Friday, November 15, 2019

Esther Perel, Executive Coach?

Famed psychotherapist Esther Perel has taken the leap. She is not just limiting herself to couples counseling. She is now doing executive coaching.

Those of us, like yours truly, who preceded her in this metamorphosis wish her the best. I for one am happy to welcome her to the coaching fraternity. At the very least, she has excelled at marketing herself, first through podcasts of real couples counseling sessions, then through bestselling books.

As for the propriety of podcasting real sessions with real patients, I will speak for myself and for every other therapist I have ever known… and say that the thought has never crossed my mind. The sanctity of the therapy session, the confidentiality and discretion should never be compromised, even if patients agree.

Now, the Wall Street Journal is helping promote Perel’s executive coaching practice. Sad to say, the article is none too encouraging. Perel makes several rookie mistakes, though apparently the people she works for do not much care.

The most basic error, an error that has bedeviled psychotherapy from its onset, is to confuse the rules that govern activities within the home with the rules that govern the marketplace and the business world.

Note her first question to clients:

Sessions with Ms. Perel often begin with questions about clients’ childhoods: Did their parents leave them to figure things out for themselves, or were they raised with a sense of interdependence?

Seeing all human relationships as an outgrowth of childhood is fundamentally wrong. 

For the record and for you edification, I will emphasize that cognitive and behavioral therapists do not make this mistake.

As for Perel, the Journal article offers a first exemplar of her interpretative acumen:

Michael Lovitch and Hollis Carter sat side-by-side on a therapist’s couch in a Manhattan office tower late one Friday, getting ready for the move that would take Mr. Carter to Utah and make theirs a long-distance relationship.

“We’ve never done this,” said Mr. Lovitch, who would be staying behind in Colorado.

You both rely on each other’s physical presence, the therapist noted, then asked: Which of you will feel the separation anxiety most?

I trust that I do not need to explain that therapists define separation anxiety within what they call the mother/infant dyad. It refers to a child’s anxiety at being detached from his or her mother.

Perel is analogizing the relationship between business partners to that between a mother and an infant. An absurd error. Obviously, it sees the relationship between business partners in mothering terms. And it infantilizes. 

And then, the article uses the term “long distance relationship.” Normally the term refers to a romantic relationship, even a marriage. I am assuming that it too is being misapplied. Thus, a business interaction is being reduced to something that might occur in the nursery or the boudoir.

The partners learned from therapy that they should treat their partnership like a marriage. Apparently, it works for them, but I would ask whether you think it’s a good ideal to treat the workplace like a boudoir. Might it not be the case that the failure to observe the rules of proper workplace behavior, to mistake it for what goes on in the home or in marriage and courtship rituals, has produced far too much bad behavior.

Of course, we do not know why one partner is moving, and we do not know how the two interact on a daily basis. Surely, the communication between two people who see each other face to face and the communication that two people have over text is not the same. Besides, the move will undermine many of the work routines that they had established in their office. About that the savvy therapist seems to have very little to say.

Perel is exploiting a situation that therapy culture has produced, a situation that has been harming relationships, in the home, in the boudoir, and in the boardroom.

She explains it thusly:

In Ms. Perel’s view, a pair of revolutions has transformed relationships at home and work. Marriage, once an economic arrangement, is now seen as a path to self-actualization, a way for each partner to become their best self. (“We used to leave marriages because of misery,” says Ms. Perel. “Now we leave because we could be happier elsewhere.”)

At work, a similar shift is under way as white-collar employees use terms like passion, purpose and fulfillment to describe their career ideals—things individuals previously sought in their off hours. “We don’t just stay for the salary,” she says, “we leave [jobs] because we’re not growing and getting promoted.”

Seeing marriage as a path to self-actualization is a good way to undermine marriage. Surely, the culture has been trafficking in this aberrant concept. The more it does so  the fewer people get married. The more it does so the more people get divorced.

And naturally, the therapy culture metaphor about personal growth has infected the workplace… especially in a business environment where jobs are plentiful. Emphasizing personal growth and self-actualization on the job will make you an inferior employee, one who is more dedicated to personal therapy than to working as a loyal and valuable member of the team.

Perel speaks the language of self-actualization and has made a career of it. In truth, she and the rest of us should be repairing the damage that such a culture has produced.

In one sense the companies themselves are not really responsible for the bad habits their millennial employees bring to the job... from their years of schooling, from their dysfunctional families and from the culture at large.

The Journal continues:

Yet managers’ people skills are out of practice in what Ms. Perel calls a “dehumanized” work environment. Daily conversations with co-workers occur via email and chat, candidates interview for jobs by videotaping answers to prompts on a screen and remote employees can feel, well, remote. Companies complain that young staffers seem allergic to picking up the phone and calling someone, and burnout, in the form of constant email and notifications, is a growing concern in human-resources departments.

They do not suffer these problems because they have not had therapy. They suffer them because they have had too much therapy, because they see life as endless therapy.

So, one cheer for Esther Perel for beginning to deal with real world problems. And two demerits for seeing the workplace as a nursery or a boudoir. 


UbuMaccabee said...

The psychos are looking for new fields to despoil. Interlopers.

Le Gaïagénaire said...

"Emphasizing personal growth and self-actualization on the job will make you an inferior employee, one who is more dedicated to personal therapy than to working as a loyal and valuable member of the team."

Seems to me "woke females" are never "a loyal and valuable member of a team" unless it be THEIR team, THEIR mariage, THEIR famely, THEIR church, THEIR town, etc, etc.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Coaching centers on choices and action to meet a goal. My experience is that therapy is about talking and reasoning for individual healing.

Both have their place. But mixing the two is very, very bad.

I’ve always thought most psychologists leave the therapy world for executive coaching because of the money. The problem is that most psychologists hate business.

Loathing what your clients’ actually do is a recipe for disaster.

Furthermore — for the sake of balance — businesses should be wary in selecting their coaches based on business achievement. Former corporate executives can ge great mentors, but make terrible coaches — just as the best sports players often make lousy coaches, and sone of the greatest sports coaches were lousy players. These are different skill sets.