Should You Put Your Practice on the Couch?

Facing extinction from cost-conscious, pill-wielding managed-care insurance organizations, some psychoanalysts like Kerry J. Sulkowicz, MD, are reinventing themselves  in the form of management consultants. And Sulkowicz says his marriage of psych and consulting can help physicians master the difficulties of managing a practice.

What does psychoanalysis have to do with business management consulting, you may ask?

“Quite a bit,” says Sulkowicz, a 42-year old, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and the president of the Boswell Group, LLC, in New York City.

Traditionally, consultants give structural recommendations, whereas the Sulkowicz brand of consultation offers up advice on the underlying psychological causes of the management problems, whether from a dysfunctional management team, a family business bringing bedroom politics into the boardroom, a venture capitalists looking at the psychological fit of a management team in a company they are considering funding, or working with an executive search firm on good fits for important hires.

“[Companies] often fail due to leadership problems, ineffectual management teams, mistaken hiring decisions, inadequate succession planning, and culture clashes such as merging of two distinct corporate ways of life,” he says.

Consulting is not all that different from traditional psychoanalysis between a therapist and a patient. First, the consultant meets with the chief executive officer or the equivalent leaders of the client organization in search of the manifest reason for the corporate dysfunction.

“Complete access is important to success. You must immerse yourself in the life of the organization and get to know its people, practices, and culture,” Sulkowicz says. “We get to know individuals first, but the bulk of the work is with the group.”

It’s not an in-and-out operation, he says. Much like individual psychoanalysis, putting a company on a couch can take some time. The consultant often stays to see the changes integrated and develops an ongoing relationship with the client.

One goal is “enabling members of the management team and leaders to gain more empathy for one another, so they understand one another instead of blaming one another,” he says. Another goal is helping the management team develop their own set of tools to do themselves what the consultant is doing.

With respect to medical practices, the psychoanalytic consultation can help in a number of ways, Sulkowicz says. “First, it gets doctors and staff talking to one another by removing obstacles to open communication and repairing covert problems in the dynamics of the team,” Sulkowicz tells WebMD. “This in turn improves collaboration, efficiency, and overall quality of care, while decreasing the risk of mistakes.”

The analytic perspective, he says, is uniquely able to address the stresses of working with dying, demanding, psychosomatic, and difficult patients  which are made worse by the additional pressures of managed care.

Such conditions are a breeding ground for medical errors. “Analytic intervention can also help physicians, who are not necessarily natural leaders, become more effective managers,” he says.

“Medical organizations, whether group practices or hospitals, have different goals than other business, but they are still in business to make money, and as such, are subject to the same kinds of group dynamic problems as other businesses,” Sulkowicz says. “Today there is even more pressure, because changes in medical economics have forced doctors to shift focus to the competing goals of profitability versus high quality patient care.”

Consultants however can try to get these goals aligned. “They don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Sulkowicz says.

Other doctors understand the utilization of psychoanalysis in business. “Psychoanalysis plays a unique role in management consulting,” says Kenneth Settel, MD, a consultant at SPECTRUM OED in Brookline, Mass. “This type of consulting is not just about treating the symptoms, it’s also about uncovering their root cause.”

“We try to understand what the underlying sources of the corporate dysfunction are, because you can’t be effective if you don’t understand where the problems are coming from. This may involve looking at the unconscious feelings of individuals in an organization,” he tells WebMD.

The idea for psychoanalytic management consulting took form five years ago at a cocktail party when another guest began to pick Sulkowicz brain about his company problems. Shortly thereafter, this man hired Sulkowicz on a trial basis to see what he could do. A lot, it seems.

Several more business consulting projects followed and then, two years ago, Sulkowicz formed the Boswell Group. And business is booming by all accounts. Boswell Group has about three to four ongoing clients/cases at a time.

Right now, the company is predominantly Sulkowicz, but the forecast is growth. Consulting may be one type of business that thrives in all economies.

