Agile Coach to Organisational Psychotherapist

Agile Coach to Organisational Psychotherapist

My thanks to Beatric Düring for her recent Twitter question:

“If I wanted dive deeper into org psychotherapy – what would be crucial knowledge I would have to acquire working as an agile coach? Where can I draw the line requiring professional psychotherapy education/training?”

Is it feasible to transition from an Agile Coach into the Organisational Psychotherapist role?


Given that I was an Agile Coach for years before making the shift myself, I’d say it’s demonstrably feasible. Why might any Agile Coach consider making the shift?

Organisation-wide Scope

For me, it was down to an increasing dissatisfaction with the (limited) value I was able to deliver in the role of Agile Coach (and latterly, Enterprise Agile Coach). Over a number of years it was becoming clearer and clearer to me that the real dysfunctions in any organisation lie outside the domain of any one functional silo. In the white space between people, and between silos, if you like. It became obvious that to deliver real change, change that’s worth having, change that makes a significant impact both on the lives of everyone involved and on the bottom line of the organisation, a more holistic, systemic intervention pays major dividends. And the Organisational Psychotherapist role implies the necessary whole-organisation scope to do that more effectively, and more often, than the Agile Coaching role.

It’s the Client’s Agenda That Counts

There was also, for me, the increasing realisation that I was not actually helping things for a client by making suggestions and having an agenda (a bunch of my ideas about what future would be best for them). Organisational Psychotherapy allows us to cut through that particular Gordian Knot.

It’s About The People

Organisational Psychotherapy is about people, and their relationships – with each other and with the collective psyche of the organisation. I hear from many Agile Coaches that this is a dawning realisation that creeps up on us over several years, at least. Process and management issues fade in importance the more we coach. Ultimately, into utter insignificance.

The Questions

So, to Beatric’s two questions:

What Knowledge is Crucial?

What knowledge, accessible to an Agile Coach, is crucial to diving deeper into Organisational Psychotherapy ?

The journey, for me, was eased by various spells as an Enterprise Agile Coach. This helped me acquire a practical angle on the whole Lean / System Thinking / Synergistic perspective, looking at organisations as a whole, rather than being limited to intervention horizons within a single function (most often, the Software Development or Software Engineering function). Maybe an Agile Coach could transition into Organisational Psychotherapy without that system-wide appreciation. I’d be interested to hear about folks’ experiences in that regard.

On the other hand, there’s a whole world (more than a hundred years in some cases) of work and results across the more than 400 different schools of therapy that comprise the world of psychotherapy as it pertains to individuals. Much of my learning has come from reframing individual therapy techniques for application in the organisational context. I wrote a post some time ago, describing some of these, entitled My Organisational Therapy Toolkit.

Where to Draw the Line?

How far can the Agile Coach progress in his or her personal journey towards mastering Organisational Psychotherapy, before it makes sense to seek professional psychotherapy education/training?

As far as I know, there is no recognised professional education or training for Organisational Psychotherapists. I’m entirely self-taught, and most of my most profound learning has come as a result of interacting with real live clients in real live situations. I do try to share my learnings with others, and when the demand is there I’d be happy to make that more formal, if needed.

I guess one could train as a “normal” psychotherapist, although that looks like a six to eight year full-time study commitment, at least. And I wonder just how useful much of that individual-therapy training would be useful in the context of organisational therapy?

Personally, I’ve always favoured apprenticeships or communities of practice over education/training per se.

And then there’s the whole can of worms labelled “certification”. I’m sure I could rattle up a two day “Organisational Psychotherapy Master” (COpM) certification course, with an honest-to-goodness certificate at the end of it. £2000 a pop seems like a fair price for that. But REALLY? Certified Mastery of Organisational Psychotherapy in two days? I doubt. It’s taken me ten years so far, and I’m still only scratching the surface (and being so far from Mastery, even now).

