help:

  • “We’re not good enough”
  • “We’re a crap place to work”
  • “We don’t deserve to be successful”
  • “We don’t deserve nice customers”
  • “We’re a clueless company”

Often, some negative rhetorical questions can also arise:

  • “What’s the point in trying to get better?”
  • “What’s wrong with us?”

Other Signs

Other subtle signs include: feeling disorganised or having trouble delivering; failing to meet due dates; feeling disconnected from customers and markets; losing interest in being successful or customer-focused; and seeing folks, teams, department experiencing mood swings – happy and cooperative one day, testy and argumentative the next.

Other Consequences

Some organisations may only realise they have a problem after consequences from their behaviour emerges. For instance, organisations that regularly let people go for perceived “failures”. They don’t realise the amount of self-harm this is causing until they get to examine the behaviour with the help of a therapist.

As they reflect on their situation, many organisations start to comment on the prevailing atmosphere of fear, self-doubt, disengagement of staff, and widespread isolation. Groups begin to talk about their feelings of helpless and overwhelmedness.

Seeking therapy and working with a therapist are no easy feats. Both require courage and an implicit admission of vulnerability.

From the wide range of organisations with which I have worked, my experiences have taught me that these organisations do not represent weakness, rather they are the strongest and most courageous groups I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. It takes great courage and strength to face one’s issues, ask for help, learn new skills, and make efforts to grow and heal.

– Bob

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