“I think with the downturn on the economy, there may even be more need for this type of approach. We tend to see a wave of consolidation in different industries and a lot of mergers and downsizing, and those always involve a hard look at corporate culture,” he tells WebMD.

“When people start getting laid off, it has a ripple effect on those who remain and can cause dysfunction at the management level and below,” he says.

Written by Denise Mann

The Boswell Group Announces New Form of Management Consultation

The Boswell Group, LLC, has launched a new form of management consulting focusing on psychological aspects of management and leadership. Founded by Kerry J. Sulkowicz, M.D., a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in New York City, Boswell Group has begun applying an in-depth way of listening to, understanding and treating individuals to businesses and other organizations in what Sulkowicz describes as “psychoanalytic management consultations.”

Although many others in the mental health professions have tried their hands as organizational psychologists or consultants, Boswell Group’s approach does not rely on standardized tests or formulaic methods. Their services are engageable only by CEO’s or other business leaders, and Sulkowicz views each client organization as a unique system of people, greater in complexity than the sum of its parts.

As in the individual clinical situation, an immersion in the life of the business or its management team is an essential step for Boswell Group to understand its difficulties and begin a process leading to substantive and lasting change. Boswell Group consultations are not standardized, nor do they use gimmicky tests or formulas. Their only tool, says the doctor, who is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine, is the consultant’s own mind.

CEO’s who need to streamline or enhance theworking relationships of their managment team, or who seek to acquire psychological advantages in merger negotiations, would benefit from a psychoanalytic organizational consultation. Internet start-ups seeking to manage the interpersonal tensions that arise in the pressured environment of “Internet time,” or that need help hiring qualified, compatible personnel quickly, benefit from Boswell Group’s perspective. So would venture capitalists trying to make their best-informed bet on new management teams under consideration for funding. Family businesses or partnerships have hired Dr. Sulkowicz to help fix tensions within the leadership group, or to facilitate implementing a succession plan.

Changing an outdated, counterproductive corporate culture is a fundamentally psychological task, given its deep roots in the collective minds of an organization. So is blending two distinctly different cultures, when companies merge or are acquired. Boswell Group’s approach takes the inherent complexity of these common business occurrences into account as they assist senior management in shepherding these crucial transitions to a stable new culture.

BG’s method involves applying psychoanalytic interviewing and interpretive skills, along with extensive experience in understanding human behavior and motivation, to the corporate setting. Using plain language and a thoughtful, low-key manner, BG’s highly trained consultants direct an exploration into the sources of the corporate problem while simultaneously recommending new courses of action whenever appropriate. They help in the implementation of these new actions or attitudes by addressing the inevitable resistances to change that are a part of any organization’s growth process.

The plan for each consultation is discussed in advance with the client and is always open to adjustment as the engagement proceeds. As most of BG’s project are optimally engaged by a solo consultant, the cost of a their services are often less than that of a traditional organizational consultation involving a team of consultants.

Boswell Group’s consultations are treated with the same ethical standards and a comparable concern for confidentiality as in their clinical work with individuals.

For further information on psychoanalytic management consultation, or to make a confidential inquiry about obtaining a consultation, Dr. Sulkowicz can be contacted directly by telephone at 212 737-1542 or by email at kjs@boswellgroup.com. 

TV: Reality Bites

Why do we care who the “mole” is, or who the ultimate “survivor” will be? Why do we give a remote-control flip which couple will give into temptation, or which boy makes the band?

And do we really want to watch someone marry a millionaire?

In other words, why are we so hooked on reality television? Just so we won’t come across as uncool at the workplace water cooler? To get a vicarious thrill watching someone do something we would never do ourselves  like eat a rat or cheat on a spouse? Are we really just voyeurs?

The answer? All of the above, experts tell WebMD  and then some.

Reality TV shows like Survivor II, The Real World, Making the Band, Big Brother, The Mole, andTemptation Island have become so popular the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences recently created two Emmy Award categories to recognize them.

