This article, Psychoanalytic Consultation: Transcending traditional boundaries, was originally published in the Analyst’s Advocate, a column in the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute’s newsletter. 

Psychoanalytic Consultation: Organization

Organizational consultation is an excellent way to have an impact on the workplace and to “witness” for applied psychoanalysis. But, how can psychoanalysts find consultative opportunities? What kinds of consultative services and expertise might psychoanalysts offer? How can the individual psychoanalyst create a unique niche? How might psychoanalysts generate consulting experiences? How might psychoanalysts present themselves in a “user-friendly” way? Why might psychoanalysts attend to the consultative frame? And, how might psychoanalysts develop and enhance their skills in organizational consultation. Each of these questions will be addressed in turn.Psychoanalysts who are interested in providing organizational consultation often shy away from doing so because they feel that they have nothing to offer or that they are practicing beyond the scope of their competence. This is unfortunate in that organizational consultants come from a diverse array of academic backgrounds. And, psychoanalysts have a unique perspective to offer to organizations.

What kinds of expertise can psychoanalysts offer?

As analysts we share a common expertise in interpersonal relationships, conflict identification, conflict mediation, change management, stress, affect regulation, building character, dealing with morale, dealing with dysfunctional employees and colleagues, diversity, employee retention and a plethora of other organizational problems. In reaching out beyond traditional boundaries, it is important to describe our expertise in lay terms with a particular focus on what, pragmatically-speaking, we can do for the organizational head to whom we consult.That is, how can we affect the bottom-line? For example, poor employee morale, an inability to embrace change and workplace conflicts can be extremely costly for organizations. If applied analytic interventions culminate in a workplace that is even only a bit more productive, they have, in effect, positively effected the bottom-line. Similarly, if these interventions improve morale and/or prevent a lawsuit, they may have protected the organization from costly negative public relations and/or litigation. It should be noted that in approaching organizations, it is important to convey an awareness as to how your interventions might help organizational morale or how they might be cost effective. In fact, many organizations will pay top consulting fees providing that they are clear as to the “return on investment” (ROI) from these kinds of activities. As the association capitol of the world, Washington offers some fascinating and unique consultative opportunities.

They need an psychoanalyst, but why you?

Psychoanalysts may have more years of preparation than any other breed of organizational consultant, but of the several hundred psychoanalysts in the Washington area, why should they retain you? Any psychoanalyst seriously interested in developing a consultative niche should take steps to differentiate themselves from the rest of the herd. Identify your special niche. If you are an artist — who spends a lot of time in art galleries, or art schools, then these are the kinds of organizations that you might approach. If you are an avid athlete who trains for marathons then you might consider approaching sports organizations.

Developing your niche and getting consultative opportunities to come to you

How to gain entry: Getting consulting opportunities to come to you

The difficult and elusive problem for most psychoanalysts is how does one go about gaining entry into these settings, particularly if one is devoted to advancing psychoanalysis by reaching out beyond the traditional provinces. Ideally, of course, as in the practice of psychoanalysis, it is optimal to have organizations come to you. But, how do you go about making that happen and what steps might you take if it doesn’t?A necessary requisite to providing expertise to an organization, is to learn about its’ mores. That is, it is essential to become “socio-politically, informed”. This entails meeting and getting to know the key players in the professional arena in which you would like to consult. A starting point, one well within the comfort zone of any psychoanalyst, is to begin with a literature search of psychoanalysis, psychology and organizations and your chosen interest group, such as: artists, runners, clergy, accountants or any other group that interests you. As you familiarize yourself with the issues and concerns described in the psychoanalytic and non-analytic literatures, you will come to appreciate the controversies and challenges that your prospective consultees face. You will be able to begin to identify ways in which your psychoanalytic expertise might be helpful to them.

It is useful to learn as much as you can about the organizations of interest. Consider joining their organizations, particularly the local chapters. Read their newsletters and their web sites. Join their listservs. Lurk for a while. As you are exposed to these venues, you will identify ways in which you, as a psychoanalyst, can be helpful. Offer useful information. Write a short article for a newsletter or send a brief response to a question posted on the listserv. Give talks at their annual meetings. Your goal is to establish a presence. To do that, you need to participate, regularly; but, not too often. It can be important to provide a byline on any articles that you write and, of course, at the bottom of any email that you send. If you make yourself easily accessible, for example, via email, people will contact you directly for organizational consultation, treatment and talks. Make sure that your byline says who you are, where you are, what you do and how you can be reached.

Priming the pump.

Like psychoanalysis, consulting services are on a “slow sell cycle”. As is the case with psychoanalysis, getting administrators to contract for our services requires building trust and that takes time. Nevertheless, there are systematic steps that one can take to increase exposure. And, when the timing is right, exposure can lead to contracts. One way to do this is to develop a project that allows ongoing and repeat exposure to the target group. For example, an individual interested in consulting to major accounting firms might conduct a pilot study regarding the organizational needs of Washington-based accounting firms. This kind of descriptive research is helpful in that it provides a legitimate way of learning about the needs of accounting firms and of getting to know partners in these firms. When the study is completed, the psychoanalyst might publish the results in the Harvard Business Review. This kind of publication will enhance the public’s perception of the psychoanalyst’s (and, for our entire profession’s) credibility. If you have a university affiliation, consider submitting your research to their IRB and undertaking it under their aegis.

Presenting ourselves in a “user-friendly” way

One is far more likely to be accepted on foreign soil when one is fluent in the native tongue. In talking with CEO’s, it is critical to be conversant with and skilled in using their language. Psychoanalytic terminology can obscure what we have to offer and it can be alienating. In approaching these organizations — assume that you are ignorant of their language and culture. Let them know about the nature of your expertise and let them know what you need for them to teach you. You will be surprised at how open and generous they can be. Over time, as consultees benefit from psychoanalytic help, they will likely develop a positive transference. They will become more interested in, and receptive to, learning about applied psychoanalysis. Consequently, there will be an opportunity to witness for psychoanalysis.

The organizational consultative frame

Organizational consultation can be gratifying and demanding work. Like psychoanalysis, establishing a consultative frame furthers the work. Although beyond the scope of this article, management of these issues of frame such as fees, dual relationships, cancellation policies and all convey a message to the consultee and can have a profound impact on the work.

Developing and enhancing organizational consultation skills

It can be helpful to talk with other psychoanalysts, nationally and locally, who are doing this type of work. Also, as in the case of other psychoanalytic interventions, consultative skills can be enhanced through consultation, continuous organizational case conferences and supervision.

Organizational consultation as a means of furthering psychoanalysis

Effective, ongoing, analytically-informed, consultation often leads consultees to apply the concepts learned to areas of their personal lives. Consequently, it is not uncommon for consultees to seek personal referrals. Like the useful synergy that can exist between supervision and psychoanalysis, a consultation and psychoanalysis can have a similar effect. Thus, organizational consultation can culminate in referrals and, occasionally, when one consults at the helm, to improvements in health care benefits. Most importantly, effective consultation can lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the ways in which a psychoanalytic understanding can be helpful.

The Analyst’s Advocate

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