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Researchers Find: Psychotherapists Biased Against Family Firms

Psychotherapists may be biased against family businesses. As a result, clinicians may influence or even encourage the working parent to leave the family-owned business rather than work out the issues at hand according to R. Phillip Colon, Ph.D. and Jerry I. Kleiman, Ph.D., both of the Long Island Institute of Psychoanalysis, writing in The Family Psychologist (Spring, 1995, p.30). Moreover, they say, Clinicians who lack an understanding and appreciation of the culture of the family-owned business risk the danger of pathologizing what is normal. The article recently was brought to our attention by our colleague Dr. Bernard Kliska.

Colon and Kleiman conducted a survey of psychotherapists in which three case studies were presented. One presented a father involved in a stressful family-owned business. A second case was identical except the father was involved in a stressful non-family owned business. The third case presented a well functioning family without identifiable conflicts and with the father involved in a family business.

The majority of the respondents considered the business to be a major contributor to problems at home only in the case of the family business. In the third case, many psychotherapists diagnosed problems of autonomy and individuation just by the casual mention of the parents involvement in a family-owned business.

When an individual or family involved in a family business seeks psychotherapeutic help on issues related to interpersonal boundaries, autonomy, competency, intra family rivalries or other conflicts, the family-owned business is often made the scapegoat, say Colon and Kleiman. The researchers chastise their colleagues: there is a need for awareness and openness on the part of the professional in recognizing that the family and business can positively interface with and enhance family life. As clinicians, we need to confront our bias that involvement in a family-owned business is inherently pathological.

Before choosing a psychotherapist, we recommend getting referrals from other professionals who regularly work with family businesses. Also interview the psychotherapist about his or her experience with people associated with family-owned businesses and ask about any feeling the individual may have about family firms. If answers sound like negative stereotypes, find another therapist.




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