“The popularity of these shows relates to peoples’ need for an adrenaline rush. Some people get a rush from violence or sex, and sometimes these reality shows have both,” says Joanne Cantor, PhD, professor of communications at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and author of Mommy I’m Scared: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do to Protect Them.

Reality shows date back to chestnuts like Candid Camera, she points out, which was developed more than 50 years ago and used a hidden camera to capture the reactions of ordinary people to extraordinary situations.

Today’s reality-based shows can be compared to the rubbernecking that occurs at a highway car wreck, Cantor says.

“It’s the same thing as slowing down when you see an accident,” she says. “You want to see it, yet you don’t want to see it. We are curious and drawn to the violent, the macabre, and the sexual.”

Adding to their attraction, she says, reality shows are much cheaper to produce than star-driven shows like ER or Friends.

So the shows can save TV studios big money  but can they cost their viewers psychologically?

Some of the shows  Cops, Rescue 911, and Unsolved Mysteries, for instance  can be scary for children, Cantor says.

“News and reality shows are always in the top 10 for scaring children, Even if the kids know that a lot of things on TV aren’t true, [they know] these things are true,” she says. And oftentimes, in the case ofUnsolved Mysteries, for instance, the host will point out that the murderer/robber/rapist is still on the loose.

“I don’t think these shows are harmful,” says Steve Brody, PhD, a psychologist in Cambria, Calif. Nevertheless, he adds, “We don’t need our noses rubbed in the seedy side of life. These things are not the norm and shouldn’t be reflected as if they are. For a certain population of people who are already on the edge, they can really have a negative impact.”

“I think a big part of the draw is a natural human tendency toward voyeurism, and what’s so different about these shows, compared to sitcoms or dramas, is that these people are not actors and you are seeing them in an unrehearsed, natural way,” says Kerry Sulkowicz, MD, a faculty member of the New York University Psychoanalytic Institute.

“There may also be a certain pleasure in seeing their discomfort, in watching them squirm,” he says. It’s the same thing that drives interest in Jerry Springer-style talk shows where people bare their deepest, darkest, and most deviant secrets.

And society’s fascination with the macabre didn’t start with When Animals Attack, points out psychoanalyst Leon Hoffman, MD, co-director of the Parent Child Center in New York City

“Executions used to be public,” he says – and they may be again if Timothy McVeigh gets his way. McVeigh, 32, who is set to be executed May 16 for his role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, has asked for his death to be broadcast live on television.

“The public’s wishing to look at people’s private lives goes way, way back, ” Hoffman says. “These are all impulses we all have, but most of the time we keep them in check  and now it’s acceptable to reveal everything.

“We are living in a visually connected culture, so what would usually only happen in a small community is now happening worldwide,” he says. “The danger is that soon we are going to be living in 1984where our private lives will disappear, and people may wind up being the authors of their own loss of liberty.”

In Orwell’s futuristic novel, 1984, Big Brother and the Thought Police are almost omniscient and personal privacy is a relic of the past. Given the emergence of reality TV, web cams, the Human Genome Project, and other potential technological intrusions into our private lives, Hoffman says, it may well turn out that Orwell was just a few decades off.

Corporate Couch Time

Deck: Companies Call on Shrinks to Find the Psychological Roots of Management Problems

 “Heads of companies come to me and describe one very specific problem, but often it turns out that the presenting issue is a gateway to other, deeper, systemic issues.” — Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, founder and president, the Boswell Group

At a time when people are popping Prozac to treat emotional ills, a new class of clients is seeking more traditional couch time: corporations. But don’t expect to overhear CEOs swapping shrink stories just yet. One specialist in the new field of psychoanalytic management consulting, Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz of New York, believes he has fewer than two dozen counterparts nationwide.

Sulkowicz’s firm, the Boswell Group, has assembled a client list of entrepreneurial companies, Internet startups, family businesses, even a traditional management-consulting firm. He and his group of nine affiliated executive coaches and consultants help clients uncover the behavioral roots of productivity problems, corporate culture clashes, hiring miscues and other management headaches.

