I recently wrote an article on stress and the City, which has just been published in Therapy Today. One of issues I touched upon in the article, which I have also previously posted on, is the idea of corporate psychopathology. This is a longstanding area of interest of mine – mainly driven by personal experience! However, it’s much more than arguing that people who gravitate to the top of organisations are ‘psychopaths’. This is to make the same error as pointing the finger at the City and saying how terrible it is, without looking closer at what goes on in other organisations, including those in the statutory and not-for-profit sectors. I’m using the term ‘psychopathology’ more in the sense that Freud referred to the ‘psychopathology of everyday life’.
In other words, it’s looking at all aspects of corporate life – at all ‘levels’ – in terms of its interplay with subjectivity. I use the term ‘interplay’ rather than ‘impact’ because not only do corporations mould human subjectivity, but in turn they are a manifestation of it – though the enact nature of this inter-relationship is still puzzling social theorists (and psychoanalysts) to this day.
Of course, there are problems here – both conceptual and clinical. To talk of corporate pathology or the psychopathology of corporate life suggests that this is somehow a different realm to the psychopathology of everyday life, to psychopathology in other areas of life. I don’t really subscribe to this view. The corporate setting is one particular arena for problems with human subjectivity. In fact I would go further and argue that all areas of human life are influenced by organisations – from birth to death. This of course then leads to the question of how to define an ‘organisation’ and whether this is different from a ‘corporation’.
If there is a distinction, I would say that corporation refers to the formation of a body (of people), whereas organisation refers to how that body is structured, how various aspects of it inter-relate to one another. Looking at it this way I would say that would say that questions of psychopathology lie more on the side of organisation than on the side of corporation. Having said that, different (in)corporations are organised, structured, differently.
The clinical problems in many emerge from the conceptual ones: how do you ‘treat’ a corporation? One approach is to look at a corporation in terms of group psychology and group dynamics. Another is simply to treat members of a corporation as individuals in normal one-to-one therapy/analysis. Beyond this, particularly when you start looking at the corporation in terms of structures of representation and signifiers, it becomes more difficult to see how the concept of ‘treatment’ can be applied in any meaningful sense.
But then again, isn’t the realm of representation, of signs, symbols, signifiers, precisely the realm of psychoanalysis? What is an organisation if not an organisation of the symbolic and the imaginary? In this sense organisation, as the symbolic-imaginary matrix, is all pervading. There is no area of human life, except perhaps in psychosis, that is ‘outside’ of organisation.
And talking of psychosis, it’s the Real that marks the limit, the boundary, of this symbolic-imaginary matrix……