Going To Therapy Can Benefit All Managers — This is How

Even if you have the perfect boss, let’s face it – they’re still your boss. A poll from global consulting firm Korn Ferry unveils that 35% of respondents report their boss as being the most stressful part about their job. Even if you have a great relationship with your employees, as many managers do, it’s entirely possible that you feel like you’re juggling more responsibilities than you’re capable of handling.

A recent report from Gartner notes that 68% of HR leaders say managers are overwhelmed by responsibility as the hybrid work world is shifting back to select in-person days. However, only 14% of companies polled have created new roles or changed a manager’s responsibilities to account for that issue.

Moments of organizational intensity seem to trigger a kind of rift in manager-employee relations, as huge deadlines, mergers, or projects can cause managers to experience high levels of anxiety that trickle down to their employees. The Harvard Business Review reports that 53% of leaders tend to become “closed-minded and controlling” under pressure, and 45% become “upset and emotional” when things go wrong. Even the best leaders, human as they may be, are known to fall prey to worries both in and out of the workplace.

Behind all the excessive check-ins, too-harsh or too-sappy Slack messages, miscommunications, and off-hours emails, managers might be attempting to conceal overwhelming and sometimes torrid emotions that can bleed into their work relationships. Your bond will wax and wane, and tension can resolve just as quickly as it emerges. But when stressful or intense projects bring about a side of you that hinders your employee’s ability to do their job well, there’s only one solution: Go to therapy.

Therapy? Seriously?

Therapy, and mental health in general, have both become more visible over the years, and before the pandemic, some companies even began to embrace workplace counseling, bringing therapists onsite to talk to employees through internal conflict. However, there are still misconceptions that drive people away from getting treatment.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be mentally ill, undergoing a time of severe stress, or suffering a loss in order to go to therapy. There are lots of approaches to therapy that confront both everyday issues, like workplace conflict, or deeper existential issues, like your purpose in life. To be a good candidate for therapy, you just need to be curious about yourself – your responses to stimuli, your reactions to disagreements, your patterns, and repetitions. And ironically, one could argue that being a manager is also founded on curiosity, as without it, you’ll never explore innovative ways to solve problems and help your employees grow.

Another issue is that oftentimes, especially in the work world, people are more comfortable with a mentor or life coach than a therapist. However, these two things are not the same. Coaching or mentoring is about work in particular, and about looking forward to your goals and aspirations. Therapy, on the other hand, is about looking back at your past and confronting some of the cycles of thought or behavior you often find yourself in. While both mentoring and therapy are utilitarian in their own way, one doesn’t replace the other, even if it’s more culturally acceptable for leaders to be coached than to be therapized.

The other problem is that unfortunately, your quick fixes won’t do the trick when it comes to long-lasting change. Sure, that weeklong seminar on connection with your emotional side or the training course you did about workplace empathy might come in handy in your office relations. But there’s no substituting the real deal. It took you a lifetime to become the person you are – don’t you think it might take just as long to understand who that person is?

Why do managers need therapy?

Those who don’t have a good understanding of themselves take their internal experience and view it as an objective reality. While your intuition could be pulling you in the right direction in some cases, sometimes, the two are not equivalent, especially when your perspective is informed by potentially emotionally charged material that occurred in your past. When you craft an entire reality based upon your worldview, and you manage or lead a group of people, you bring them into the world you’ve constructed, a world where everyone around you is confined to your rigid, presumptive perfection. And just like that, your issues have just become your company’s issues, as you’ve changed your capsule of company culture to fit your own neuroses.

An un-therapized manager is going to act out when their worldview is challenged (especially if they’re under pressure) and the aftershocks of their actions will cause the entire team to become destabilized. Under the umbrella of this contorted mindset are some specific ways that your aversion to shrinks could be making your employees feel small.

1. You’re regressing

Perhaps the most embarrassing indirect outcome of your inflexible mindset is that in order to defend yourself from attacks, you may begin to regress. This can come in the form of really any child-like behavior, from denial to emotional outbursts to blaming or becoming passive-aggressive. Many times, it’s hard to control this highly reactive phenomenon, and you can blurt out something immature before you even realize that it’s left your lips. Even if you apologize, it’ll be hard for employees to get the image of you name-calling or eye-rolling out of their minds.

2. You’re displacing

You may have heard of projection – projecting one’s internal state onto an external object – and displacement is its long-lost cousin. Displacement is different from the projection in that rather than transferring your own feelings to someone else, you transfer feelings that you have about someone else onto a secondary thing. An example of this would be a manager who gets mad at their boss, spouse, or child, but can’t admit their anger, so they take it out on their employees. The worst part about displacement is that everyone can see it but you and those who see you so out of touch with your emotions might lose a little faith in your insight.

3. You’re being copied

Whether it’s a conscious setting of the company culture or an unconscious repetition of an authority figure’s actions, employees are known to copy their boss’ behavior, good or bad. The University of Rotterdam conducted a study on employee workplace behavior, and they found that the closer an employee is or feels to their boss, the more likely they’ll be to copy their behavior. While the study focused on unethical behavior, employees are also known to copy everything from pettiness to apathy to reactivity or stringency.

4. You’re taking things personally

When you see each and every one of your opinions as bound up in the worldview you’ve created, even the most innocuous of suggestions will come off like a personal attack. Even someone suggesting to change the format of a Zoom meeting will make you think that they’re usurping your authority and calling you an idiot if that’s a pattern that’s been prominent in your life thus far. This could damage your relationship with your employees in that you’re burning bridges simply because of misunderstandings, or facilitating an environment where employees refuse to come to you with their ideas.

The bottom line

It might feel overwhelming to start the process of therapy, but in the end, the rewards you’ll find are worth the potentially torrential journey through your psyche. What therapy does is helps contextualize your thoughts in a world outside of the one you’ve created. Your feelings become real, valid, and acceptable, and you don’t feel the need to dogmatically assess your surroundings through their lens as a means of asserting their validity. Therapy for the modern worker isn’t about curing some mental illness, it’s about exploring what kind of person you are, what kind of person you want to be, and why you want to be that way. Only when you know yourself can you identify and communicate your feelings with others – and get out of your own way enough to become an exceptional manager.

For more resources on how to find the right therapist for you, check out these tips.

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