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Bring your therapist to work day? No, it’s not a best practice.

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Editor’s Note: ‘Happy Hour’ is an HR Dive column from Reporter Ginger Christ. Follow along as she dives into some of the offbeat news in the HR space.

A few months ago, a colleague sent me a message on Slack: “Please write about this … This can’t be best practice.”

Being nosy (there’s a reason I’m a reporter), I was intrigued. 

Enter consultant Alison Green’s popular website Askamanager.org, where she offers readers advice on “what the hell your manager is thinking, or how to ask for a raise, or whether you might be in danger of getting fired, or what to do if a coworker keeps stealing your lunch.” 

The issue at hand was a boss who invited workers to a three-hour meeting about a company restructuring, allegedly with his business coach, in an attempt to increase transparency. The coach turned out to be the boss’ personal therapist and spent the meeting sharing how work pressures were affecting the boss and how the reorganization could help alleviate some of that burden. 

Green’s response: “We were just talking recently about how therapists don’t always get work stuff right, and holy hell is this a clear example.”

I decided to turn to some psychologists to get their insight on this particular situation and on the role of therapy in office settings.  

Dr. Michele Leno, a licensed psychologist who owns DML Psychological Services in Michigan and provides life coaching for business executives and personal therapy services, said “the decision to enter therapy is a personal one” and not something managers should force employees into. 

“Therapy can trigger emotions that the employer is not prepared to handle. It may be even more alarming for staff to hear their boss’ therapist talk about the boss’ mental health concerns,” Leno told HR Dive via email. “It is clear that the CEO’s effort to be transparent was not at all helpful. In fact, some perceived it as self-centered. As a manager, talking about your personal problems when an employee approaches you about what’s not working is like emotional blackmail.”

This is quite different from hiring a business coach or industrial psychologist as part of a strategy planning exercise, Leno said. 

“If the goal is to inspire staff to do better, it makes sense to hire someone with a psychology background. … If we want to motivate people, we must get to know them as individuals and incorporate practices that take into account human behavior,” she said. “Business development days, while potentially therapeutic, are not clinical or the same as traditional therapy sessions.”

Dr. Jenna Glover, a trained psychologist and vice president of care services at Headspace, an online mindfulness company known for its app of the same name, reiterated the personal nature of mental health. 

“While it’s important that employers and HR leaders create an environment in which employees have access to mental health and wellness tools, it’s critical to understand that a person’s mental health journey is deeply personal, as is any health journey or condition,” Glover told HR Dive via email. 

The scenario described on Ask a Manager “surfaces an important conversation about how leaders approach mental health in the workplace and the critical need to increase mental health education amongst employers, HR leaders and people managers,” Glover said. 

“Mental health in the workplace can be a delicate topic, and rather than ignoring mental healthcare or making it an obligation, employers can become a conduit for their workforce to gain access to mental health and wellness tools to assist employees on their personal journey,” Glover said.

I wholeheartedly believe in therapy and working on mental health, as my therapist can attest (Thank you. You’re amazing!). But maybe I don’t need to call my therapist into the office when I (inevitably) miss a deadline.

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