Way back when, in the good old days, when psychoanalysis was thriving, Janet Malcolm wrote a great book entitled: Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession.
The book recounts the career of a distinguished New York psychoanalyst for whom Malcolm invented the pseudonym, "Aaron Green."
At a distance of nearly three decades I still recall my and, I believe, Malcolm's amazement at the fact that, for all of his years of analytic treatment, Dr. Green was afraid to speak in public.
For a psychoanalyst this is not an occupational hazard. A certain reticence might even be an advantage in such work.
But didn't it ever strike you as somewhat strange that psychoanalytic treatment, which aims specifically at helping the trainee to articulate his unconscious thoughts and feelings, should consign him to a profession where he must spend the better part of his professional work... in silence.
In any event, if a psychoanalyst is going to retain one unanalyzed symptom, this would be the symptom of choice.
More seriously, it was strange to me, even then, that the best psychoanalytic treatment had been ineffective in eliminating Dr. Green's fear of public speaking.
I recalled this issue last week when I was reading a column by the always-engaging Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times.
Kellaway posted a letter from a male manager whose inability to speak up at meetings was proving to be an obstacle to his career advancement. Acting meek and timid at meetings, choking on your words or whispering them to no one in particular... this do not improve anyone's career prospects.
In the three dozen or so replies only person recommended that this man go into therapy to discover why he was afraid to speak in public. No one suggested that he address his larger anxiety issue.
This self-selected group of people who had had the same problem or who simply wanted to be helpful... completely ignored the possibility of going into therapy.
Many of them suggested training and coaching. They offered that a speech coach, an acting coach, even a singing coach would be helpful for this man. Some recommended Yoga, especially breathing exercises, as a way to learn how to project one's voice and to assume a more confident and resonant tone. And many people mentioned a group called Toastmasters which provides people an opportunity to practice speaking in public.
After a week of such comments Kellaway offered her own solution, apparently from personal experience. It is worth quoting: "There is only one solution to your difficulty and that is to force yourself to open your mouth in meetings. If you do this often enough the nerves will eventually go away."
Some will find this advice horrifying. I consider it a breath of fresh air. A culture that traffics in the notion that you are not really cured until you have resolved all of your issues, and that imagines that once you are then the words will flow freely from the wellsprings of your authentic being, needs to hear that sometimes you just have to push yourself to do what you have to do. Not only that, but you have to do it often, until it becomes second nature, even if it does not feel very good, and even if you flub your lines every once in a while.
Kellaway has not allowed herself to be intimidated by the cultural juggernaut that routinely denounces coaching for repressing one's authentic self. If you merely want to solve the problem at hand, then you should follow Kellaway's guidelines. If you want to wallow in your emotions for years on end and still not be able to speak up in a meeting, then find a therapist and work on your issues.
Finally, Kellaway adds another piece of advice, one that she hesitated to mention because it was so obvious. She told this man to take a half-hour before each meeting to write down the points that he wanted to contribute. This is almost too obvious, but, as Kellaway notes: "almost no one plans in advance what they say at meetings."
Why would this be so? Perhaps because they belong to a cult that values spontaneity above all else. They may even believe that preparation would compromise their verbal spontaneity.
The moral of the story, is that if you follow those guidelines you are likely to veer between histrionic outbursts and pure silence.