Such corporate intervention typically involves an initial session with the CEO, talks with other key employees and on-the-job observation. Like individual therapy, the work of corporate shrinks can take a few sessions, a few months or longer, typically concluding when the initial problems have been addressed and the client feels better able to understand the psychology of running a business.

In case you’re wondering, the “Boswell” in the firm’s name is Sulkowicz’s Jack Russell terrier, who in turn was named for James Boswell, the biographer of Samuel Johnson.

Is this a fairly new phenomenon? How did psychoanalysts wind up in the business of advising corporations?
I don’t think the need for this is any greater than it has ever been, but in recent years there have been a number of analysts who have found that applying these ideas to business is a growth area. Three or four years ago, the American Psychoanalytical Association started an ad hoc committee on corporate and organizational consulting. This is a growing trend, but still a small niche of people trained psychoanalytically to understand behavior in a company  It’s a fairly natural extension of the business, and something that’s becoming more recognized. There’s a trend overall in business where more leaders are open to looking at the psychological side of their business. I’m not sure why this is, but you can look in the business press and you’ll see more and more articles addressing business psychology.

How can a CEO recognize that his or her company is “sick” and needs the help of a psychoanalyst?
When a company finds itself bogged down in bureaucracy, when a company has young and inexperienced leadership, or when a leader has a good vision but is having trouble implementing it. When a leadership team has lots of bright people but has trouble delegating, often that has a psychological component.

I’m reluctant to call it a sick or dysfunctional company. It might scare people off. And I’m not out there trying to diagnose a company or individual. I’m not looking for pathology. In fact, these often tend to be healthy companies that have leaders who are relatively psychology-minded to begin with.

Can you share how you’ve helped specific clients?
Heads of companies come to me and describe one very specific problem, but often it turns out that the presenting issue is a gateway to other, deeper, systemic issues. One company engaged us because they were growing rapidly and had to do a lot of hiring. They were hiring on impressions without paying a lot of attention to matching people with job descriptions.

They asked me to look at their hiring process and help the management team learn how to interview better. I did a workshop with the managers to help them learn to read between the lines and be more predictive.

I asked them to take notes on their interviews, and we went over them in a microscopic way. We looked at how the person responded to questions, whether they responded directly or evasively, whether there were signs of anxiety, whether there were inconsistencies or suggestions that a person was running away from an idea or maybe running away from work if it was getting stressful. It’s an adaptation of how I would work with a patient.

The person who founded the company was very much an entrepreneur and as the company was growing he was sensing that he might not be able to make the change from entrepreneurial to corporate leadership. The second part of my work was consulting with him over several months to help him to make the transition to a new kind of leadership.

I worked individually with the leader of the organization to help him see various ways he was holding on to his control. I helped him to let go of control over several different areas of the business and helped him see that he could trust the people working for him. It really involved him saying he could trust his own judgment, too, because he had hired all of these executives himself.

He got money from a very traditional, conservative foreign company, which sent someone to oversee the management. The culture of the foreign company was the antithesis of the cutting-edge culture the founder wanted to create. They had a culture with wild, creative people running around and doing inventive things, with a staid, buttoned-down, conservative man in a corner office overseeing things.

A lot of the executive team had been very reluctant to spend time with him. They saw him and assumed he was unapproachable. But I spent a lot of time with him and got to know him, and I realized that there was probably more in common than was assumed.

So the third part of the consultation involved bringing that out on the table and addressing it rather than having it operating under the table. I wound up acting as a kind of mediator; I told the other side what I was learning. Gradually, I brought them together in a series of meetings. They found out that he was not quite as buttoned-down as he appeared and he realized that the Americans were not as wild as they appeared.

