04/12/2013 07:30 GMT | Updated 02/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Do CEOs Need a Priest?

In an interview with the BBC (1), Lord Digby Jones, the former director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), recently suggested that business executives could benefit from "highly confidential mentoring", where "people from outside the company work with you on a regular basis ... people (that) can be trusted in almost a lawyer or priest relationship", if confidential information needs to be discussed.

I would add therapist and counsellor to this list of suitable professionals. Why? The counselling relationship is intended to be one between equals, firmly based on confidentiality, professional boundaries and ethics. Contrary to common belief, entering therapy is not self-indulgence or only an option at extreme moments in our lives, when all else has failed.

We do not question the importance of servicing our cars or central heating systems. Neither do we question the link between healthy nutrition and physical well being. We visit a dentist when we have a toothache, instead of hoping the problem will disappear by itself. However, we find it difficult to apply the same standards to our emotional well being, and do not always recognise that emotional and psychological servicing and maintenance makes sense, is good practice and the responsible thing to do. We all have physical and psychological thresholds. None of us can always give 100% or 120% at work or in relationships.

Very few work places do without some kind key performance indicators (KPIs), value for money reviews, revenue targets, shareholder value and staff performance reviews. It is not uncommon for companies to have a set of values and ethics, which employees and business processes are asked to adhere to. Some companies offer confidential counselling to staff through Employment Assistance Programmes (EAPs), which is mostly capped at 5 weekly sessions. Others bring in external executive coaches. However, working with a therapist or counsellor is still not widely embraced as a 'mainstream' option, apart from moments of crisis.

I would argue that this is a missed opportunity. Because with a therapist or counsellor clients, irrespective of their work status and certainly including senior executives, can speak freely, confidentially and explore issues of concern to them. With professional therapeutic support difficulties can often be looked at in a new light, solutions developed and difficult conversations rehearsed.

Having a non-judgemental space can be a liberating, uplifting and motivating experience. Making time in a busy work schedule and being committed to using therapy constructively can often be the start of developing coping strategies for work stress (and difficult colleagues), more healthy professional boundaries and work-life balance.

Many therapists and counsellors have worked in other professions and industries prior to their training and are familiar with different work place demands, cultures and structures.

Some might well have been senior executives or even CEOs themselves.

(First published by Counselling Directory on 19th November 2012.)


Karin Sieger

MA (Couns.Psych.), Reg. MBACP (Accred)