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Mental Health at Work

Last year while conducting employee focused cognitive therapy programs, I often felt distanced and therefore conflicted by the approach most organizations take to address emotional and mental wellbeing of their people.

There is a cognizance of the need for a behavioural expert to be available to high stake holders, however not enough acceptance of therapy as a safe space to explore and process thoughts and emotions.

There is a quiet comfort that the top management finds in calling therapy as “Leadership Identity Sessions for sustaining leadership development via the leader as manager, educator and motivator.” Yes, I didn’t make that up even if it sounds painfully jargonistic, long winded and pointless.

This continuous masquerading of therapy or counselling makes me uneasy. “Only people with ‘problems’ go to therapy,” and “if our leaders are seen to have problems they will not be trusted with the growth and drive of the teams they are leading.” “We have happy hour Fridays, offsite at premium beach locations replete with fire dancers and coal walking.” And my favourite, “We insist on opening minds through an open-door policy.”

This works for a while. Until it doesn’t.

Intricate workings of our inner selves, you see, doesn’t live very comfortably in the basement of the Maslow’s high rise of hierarchical needs.

That aside, as an organization, you may be doing a gigantic disservice to your people by the skewed and lopsided misrepresentation of workforce wellness by insisting that therapy be called leadership retreats. Just so you can dodge the curve ball that is mental health.

Doesn’t this approach seem counterintuitive to you?

How do you trust the leaders, who by hesitating to invest time and money in exploring cognitions, emotions and behaviours, are in fact setting up a culture of devaluation of your motivational needs?

Second, this is an erroneous understanding of what therapy is. Your woes don’t have to be earth-shattering, your demons don’t have to mind-numbing and your life doesn’t have to hit a dead- end for therapy to be a part of your life plan. The purpose of therapy is to facilitate the exploration of core beliefs, coping mechanisms, thoughts and emotions that help you survive, flourish and thrive.

And we can’t choose one particular marked space to do well in, while wilt in another. Your personal and professional selves meet and blend in like turmeric in latte.

Third, a therapist is someone that can piece together correlations and causations for behaviour and feelings that you may not have realized otherwise. Your anxiety towards the big upcoming office event, the unhealthy coping ritual that creeps in before the appraisal, the emotional dysregulation you experience with interpersonal conflict within teams, the pervasive sadness even after the objectives have been met; are some of the things that may impact your career and overall quality of life.

A therapist’s office or better still, a therapist in your office, may be the perfect space to make sense of it all.

Remember that annual executive health check, that is covered by your company insurance and includes a thorough check of your physical health? Wouldn’t it be a meatier package, if it included a free access and a few sessions with a therapist too? Just like some people visit doctors when they aren’t sick -they might want a check-up, test, or advice — therapy is not exclusively for people with diagnosed mental illness. Good therapists listen to us without judgment and teach us how to solve problems in a healthy way and live a happier life.

This is something all of us want, whether we seek help or not.

And that’s really how we can move ourselves and our people from the basement of Maslow to the penthouse with a view.

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