I’ve worked with several Internet startups. One common issue is helping fairly young management teams learn about people skills. They tend to be bright and have boundless energy but not much leadership experience. I have helped young leaders see the need for paying more attention to the interpersonal side of the business. I served as sort of an assistant to them, helping them in weekly meetings to listen to what’s being said between the lines by their management team, by being a kind of translator for what’s going on emotionally in the team. I taught them how to listen, how to communicate more effectively, how to build structures that allow more horizontal communication. In some cases I’ve recommended bringing in some people with gray hair.

Is this like organizational psychology or organizational behavior?
That approach is very different. The field of organizational behavior has long been involved in working with HR departments. These people tend to focus on things like workplace safety, career counseling, guidance, and they do a lot of standardized testing.

My approach is focused on the idea that companies may have a mind of their own. There are forces at play that are largely out of the awareness of the people working there. A company might benefit from it as it grows up to compete in a rapidly changing economy. It may be a way of covering all the bases and becoming aware of the psychological forces at play.

I do a variety of things, ranging from management culture studies to studies of the company’s culture as a whole to make it more productive. Another thing is executive coaching for the leadership of an organization, helping CEOs learn new psychological strategies to add to their functioning as CEOs, running management teams, delegating. I also do straightforward consulting to companies on different aspects of business with psychological underpinnings, including marketing and advertising.

What sets me apart from traditional consulting is that my training and experience allow me to understand some of the covert processes at work in an organization, the aspects that are operating outside the awareness of most of the participants. There are psychological underpinnings that traditional consultants no doubt run up against but may not have the training to tease out from the observable information.

How do clients find you, and how much do these services cost?
I have a Web site, www.boswellgroup.com, and I get a fair amount of interest from it. I don’t have any data on hits, but if I look at my practice I’ve got a lot of work that keeps me very busy. People have also found me through word of mouth and through my speaking and writing.

In terms of cost it’s similar to paying a partner of a law firm or a management-consulting firm. In terms of the amount of money that can be saved if a company can avoid mistakes, my fees are pretty reasonable.

Related Links: American Psychoanalytic Association

Unrest on the Job: Has ‘Desk Rage’ Hit Your Co-workers?

Companies may soon begin to hold training seminars on manners just as they do for sexual harassment and discrimination. In fact, a handful of U.S. companies are already hiring outside consultants to cope with the rudeness that seems to be about as commonplace as water coolers and copy machines in today’s offices and workplaces.

Whether it’s brushing by someone in the hall, calling your assistant incompetent, or cutting someone in line for the fax machine, corporate rudeness takes its toll.

A study of 775 employees conducted at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School showed that 12% of workers had quit their jobs to avoid nasty people at work, and 45% are thinking about doing so. In addition, more than half of workers lost time worrying about rude people in the office.

By all accounts, workplace stress is at an all-time high, and the number of violent workplace incidents has tripled since 1989. While incidents such as December’s deadly shooting spree at an Internet consulting firm near Boston are the exception, not the rule, all across America workers are yelling, cursing, slamming down phones, and damaging office supplies as they struggle with what psychologists call ‘desk rage.’

“The same factors that cause rudeness at large lead to incivility in the workplace,” explains Giovinella Gonthier, a Chicago etiquette consultant who gives lessons to individuals and consultants.

According to Gonthier, a number of factors are to blame. They include: corporate downsizing; pressure to produce more quickly with fewer resources; and the mushrooming population, which results in less space to work in, drive in, and play in.

An additional survey, released by Integra Realty Resources in New York, showed that one in 10 workers say employees have come to blows because of stress at work, and more than 40% said there is yelling and verbal abuse in their office. More than 20% of the 1,305 workers surveyed said that they have been driven to tears due to workplace stress. What’s more, the survey showed that people who work in cubicles are more stressed than people who don’t.

“Another major factor is that an entire generation of children has been raised without a lot of manners,” says Gonthier. “They have been raised by parents who grew up in the 1960s who felt too constrained by boundaries, so they raised their own children with greater permissiveness.”

Then, “In mid-’80s and 1990s, everyone focused on technology, so companies put all of their budgets into technology training and neglected soft skills such as manners and civility,” she tells WebMD. “Now you have a whole generation of employees skilled in computers who are lacking in dealing with people.”

