Work therapy is trendy right now.
Your job shouldn’t send you to therapy. When you seek help for work-related trauma and stress, your leaders have failed you. The system has failed you. More importantly, the HR team has failed you.
Yet, more and more of us are winding up in a counselor’s office because our work-lives are absurd and toxic.
Now, I’m all for therapy. It can change circumstances, broaden horizons, and change lives. But the biggest problem with therapy is that many people only go when it’s too late and all hope is lost. Behaviors are entrenched, habits feel overwhelming, and relationships are broken. We fail at work and then ask a therapist to save us. That’s a tall order.
So, if you are thinking about seeing a counselor about a broken work environment, I have some thoughts.
It’s essential to begin with the end in mind.
Do one exercise when you make your first appointment: envision the final meeting you’ll ever have with this therapist.
How will you feel? What will have changed? How will tomorrow be different from today? Write it all down, and bring that piece of paper with you to the first appointment.
Don’t wait for a therapist to tell you how to fix work. Try to have an active role in fixing your life.
Be honest if you’re despondent.
Can’t do the exercise above because you’re depressed? That’s why you are going to therapy in the first place? Try this: write down five “feeling statements” about Monday morning.
Do you feel exhausted? Afraid? Desperate? Fed-up? Angry?
Don’t explain why. Don’t obsess on situations, political drama, or the historical context of why you’re upset and seeking help.
If you don’t know how you feel, which is more common than you realize, try using the feeling wheel to come up with the words to explain what’s in your heart.
The important part is to identify the underlying feelings that are present on Monday morning, which are almost always overlooked to get out of bed in the morning.
Feeling statements help to organize your emotions and get you prepared for the hard work of fixing your career.
Figure out what’s work and what’s life.
When people complain about work-life balance, they’re often complaining about “life.” That one big bucket where everything is terrible, challenging, and broken.
Your boss sucks. Your partner badgers you about shared responsibilities without having any consideration about what’s happening at work. You’re broke and worried about money. The way your boss treats you reminds you of your parents. Your officemate is a jerk and talks too loudly, but you don’t know what to say. You friggin’ hate carpool.
Work-life obstacles are almost always a blend of personal and professional problems that have gone unaddressed for years. You can speed up the process by creating two columns on a sheet of paper: work and life.
Sort your problems, challenges, obstacles, and even grievances in those two categories. Then, as a second step, start to draw lines between the two. Literally, take a red pen and connect the dots.
It might look like this:
But it’s a start. At least you’ve ignited the process of making connections before your first session.
Self-exploration is worthwhile, but self-leadership is better.
Therapists are trained to help us through trauma. But when it comes to your job, they have to do the additional work of linking corporate drama (that you don’t control) to the overarching story of your entire life.
Self-leadership makes this process work a whole lot better. Show up to your first session of therapy knowing what you’d like to accomplish. Have a list of your feelings. Explore your story and get curious about the link between work and life.
I’m not saying that I’ve just saved you nine sessions, but I am saying that prework helps to prepare you for fixing work and gives your therapist context and content to understand you in an accelerated way. And maybe this article can get out of therapy — and out of that shitty job — a little faster.