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Organisational Therapy

28 February 2022
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When it feels like the world is falling apart, I seek solace in television.  Not live ‘terrestrial’ television of course, because THE NEWS can pop up at anytime on that and in times of high stress THE NEWS must be avoided at all costs to maintain some semblance of calm. In Lockdown One, when nobody really knew what we were up against and whether a deadly virus could blow in through the window at any time (or cling onto a box of Coco Pops), the 1995 BBC adaption of Pride and Prejudice was my guiding light.  At the very beginning, when I couldn’t sleep at all, Pride and Predge kept me company night after night on Netflix, each perfectly crafted episode ably instilling a sense of content. It wasn’t even about Mr Darcy swimming through his bacteria ridden pond, it was more that watching it contained no threat, no danger, just the comforting memories of Sundays with Mum on the sofa, snuggled up with a duvet.  A time when life was much, much simpler and far less scary.

In the latest instalment of ‘Global Catastrophe Get Me Out of Here’ I have needed to remove myself from live television and again retreat into the box set.  Luckily, I have discovered a wonderful series on BBC iplayer – “Couples Therapy”.  Psychology really interests me and has helped me loads in the past when my brain has been caught in loops of worries so when I saw this on my ‘Recommended For You’ list, I quickly pressed play. (I wanted to watch because I am interested in psychology you see, not because I am interested in seeing whether my husband and I would benefit from it. Ahem.)

To bring things back to the day job and BUSINESS, when watching, I started to think a lot about that very ‘in vogue’ concept of ‘Psychological Safety’.  The phrase ‘Psychological Safety’ was first explored and popularised by Prof Amy Edmundson of Harvard Business School in 1999 and can be defined as:

‘the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes’

Mentions of the term really seem to be everywhere at the moment, but given how difficult organisations find improving things, it’s popularity makes sense because it’s such a tremendously important foundation for innovation and success.

If people don’t feel that they can point out problems in the current process for fear of humiliating superiors, or suggest new ways of working for fear of ‘getting too big for your boots’ or that they can ‘fess up to failings for fear of the sack, progress is incredibly difficult.  Honest, transparent and supportive cultures are the conditions required for improvement to thrive. This is the finding of Prof. Edmundson’s research too, that the highest performing teams are the ones that are able to share errors that have occurred, openly, and are therefore most able to learn from them.

So back to Couples Therapy and very quickly, I was hooked.  What was so gripping to watch was how session after session, Dr Orna Guralnik created an environment of yes, ‘psychological safety’, where the couples in her care began to understand their relationship in a new light and together, started to realise why things were playing out the way that they were.  I watched, in awe, at her ability to ask the right questions.  I wanted to type ‘simply ask the right questions’ just then but the trouble is, there is no ‘simply’ about it. Asking the right questions at the right time takes an immense amount of intelligence, intuition and experience.

She was able to sensitively identify when an issue needed to be further explored, when it was beneficial to be firm, when it was necessary to be empathetic and most importantly perhaps, when she just had to listen.  And boy is she good at listening.  She REALLY listens, you can see it in her face as she really seems to take every word that each person says and process it as part of a bigger, more complex picture.

It was a real privilege to see how, meeting after meeting, the couples opened up, feeling safe enough to be able to share their true feelings and critically, their true histories. Dr Orna Guralnik helped each individual to better understand why and how they behaved the way that they behaved and then this helped the couples to better understand and appreciate each other. You got the sense that she wasn’t ever presuming that she knew what was going on, or jumping to any kind of conclusion, she was discovering the realities of their situation at the same time as the couples were, yet she was also providing an essential guiding role to help them to reach their own conclusions. It’s pretty amazing to watch.

What I absolutely loved was how the series also gave us the opportunity to see how Orna herself, needed a guide (Virginia, her Clinical Advisor) to help her navigate the couples’ experiences. How she experienced the weight of responsibility that she palpably felt when providing therapy to the couples and that she too needed to be supported through the experience. She was a better coach and guide by reflecting on her own experiences of being a therapist, by having open conversations with her own guide, to help her achieve her own revelations.

Seeing how even someone as wise as Orna needs the support of another and then how many of the couples, once they unpicked all of their mutual frustrations, realised that they did provide something really important for each other, provided me with the type of warm, fuzzy feelings that a dose of Pride and Prejudice provides!

If only everyone in the world focussed on the power of people being stronger together, rather than the violent pursuit of global supremacy.