Another problem, she says, is that “we don’t have a sense of ‘community,’ so if we make a vulgar gesture to a neighbor or someone on the road, they won’t know who we are. There’s no humiliation factor.”

Business casual dress codes may also be to blame, she says. “The casualness of dress code has affected the mentality of what is an appropriate business code of behavior,” says Gonthier. “If I am dressed casually, my behavior is going to be casual.”

Gonthier practices what she preaches. A seasoned diplomat, she was the ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. for Seychelles, an island republic off the coast of Kenya. She served as the charge d’affair in the Seychelles Paris embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seychelles. She has also been an ambassador to some of the Central American countries and to Cuba.

In today’s economy, she says, more job choices equal less loyalty. “If you view your employment situation as temporary, you are not going to care about how you behave,” she explains.

But the tide — not to mention the job market — may be turning, she says.

Gonthier’s company and others like it are working toward educating management about the consequences of incivility in the workplace, including how it affects employee retention and diminished productivity levels.

Usually, there are one or two people causing unhappiness in a corporate environment. Gonthier calls this person (or persons) “the rudester.”

But even one rudester can cause a ripple effect, she says. “If the CEO is yelling and screaming at his executive assistant, then his executive assistant will start screaming and yelling at other co-workers,” she says.

And who are you going to tell?

There are no procedures in place to report rudeness in most companies. “If an employee is sexually harassed, they know where to go, [but] companies are not recognizing civility as important or necessary until someone gets shot, slapped, or equipment is damaged,” she says.

Unfortunately, “companies don’t place a priority on workplace civility because it is not against the law the way that discrimination and sexual harassment are,” Gonthier tells WebMD. “When it comes to civility training, [companies] don’t have to do it because there’s no law against incivility.”

“I don’t think [rudeness] needs to be criminalized. People just need to become more aware of civility, and organizations should start rewarding people who [are civil] and evaluate workers on their soft skills as well as their hard skills,” she says. “This would eliminate the problem.”

Kerry J. Sulkowicz, MD, a New York City-based psychiatrist and management consultant, puts it this way: “Underlying the stress and the blow-ups at work are feelings of helplessness, and I think you can see that at all levels: from the people at bottom of the totem pole to people at the top.”

The new communication technologies have something to do with these feelings of helplessness, says Sulkowicz, who is president of The Boswell Group, a management consulting firm in New York City, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, and a faculty member of New York University’s Psychoanalytic Institute.

Helplessness triggers rage, he says.

“Fantasies are prevalent that more and more can be done by human beings, but it’s technology that can do more — not human beings,” he tells WebMD. “There isn’t enough of a gap between expectations of technology and expectations of human beings.”

If there is a problem with rudeness, incivility, or rage in the office, the first place to start is to involve the human resources department. Then, if necessary, management may want to bring in an outside consultant — like Sulkowicz or Gonthier, for example.

“I think there already is a greater sensitivity to the role of psychology in the workplace,” says Sulkowicz. “We are seeing good trends about the receptivity of managers and leaders to bring in outside counselors. I would hate to think that we would need more shootings to raise our awareness, but inevitably those things do it.”

Written by Denise Mann
Reviewed by Dr. Tonja Wynn Hamptoon

Got Bonus Envy?

Kerry J. Sulkowicz featured in article on the psychological side of bonus season on Wall Street (featured on page 37).

Abstract: Kerry Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, has his hands full this time of year. And it’s not just because the holidays are tough. Dr. Sulkowicz specializes in issues of money and power, and counts among his patients many of Wall Street’s deal-makers and market players. And these bankers and traders-members of a species not exactly known for introspection or self-flagellation-may find themselves spending some extra time on the couch during these cold winter…

Misunderstandings at the Office

Just before heading out the door one afternoon, [Jessica Lipnack] said she got a call from her lead investor saying that he didn’t like a phrase in one of the slides. Lipnack dashed off an e-mail to [Carrie Kuempel] along these lines: “Hey here’s some feedback from Bruce. Just one person’s opinion, but he thinks [this phrase] looks too trivial.”

