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How The “Undercover Bosses” Learned to Be Like Therapists

by Kimberly on May 13, 2010 · 7 comments

Did you watch the CBS show “Undercover Boss“?

The premise is that one of the head-honchos in an organization (e.g. the President, CEO, or COO) spent a week “undercover,” working in the lower ranking positions in their organization. The boss of Waste Management spent time picking up trash, the boss of 1-800-Flowers swept the floors and delivered flowers, and the boss from Churchill Downs scooped up horse manure. Along the way, they spent time and talked with their employees, which inevitably led to some major organizational changes and new strategies within the company.

Basically, they listened to others.

That’s it in a nutshell. These bosses stopped talking and listening to other bosses and “experts” in the organization and started listening to those “in the trenches.” Those who maybe didn’t have all the training and education of the Boss, but who had, in many ways, had better, more concrete ideas about how to improve operations and increase morale.

Which got me thinking–isn’t that a big part of what it takes to be a therapist? Simply listen to our clients?

We have all this training and all this education, but our primary job is to listen to our clients. This comes in many forms:

  • Reading “between the lines” when trying to understand what a trauma-influenced teenager is really trying to say
  • Watching and “listening” to the movements of a patient with a stroke, so you can adapt the music to best facilitate their movements
  • Talking to the parents of a child with autism, being empathetic to their emotional struggles even though they’re technically not your “client”
  • Observing the nonverbal cues a patient in the hospital shows when listening to a song, so you can determine as best you can the next thing they need

Being a therapist is humbling. At it’s core, a big part of our job as therapists is simply to observe. To observe, to reflect, and to learn from our clients.

I’ve walked out of countless sessions, feeling absolutely humbled by the growth and insight a client experienced. Half the time, I feel I’m more a vessel for that change. I provide the opportunity, but it’s the client who made the leap.

It’s a powerful feeling, and one we as therapists are privileged to experience frequently. It’s the same feeling many of those Bosses felt, but for them it was unfamiliar and life-changing.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate May 13, 2010 at 9:25 am

I especially agree with the point about listening to a client’s parents or other family members. Sometimes parents just need to talk briefly with someone who can understand and empathize in order to rid themselves of frustration, guilt, etc. Of course, I recommend personal therapy to those who seem to need more in-depth counseling to deal with their issues, but in general, a little listening goes a long way. In my experience, the opportunity to be heard and validated can help empower them to be better parents, siblings, teachers, etc. to the client.

TheCrazyMusicLady May 13, 2010 at 9:42 am

I really wish something like this would happen with our state healthcare providers. That is the biggest problem at my current place of employment, the management mandates changes that in reality make things even LESS effective. Then, when someone from ‘the trenches’ makes a suggestion, they are dismissed as not knowing enough.

Kellee Coviak May 13, 2010 at 10:14 am

Great comparison! I can relate to feeling like a “vessel for change”…great choice of words!

Emily May 14, 2010 at 7:39 am

I too really liked the “vessel of change” thought. Many times when I share success stories with co-workers who are non-therapists, they tell me good job. I always make it a point to say I just provided the opportunity for the client to shine.

Kimberly May 17, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I think “providing the opportunity” is key here. ~Kimberly

Kimberly May 17, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Absolutely about the “personal therapy” bit. Good point! ~Kimberly

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