I’d feel more comfortable seeing folks apply themselves to the subject, gain some early practical experience – possibly under the wing of someone with some relevant experience – and build their own skills and experience through application and interaction. I’d suggest the watchword here is “congruence”:

Congruence means that the therapist is genuine and authentic, not like the “blank screen” of traditional psychoanalysis:

The first element [of the three core conditions of the person-centered approach to psychotherapy] could be called genuineness, realness, or congruence. The more the therapist is himself or herself in the relationship, putting up no professional front or personal facade, the greater is the likelihood that the client will change and grow in a constructive manner. This means that the therapist is openly being the feelings and attitudes that are flowing within at the moment. The term “transparent” catches the flavor of this condition: the therapist makes himself or herself transparent to the client; the client can see right through what the therapist is in the relationship; the client experiences no holding back on the part of the therapist. As for the therapist, what he or she is experiencing is available to awareness, can be lived in the relationship, and can be communicated, if appropriate. Thus, there is a close matching, or congruence, between what is being experienced at the gut level, what is present in awareness, and what is expressed to the client. (Rogers, 1980)

– Bob

Further Reading

Carl Rogers On Person-Centered Therapy (pdf article)

  1. John Deehan said:

    Hi Bob

    I would be interested to know your thoughts on the work Gerard Egan has done in attempting to bridge the personal to organisational gap in applying therapeutic methods in an org setting – Working the Shadow Side


    • Hi John,

      Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I have not seen this before, but will look into it.


  2. Is there a self-help version of organization psychology? Or are you advocating training of organizational coaches to serve this need?

    • I’d never advocate training in any topic. :} Can organisations help themselves? Well, some individuals can let themselves, so I’d say, yes. But then again, most people benefit from the relationship with their therapist, so organisations going the self-help route would miss out on that.

      • This raises an interesting situation – how many people go to a therapist without ignoring their problem first and then trying to solve it themselves before realizing they need outside help? Awareness and a desire to change is essential, and that assumes that people know that the field of organizational psychology exists. (How aligned is your work with the academic degrees some colleges now offer in organizational psychology or business psychology?)

      • The academic degrees some colleges now offer in organizational psychology or business psychology seem to address a very different field than I see as Organisational Psychotherapy.

  3. This is an interesting post and approach, Bob. Much of my work could be described in the same sort of way and I relate to what you are saying.

    My initial training was as a psychologist, then into other areas (work design, ergonomics, system safety), then I began to train as a counsellor/psychotherapist. I left the formal training after a year, partly because I realised I did not wish to be a full time psychotherapist (which in Australia was and is poorly paid and jobs are few and far between, partly because of a then new psychologist registration scheme).

    I personally wouldn’t call myself an organisational psychotherapist for a few reasons. Psychotherapy (individual and group) requires many years of formal education, training, and supervised practice, and psychotherapists of all descriptions are registered. As such, working as a psychotherapist also requires (ethically) adherence to a shared Code of Practice of a professional association (UKCP or BACP, in UK), which requires that a psychotherapist (working with individuals or groups, including organisations) are suitably qualified and experienced, and working within a shared ethical framework, with supervision and peer oversight. This is an example for UK Council for Psychotherapy:

    There is also a possibility that the title/stem ‘psychotherapist’ might be protected by law (a previous attempt was made in the UK, and the term psychotherapist is legally protected in some other countries and states). This happened with ‘psychologist’ in Australia, and (clumsily) with various variants of it in the UK, and indeed with some variants of ‘psychotherapist’ in the UK (art psychotherapist, registered psychotherapist).

    Psychotherapists (and counsellors, the terms being more or less equivalent in the eyes of the profession) also work with in organisations, of course.

    So the term ‘psychotherapist’ may be ethically problematic (whether working with individuals or groups in a personal, community, or organisational setting; ultimately one works with people). This of course also applies to possible variants of other professions (e.g., ‘digital psychologist’ or ‘policy psychologist’ for a non-psychologist; legal in the UK, illegal in Australia, ethically unsound in both).

    However, as per your previous post, the term ‘organisational therapist’ seems appropriate. I sometimes use the term skilled helper’, especially in organisational work with a psychotherapist/counsellor friend (Gerard Egan, my initial training was centred around his work; e.g. It is a (uniting?) term that does not use terms of registered professions, and hopefully reduces confusion and starts a conversation.

  4. “Over a number of years it was becoming clearer and clearer to me that the real dysfunctions in any organisation lie outside the domain of any one functional silo.”

    This right here is the most accurate statement I have read in a long time. I rail against this daily, trying to fight my way out of the silo to create a more cohesive and streamlined process to help the silos work better together.

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