How to comfort a banking psycho

Recently we saw this, via the AFR:

The psychologist inserted by the corporate regulator into boardroom discussions of more than 20 blue-chip companies including Qantas, Woolworths and AMP warns that Australia’s financial sector culture is broken.

Elizabeth Arzadon, the regulator’s psychologist of choice, also warns that resistance by boards to public criticism is a mark of bad culture, staff surveys are not enough and that leaders are dragging their feet on culture.

Little doubt, then, why the following article appeared in the AFR today, from Stephen Ilardi associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, recycled from WaPo:

Myth No. 1: We only use 10 per cent of our brains. Perhaps no psychological misperception is more widespread than the idea that vast swaths of the brain lie perpetually dormant. P

Myth No. 2: Talking about your problems helps. Talking about painful experiences, however, is not guaranteed to be helpful. Consider “critical incident stress debriefing,” a group-counselling protocol for people who have witnessed traumatic events. A meta-analysis of all published CISD trials did not find any beneficial effects of the intervention. Some studies have even linked the treatment with worse outcomes, perhaps because it forces some people to face painful memories before they’re ready.

Myth No. 3: OCD manifests as hyper-organisation. OCD has little to do with neatness, and most sufferers are not particularly tidy or uptight. Instead, they’re plagued by a cascade of unbidden, disturbing thoughts, often in the form of harrowing images that they may feel compelled to ward off with time-consuming rituals. It’s a serious mental illness that typically causes great distress and functional impairment.

Myth No. 4: Mood swings are the hallmark of bipolar disorder…mood swings are nowhere to be found among the disorder’s official diagnostic criteria.

Myth No. 5: Medication is the way to fix a chemical imbalance. Drug companies besiege consumers with the message that “chemical imbalances” are the ultimate drivers of mental illness – and that they must be fixed with their pills…Such ads present a gross oversimplification. Depression, for instance, involves a dizzying array of brain perturbations, including neuroinflammation, impaired glucose utilisation, runaway stress signalling, faulty circadian rhythms, altered sleep patterns, decreased neuroplasticity and impaired hormone regulation.

So, let’s go through these.

I have nothing to offer on myth 1.

Myth 2 is not a myth. It would be more accurate to say that the “talking cure” must be used in the company of a competent therapist, of which there are very few. Facing painful experiences or “trauma” will remedy depression and disorders so long as the subject is committed and the therapist understands the importance of the relationship. If it is based around popular notions of cognative behavioural therapy, that is endeavouring to change your thought patterns, then it is at best stop gap and probably useless.

Myth 3 is pretty useless. Nearly all disorders come with agitation driving anti-social habits. They could be neat or messy. The point that matters is that they are symptom of underlying trauma not cause.

Ditto for myth 4.

On myth 5, medication can be a very useful way to mitigate the symptoms of depression and disorder. But the chemical imbalance itself is also symptom not cause. The driver is nearly always trauma that is manifesting physiologically.

In short, the AFR is probably right to push back against the notion that a bit of psychobabble can fix our psycho bankers. They are literally acting out their personal traumas in their careers so expecting that to change is pretty circular. They don’t want to take responsibility for whatever injury they suffered, that is why they are there.

Better to have some big, dumb banking rules that enforce the values that underpin a social licence to operate and then psychos will just avoid banking.

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