Clutch decisions

I never could keep straight the difference between psychology and psychiatry until my wife became a clinical psychologist. Now, not only is it very important for me to know, it’s actually quite interesting.

For one thing, strictly speaking, a psychiatrist is essentially a physician who specializes in mental disease. And – again, strictly speaking – that is how they are taught to view mental disorders: as medical disorders. They are fundamentally biochemical in nature, and treatment consists, quite naturally, of restoring a healthy biochemical state in the patient. That is, treatment consists, as it does most of the time for most other medical doctors, of medication.

Psychologists acknowledge that many mental disorders have their origin in biochemical imbalance. On the other hand, they believe that many others arise from dysfunction in personality, behavior, and the like.

Insofar as this is the case, restoring biochemical balance is sort of like pushing on a string – it fails to address the core problem, or the core cause of it. Thus, it can only, with constant modification, suppress the disorder’s symptoms, but never cure it.

Moreover, many psychologists argue, even when a mental disorder can be traced to a biochemical source, biochemical therapy may not be the most effect way to treat it. Psychological therapy may turn out to be the best way to help the patient better monitor and control his or her own body and mental state together.

So, even where there is agreement on the core nature of certain specific problems being biochemical, the question still gets down to what is the cause of the imbalance. After all, it doesn’t just happen of its own accord – what makes it become dysfunctional in a person?

Think of a manual transmission car. If it is going along smoothly at a target rate of 30 mph in third gear on a level road, psychiatrists and psychologists alike might be satisfied. But if it stays in third gear while entering a steep upgrade, it will start to slow down and stall. What happened?

A psychiatrist would argue that there is an imbalance between the load being put on the engine and the power it is generating. The core cause is, given the desired speed and new environmental conditions, to downshift to second gear, and that would be the prescription.

Of course, once the road leveled out again, the engine would begin revving at a very high rate in order to maintain the target speed, leading to a number of different but equally discomfiting problems. Now what?

Well a psychiatrist would once again determine that there is a mismatch between the load on the engine and the power it is generating. The prescription would be to shift back into third gear.

And so on.

On the face of it, the psychiatrist is right. Every time. But problems of one sort or another, seemingly quite different, keep recurring in one form or another.

And so the psychologist steps in to argue that the problem isn’t in the mechanical state of the car, but in the mental state of the driver, who needs to be taught how to safely and economically operate this sort of car in various traffic and environmental conditions. Once that is done, the problem will not recur.

Who is right? As a manager, what does this mean to you? Do you concern yourself with pistons, gears, and atoms, organizing them just so in order to maintain the desired state, or do you address yourself to motivations and states of mind, attempting to get them to work on their own in harmony with your organizational goals?

We’ll continue to look at this in the next several days. Thanks for stopping by!

Today’s tips: Extraordinary visionary leaders – just watch out. See this piece from Reuters about one man once effusively praised. What happened? Did he change? Was everyone wrong about him the whole time? Or is the concept a poisonous corruption of professional management?

Please see this article by Mary Jo Asmus offering a distillation of her thoughts on individual leadership – please pay special attention to the first two paragraphs (after the italicized intro). Consider the second, in the context of the first. There is much to think about, there.

You will also want to note the points made about the latent middleman in all of us, by Fred H. Schlegel. Don’t miss this one.

If you have anything to do with project management, please do also stop by this interesting new site, an interactive forum for project managers to exchange ideas, challenges, and solutions.

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