In the Vault survey, 37 percent of respondents said they hated the smiley face and 63 percent said they didn’t. Lipnack said she uses smiley faces only with “e-mail mavens.” But she thinks that people may get over their aversion to the little guys once they’ve experienced enough confusion–people like Bonnie Barhyte.

Barhyte, vice president for international training at the Academy for Educational Development in Washington, has seen humor misfire in her organization. After the academy held a drawing to reward a lucky employee with free tickets to an event, congratulatory e-mails flew around the office. One jokester remarked in his e-mail that the drawing must have been rigged. He was baffled at the angry responses. “Some people thought that this person was really accusing people of having rigged the drawing,” Barhyte recalled.

Written by Sarah Schafer

Workplace: Executives Line Up For Couch Treatment

Handing off a family business to the younger generation is always fraught with risk, but the Manhattan psychiatrist and business consultant Kerry J. Sulkowicz did not appreciate how much so until the day a client – an executive who wanted to pass on his stake to his son – said he was thinking of building a cinder-block wall in the executive suite to seal off his younger brother. 

”I thought at first he was joking, but he said no, this was something he had considered,” said Dr. Sulkowicz, one of a small but growing number of psychoanalysts who apply the theories of Freud, Jung and their brethren to dysfunctional workplaces. 

Human psychiatric patients may consider this the age of psychopharmacology, thanks to the spread of Prozac and the realpolitik of managed care. But for sick companies, there are not any selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors yet, and the long-running economic expansion means there is more money than usual for consultants. So, unexpectedly, proponents of the old-fashioned ”talking cure” are finding new beachheads in the frenetic worlds of commerce and industry. 

”It’s very popular,” said Kenneth M. Settel, a clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who founded the American Psychoanalytic Association’s ad hoc committee on corporate and organizational consultation four years ago. 

”The more enlightened companies are concerned about morale,” Dr. Settel said. ”If it’s an abusive workplace, money will keep people for a while, but eventually they’ll be drawn away.” 

Psychoanalysts say the everyday ordeals of the business world are capable of setting into motion what they call collective insanity or the psychosis of association: mergers gone awry, incompetents named to top positions, sibling rivalries in the boardroom, mass layoffs, executive indictments. 

Dr. Sulkowicz suspects the technological advances driving the new economy are also spawning workplace neuroses. The newfound ability to buy seemingly anything at the click of a mouse, the promise of sudden riches through day trading and the hype about dot-com millionaires have probably fanned unhealthy delusions of omnipotence in American society, he said. 

Chief executives may not be happy to hear it, but some psychoanalytic consultants detect more than a whiff of pathology in the compulsion and single-mindedness it takes them to reach the top. And, if one of them crosses the line from eccentricity to outright mental illness, they say, he or she can infect the whole business. 

”Take, for example, the behavior and actions of the first Henry Ford,” wrote the managerial psychoanalyst Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries in a pioneering Harvard Business Review article in 1979, ”Managers Can Drive Their Subordinates Mad.” 

Henry Ford may have been a genius, wrote Dr. Kets de Vries, today a professor of human resource management at Insead, a French business school, and the author of ”Life and Death in the Executive Fast Lane” (Jossey-Bass, 1995). But Ford was also despotic, grandiose and perpetually on the prowl for imagined enemies, the professor said. Distracted and debilitated, Ford’s leadership team spent years battling phantom enemies while the real foe, General Motors, gobbled up market share. 

Psychoanalytic consultants say their approach to sick workplaces differs from that of traditional industrial psychologists, who observe human behavior and try to improve morale and productivity without delving into the human psyche. Nor do they advocate the once-popular use of psychological tests in recruiting, a technique that has fallen into some disfavor recently because of lawsuits asserting bias. 

