Therapist, counselor, shrink, head peeper, life coach, analyst, psychotherapist, psychologist – are just some of the many (some not so endearing) titles imparted to mental health professionals. Even in an age when therapy is seemingly more common — a University of Phoenix study reports that one-quarter of adults in the U.S. admit to utilizing some form of mental health support — counseling is still highly stigmatized.

An interesting notion, considering the value potential of counseling — effective communication, insight into behavior, boundary setting and active listening (among others). Ironically, they are all tools that are highly essential in the workplace and invaluable for a business leader to possess. How can taking care of personal business make for better business and best leadership practices?

Basic benefits

“The creation of a therapeutic alliance and the ability to work through historical wounds and own how our negative thought patterns may be holding us back only makes us better leaders,” says Sierra Tucson CEO Jaime Vinck, MC, LPC, NCC, CEIP. “The ability to connect, trust and show up without our past baggage can only help us improve.”

As human beings, we all inarguably have a past, and most wouldn’t admit to having a solely unblemished history.

“We all have blind spots,” explains David Larimer, program clinical director at Scottsdale Recovery Center. “It’s not uncommon for Fortune 500 companies to pair a senior-level executive with a junior-level executive to mentor and help enlighten one another’s strengths, as well as areas in need of improvement.”

Exploring self-awareness and discovering character assets versus defects is the beginning, but the gathering and application of solutions and further insight is undoubtedly an added advantage of tackling self-appraisals in a safe and confidential counseling session.

“Ultimately, counseling helps leaders continue to improve their quality of life while supporting their professional and personal goals and addressing the barriers that get in the way,” says  Dr. Kristen Ray, DBH, LPC, behavioral health director at Bayless Integrated Healthcare.

Ray says therapeutic goals to improve one’s ability to lead their business and employees may include:

• Increasing one’s self-awareness

• Learning how to receive and react to feedback

• Broadening perspectives

• Addressing fears associated with being in leadership positions (i.e. failure, public speaking)

Once personal layers of behaviors, barriers and baggage are discussed, another major benefit a business leader can glean from therapy is how to appropriately handle interactions in the workplace.

“Counseling not only helps to remove barriers to fulfilling and meaningful professional and personal relationships, but also helps business leaders be effective role models for their employees and co-workers.” Dr. Ray confirms.

Sideline semantics

Again, despite what many would consider an increased positive perception toward seeking personal counseling, negative stigmas remain alive and well.

“If you market the word ‘therapy’, there is still a stigma which can trigger an immediate response of ‘I’m not going to therapy,’” Larimer says. “The Harvard Business Review recently published an article in which the preferred language uses ‘benefits from mentoring/coaching.’”

Dale E. Parsons, LCSW, director of therapy services at St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Center in Phoenix, presents the idea of “leadership coaching,” in which a specific approach to coaching focuses on business and work objectives, including the identification of personal styles that create barriers and impede the realization of organizational targets and goals.

“Leadership coaching is designed to help successful people become more effective executives,” Parsons says, “by helping to improve interpersonal or communication skills, conflict-management skills and leadership qualities.”

The result, Parsons explains, is often a boost in self-confidence, assertiveness and sense of well-being.

“Leaders can learn to be more adaptive and flexible to the demands and challenges of a particular situation,” he says.

If semantics or stigmas aren’t a factor for a business leader looking to improve his/her skills through therapy, there are several other approaches available aside from leadership coaching. Some therapists may offer approaches such as motivational interviewing, transference and countertransference as examples.

“Transference, simply put is the redirection of feelings or expectations from one person to another – or seeing the present through the lens of the past and may be positive or negative,” Vinck explains. “Counter-transference is the projection of our own feelings or emotional entanglement with someone.”

Practicing both, according to Vinck, can help yield an honest appraisal of personal and professional relationships and how to avoid behavior inhibiting ideal leadership skills.

It’s important to realize that where one approach may work well with one type of business leader, it may not for another.

“As a leader,” Larimer says, “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Walk the walk

Just as there are diverse offerings of counseling approaches, there is a vast pool of therapists from whom to select when seeking guidance in improving business leadership skills.

“It would be beneficial for business leaders to identify an independently licensed therapist/counselor when seeking therapy,” Dr. Ray says. “An independently licensed therapist will have, at a minimum, a master’s degree in counseling, social work, marriage and family therapy or a doctoral degree in counseling psychology.”

Other considerations of how to pick the right coach or counselor for a business leader’s specific needs? Ask a prospective therapist if he/she receives regular guidance and help from a mental health professional, life coach or mentor.

“I’d want someone who has a level of experience,” Larimer says, “ who knows what his/her blind spots are and I’d also want to know what they specialize in – organizational psychology or mentoring/coaching leaders. I’d want a psychologist with that particular skill set.”

In addition to doing your homework, take the time to discern if you can carry an ongoing relationship with a therapist. Is it a good fit?

“An effective executive coach will help you gain insight, skill and confidence to bring out the best in not only you, but in those around you,” Parsons says.