Counseling Performance, Coaching as Therapy

Personal issues are rarely reasonable and rarely fit into a goal-oriented approach.

“High performers are goal-oriented strategic thinkers. Seventy-six percent are enthusiastic, but 53% are burnt out. High performers are frustrated by problems that cannot be clarified.”

Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Sick Notions of Mental Health

Coaches and counselors are currently trained to view personal struggles as weaknesses that require therapy. In contrast, your ability to perform well is considered a skill to be encouraged. But what about personal struggles that relate to being successful, or accomplishments that injure others and stunt your growth? Does a dysfunctional family, community, or culture require you to get therapy to accept them, or do you need the encouragement to fix them?

When I typed, “Counseling Performance, Coaching as Therapy,” into ChatGPT the artificial intelligence responded by saying: “This combination can provide clients with a well-rounded approach, addressing both emotional and performance-related issues.”

This computer-generated summary is more enlightened than what I see in practice. It shows that the A.I. system sees a growing trend toward integration. This is a good thing, but it is not yet evident. It will be some time before this kind of integration is adopted, if it is ever adopted.

Psychology has always been a servant of social norms, both personal and political. The stereotype attitude that portrays a dissatisfied person as socially dysfunctional and which sees financial success as a moral virtue has old roots in Western culture.

This institutional prejudice infects people and politics. It’s embraced, excused, and overlooked by psychologists, counselors, therapists, coaches, and consultants who, ultimately, do not work for you. They work for the institutions in which we’re embedded.

Seeing a person’s mental health to be proportional to their productivity is disrespectful because it dismisses a person’s personal struggles as unimportant to their social standing. It’s dysfunctional because it sells the dishonest idea that performance, as measured by your productivity, should be disconnected from your inner senses of meaning, purpose, and value.

Following today’s model, the dysfunctional family is given cognitive therapy to correct their problematic behavior. Cognitive therapy is the child of operant conditioning that is rooted in and emerged from the Pavlovian training of animals.

The struggling worker, manager, or executive is coached to better manage their time and resources. The coaches and consultants support you in generating higher returns through the better use of resources such as family, friends, co-workers, and corporations. They do not question motives or purpose; their purpose is to optimize rewards. If your conscience troubles you, then see a therapist!

This system is rotten at its core. If your mental health is not connected with your sense of purpose, then you will not find mental health regardless of the amount of behavioral conditioning you receive. Conversely, if you optimize your performance without a sense of spiritual value, then your actions are immoral and, perhaps, you are immoral too.

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In the Absence of Ethics

The modern professions of counseling and coaching don’t recognize deep personal value. If personal value is considered at all, it’s seen as spiritual and relegated to theology. This is not just a dismissal of ethics, it’s a moral failure. Just as psychopathic individuals cannot recognize emotional feelings, professions become pathological when they can’t recognize moral values.

The separation of church and state came from the time when the church competed with the state and served its own political ends. The effort was not to separate overbearing morality from necessary pragmatism, as we’re led to believe. It was an attempt to limit the parasitic authority of the church, which had wedded itself to monarchy.

In defining mental health as whatever supports proper behavior, we are regressing to the ideals of the industrial revolution. In that framework, health and virtue were measured by wealth and resource exploitation. People were an expendable resource. It was from that mindset that the world went to war and ecology went to pot. If we don’t change that—and we are currently not changing that mindset—then the wars and degradation will continue.

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Working With High Performers

I have more experience working with high performance people than I do with those in need of mental health counseling. As a mountaineer, most of my colleagues were high performers, but there were quite a few troubled people among them. In mountaineering, psychological problems may affect decisions sometimes leading to disabled results. In a sport that values achievement over security, fatalities are common. Climbers more often get into trouble than they get out of it.

My decade in academic physics introduced me to another high performance community. In that culture, academia provided rewards that papered over personal dysfunctions. In fields where accomplishments are rewarded regardless of the cost, there are quite a few indifferent, destructive, and unenlightened people!

I found more balanced personalities during my twenty years as a consultant to IT managers and CEOs. These people were responsible for their behavior. They were also the best that our corporate plutocracy could produce. They were generally not nice, and I would give them low marks for mental health, but they led successful organizations.

The corrupt people I encountered tended to work in corrupt organizations. There, colleagues protected each other and exploited others. I was usually in the position of being exploited, along with other resources.

These were valuable educational experiences because I saw the workings of high performance, immoral minds. This is a class above criminal, because these people are rarely caught. The quality of an executive is judged by their performance, not by their ethics.

The Benefits of Victimhood

Being a victim teaches you lessons you cannot get in school. It’s tremendously valuable if you survive it.

The most destructive form of victimization, or the most effective depending on how you look at it, leaves you dependent on the victimizer. In this regard, most of us were victims of compulsory education, though few of us recognize it.

The expression, “To be the victim of one’s own success,” is taken to mean that you suffer the negative consequences of overwork. This is not what I saw, as most high performance people work all the time and are none the worse for it. The cost of success is not a lack of time for rest and relaxation, it’s the ill consequence of having no moral values.

You cannot excel at something if you cannot devote yourself to it. If you dislike spending all your time on a project, then you will not excel at it. This holds for everything I’ve done, and for all the high performers I’ve worked with. But devotion is not sufficient to make a person excellent at what they do. To become excellent, you must also be balanced and effective.

Being effective does not mean being successful in everything you do. It means learning and improving as you go. Being balanced does not mean being regular or rigid. It means attending to whatever needs are required to maintain your focus and effort.

Working all the time does not mean you must sacrifice your moral values. That’s a separate concession rooted in a particular moral weakness. Every successful person is the victim of their success, but that does not mean they suffer. Devotion is required; suffering is optional.

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Therapy for the High Performer

I am now working with many high performers. I expect to be working with more in the future because I have experience in a variety of high performance fields.

I’m finding that high performers have many of the same problems as people whose lives are dysfunctional. It’s just that the high performers have kept these problems from taking all their attention. They have the same problems, and they have the same disabilities, they’re just coping better.

This is both good and bad. It’s good because they’re not in crisis, but it’s bad because they give these problems low priority. The problem a high performer faces is taking small problems seriously.

The stereotype of the high performer is a person who is successful at their main purpose, but does not understand and sustains chronic tension. Such people are typically motivated and strategic in their main pursuits, but they are not motivated to address those problems they cannot understand.

The low performer who is struggling recognizes a problem. If they can address it, then they have a good chance of making progress. If they cannot address it, as is often the case, then the real problem lies more deeply. They are like high performers in this case because both have problems they are unable or unwilling to see.

Since I pursue a combination of performance and mental health, I’m developing a clientele comprising people skilled in the first and concerned with the second. There are few resources for these people that address both needs.

Perhaps we need a program called Overachievers Anonymous. The confusing implication of such a title reflects our inability to see the failures in success. It also reflects our inability to see the positive potential in dysfunction, struggle, and victimization.

I’m quite glad to empower people who have the skill, motivation, and resources to make the best of themselves, whether they’re high performers or not. I believe everyone should be guided toward higher performance. Everyone should be confident in their ability and have the motivation to perform at a higher level.

If you feel you could perform better by addressing some difficult issues, then schedule a free conversation with me at:

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