Instead, the consultants say their role is to plumb the unconscious of managers and executives, trying to identify motivating forces, never forgetting the premise that an individual’s forgotten past can shape his or her behavior in the present. 

No one lies on a couch; the consultants typically sit in on business meetings; study the way individuals interact; hold regular one-on-one sessions with executives; interview employees at lower levels; and analyze what they see and hear. 

They don’t march around telling managers they have Oedipus complexes and the like. ”That isn’t helpful in an organizational setting,” Dr. Settel said. But they are expected to make practical business recommendations to the board. 

Dr. Sulkowicz said that when he first entered a workplace, he usually found himself ”the object of a benign, positive transference” – in other words, the employees use him to recreate certain aspects of their relationships with their parents. 

This soon changes, though. While working with the executive who was flirting with the idea of walling off his brother, Dr. Sulkowicz said, he began to have the uneasy feeling that ”transferences to me cast me in the role of the brother to be killed.” 

Dr. Sulkowicz declined to reveal the identity of the family or the business in that case. In a presentation that preserved his subjects’ anonymity, the doctor described to the American Psychoanalytic Association a veritable witch’s brew under the company’s buttoned-down exterior of repressed fratricidal fantasies, incestuous homosexual longings, parental abuse, efforts to attract love through outrageous acts and substance abuse aimed at dulling existential pain. 

Can airing such things really help a business? Three months into working with the warring brothers, Dr. Sulkowicz reported, they were able to agree on a series of steps toward bringing their sons on board. And the one who wanted to put up the cinder blocks asked the psychoanalyst for his business card, saying he had a friend who might benefit from treatment.

Written by Mary Williams Walsh

The New Economy on the Couch

Kerry J. Sulkowicz, M.D., a psychiatrist and management consultant, will be speaking on “Psychoanalysis and the New Economy” at St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center in New York City on Thursday, September 14 at 11:00 am.

Dr. Sulkowicz, a psychoanalyst and President of The Boswell Group, LLC, will be putting the New Economy on the couch, and analyzing some of the underlying effects and meanings of the Internet on contemporary culture in general and the world of business in particular. He will address these critical issues, among others, in his talk:

  • Psychological effects on society of the Internet, including the pros and cons of the loss of inhibition that comes with email and web-based communication.
  • Unbridled narcissism of many current business leaders, and the relationship between childhood trauma and unusual success.
  • Impact of the New Economy on corporate and childhood creativity.
  • The Internet’s darker side, including how it can foster widespread paranoia.
  • Fantasies that “anything is possible,” even in the wake of the Internet stock crash.
  • Why we idealize New Economy moguls like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

“The Internet, at the heart of the New Economy, is everywhere,” says Dr. Sulkowicz, “and my aim is to try to understand what it means to us and how it is changing us.” His lecture, at Grand Rounds, will also introduce the audience to a new application of psychoanalytic science to management consulting. He will describe how executive coaching using a deeper, psychoanalytic approach can provide business leaders with unrivaled psychological skills to enhance their effectiveness as CEO’s and managers. His consulting has also been highly effective in working with Internet entrepreneurs, family businesses, traditional management consultants and executive search firms.

Dr. Sulkowicz is the founder of The Boswell Group, LLC, a consulting firm that focuses on the psychology of management and leadership (www.boswellgroup.com). He is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, and on the Faculty of the NYU Psychoanalytic Institute. In addition to his consulting work, Dr. Sulkowicz is in private practice in Manhattan. He was a Chief Resident in Psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital Center and NYU Medical Center. A graduate of Harvard College, he received his M.D. from the University of Texas.

For a copy of Dr. Sulkowicz’s lecture, please contact Dottie Jeffries at 202.628.6544 (djeffries@djeffries.com).

For further information on psychoanalytic management consultation, or to make a confidential inquiry about obtaining a consultation, Dr. Sulkowicz can be contacted directly by telephone at 212 737-1542 or by email at kjs@boswellgroup.com.