Fundamentals of Organisational Psychotherapy

Fundamentals of Organisational Psychotherapy

By popular demand, I’ve put together this post, which sets out some of the fundamentals of Organisational Psychotherapy (n.b. by no means all of them).

Note: This is a work in progress: I keenly invite your comments and questions.

Fundamental: The Nature of the Problem

The Marshall Model proposes that organisational effectiveness (productivity, product quality, staff engagement, etc.) stems from the collective assumptions and beliefs of the organisation as a whole. (Oftentimes, assumptions and beliefs of individuals concerned differ from those held collectively).

Thus, for organisations needing to improve their effectiveness, this entails a shift in these collective beliefs and assumptions.

The problem, then, for such organisations is: how to effect such a shift? Who owns the problem, and the resources to tackle it?

Fundamental: Organisational Psychotherapy is a Solution Strategy

Given the above statement of the problem, Organisational Psychotherapy proposes that Organisational Psychotherapy
Is a viable and cost-effective approach to addressing this problem. I.E. Organisational Psychotherapy
provides a means for organisations to effect a shift in their collective assumptions and beliefs (also referred to as the organisation’s collective mindset, psyche, or memeplex).

Fundamental: Points of Leverage In A System

Donella Meadows proposed that maximum leverage for changing a system (such as an organisation) derives from 2) shifting the paradigm or mindset out of which the system arises, and 1) by acquiring the power to transcend paradigms. Organisational Psychotherapy provides a means for organisations to grasp and exercise these particular levers (see diagram, below).

Fundamental: Organisations Each Have a Collective Psyche

Organisational Psychotherapy as a solution is predicated on the assumption that every organisation has a collective psyche (distinct from the psyches of the individuals comprising the organisation). And that this collective psyche is amenable to therapy much as is the individual psyche.

Fundamental: Therapy Techniques for the Individual Psyche are Transferrable

There are over four hundred different types, styles or “schools” of psychotherapy for the individual. Many of these are well-established, well-researched and well documented. And many of these are transferable, in whole or in part, from serving individuals in therapy to serving organisations in therapy.

Fundamental: It’s the Client-Therapist Relationship That Matters Most

Much research indicated that for individuals in therapy, positive outcomes are contingent mainly upon the quality of the relationship between the client and their therapist. Organisational Psychotherapy proposes that the same dynamic holds for organisations in therapy – positive outcomes are contingent upon the quality of the relationship between the organisation and its therapist(s).

Fundamental: The Therapist is a Constant Exemplar of Congruence

In some schools of therapy (Rogerian Therapy, a.k.a. Client Centered Therapy, for example) the idea of congruence looms large. And the role of the therapist in modelling/exemplifying congruence assumes a major significance in the relationship between the therapist and the client.

In engagements with larger clients, where the workload may suggest more than one therapist working with the client during a given period, the body (team) of therapists, as a collective entity, also exemplifies this congruence.

Fundamental: Therapists Have No Agenda

Outwith the basic agenda of accompanying the client of its journey, the Organisational Psychotherapist has no agenda. No pet solutions to suggest, no proposals as to how the client might choose to become better. Simply accompanying the client on their journey, with compassion and empathy, is the thing.

Solutions, strategies, new assumptions, beliefs and behaviours are the domain of the client. It’s not the role of the therapist to suggest “improvements” or changes (as might a coach). Rather, it’s his or her role to lend empathy and emotional support to the client in their journey. A journey which *might* include the client discovering more effective strategies, behaviours, assumptions and beliefs to replace some or all of their original strategies, behaviours, assumptions and beliefs.

Fundamental: Psychotherapy is About Treatment (It’s not Psychoanalysis)

I hesitate to use the word “treatment”, with its connotations that the client is somehow less than health, or needs “fixing”. I find these connotations entirely unhelpful in the context of therapy. Yet the word is sufficiently recognised to retain some explicative utility.

As intellectual understanding blocks empathy (Cf. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication), the Organisational Psychotherapist tries to avoid understanding what might be happening within the client’s collective psyche. Empathy without intellectual analysis (nor judgment). Just be there for the client. The world is a scary place, the organisation’s journey can be lonely without a friend.

Fundamental: Avoidance of Dependence

Organisational Psychotherapy aims to proceed toward a future where the client can take care of themselves, without the need for external intervention or support from a therapist. A future in which the client has become sufficiently self-aware and skilled in self-care that it can sustain its journey from its own resources.

The journey to self-sufficiency make take time, and proceeds at the pace with which the client is (more or less) comfortable. That is, the experience of therapy may cause discomfort on occasion, but the pace of progress Is never set, or forced, by the therapist.

Fundamental: The Client (Organisation) Owns Their Progress

As in individual therapy, Organisational Psychotherapy proceeds on the basis that clients deeply want change, even if there might be resistance to varying degrees and from various quarters, from time to time.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Nine Principles of Organisational Psychotherapy  ~ Think Different blog post

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