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Deals, Divorce, Direction: Off-Label Uses for Psychoanalysis

In everyday life, psychoanalysis may be more relevant than ever

Are reports of the death of psychoanalysis and talk therapy greatly exaggerated? It seemed that way to me when I spoke recently with a former lawyer and successful business woman who had become an analyst—and now guides those going through divorce, negotiating business deals and partnerships, and more, using the principles of psychotherapy in business, legal, and other contexts….Might future psychologists be doing more of this type of work?

Q: You have been a strong proponent of applying psychoanalytic concepts to fields other than individual patient work. Why?

Rachel Blakeman, JD LCSW-R: The simple answer is to save time, money and in some situations, emotional suffering. Whether it is a legal matter, business negotiation or an individual’s quest to find happiness, employing a psychological perspective resolves matters at a far lower cost to all involved.

Q: Is it difficult to convince others of the importance of a psychological consultant?

A: At this point, clients come to me referred by a former client so they don’t need convincing. But, it amazes me that there are so many situations where strategies should be informed by a psychological perspective and extremely smart individuals do not secure one. To me, this is akin to closing a deal without doing due diligence or finalizing a divorce settlement without ever reviewing a net worth statement. An evaluation of the psychology of the players — their motivations and fears and the dynamics at play is crucial, in my opinion, to determining how best to proceed.

Q: How do you help clients reach their goals?

A: Once I have an understanding of the various psychologies and dynamics, I provide individuals with strategies and techniques to best manage a particular situation whether it is a divorce, intra-office dynamics or a settlement negotiation involving hundreds of millions of dollars — when there are people involved, understanding what will move them in positive or negative directions is crucial to getting a desired result.

Q: What led you to get started in business and legal consulting?

A: In part, my competitive nature got me started — a friend mentioned that his company had been involved in a time consuming and pointless four-year litigation. I joked with him that I would figure out the psychological motivations and get it settled. He was certain that there was no way to limit the future liability of the company and that therefore, settlement could never make sense. I insisted he was wrong and he humored me by discussing the parties involved, their motivations and answered questions I posed to gain a better understanding of the psychological underpinnings of the parties and the case. I developed a nuanced settlement offer that, after four years of litigation, ended the matter within days. My friend’s company settled without paying a dime.

Q: How did you do that?

A: The plaintiff had nothing invested in the matter. I suspected the attorney was working on contingency which not only meant that the only way the attorney was paid was if the plaintiff recovered money, but also that the plaintiff had no skin in the game. As I listened to the case and asked questions about each of the parties and their histories, I quickly realized the only way to achieve the desired result was to figure out a way that the plaintiff would have some downside to pursuing the matter. The letter focused on a settlement that eliminated the company’s exposure to future liability and created a downside for the plaintiff. I think it took a total of a few hours to figure out, including my drafting the letter. I feel strongly that consultations focusing on psychological motivations would save countless dollars in so many legal and business matters, but for whatever reasons, lawyers are remiss in formulating a strategy that sufficiently addresses the psychology of the players.

Q: Do you apply your psychoanalytic training to other areas?

A: Of course I work with patients in my private practice, but I have had a lot of success in coaching individuals through divorces as well as assisting litigants in interpersonal strategies to bring about settlement.

Q: What do you mean by coaching individuals through divorces?

A: This is another area where legal strategies that fail to focus on the psychologies of the individual people involved result in increased expenses and unnecessary court battles. A brilliant legal strategy is useless when employed to bring about a settlement with a party whose psychology is such that the strategy has no impact. I do not practice law nor do I advise against a legal strategy, but by using my psychological understanding of a situation, clients — whether lawyers or individuals — can ground strategies in a way that takes into account the psychology of the parties. For example, I had one client include a few sentences in a parenting plan that had no legal impact, but simply acknowledged the father’s contributions to the family. The same legal terms that had been disagreeable to the father up until that point, once framed in a manner that met his psychological needs, were agreeable to him. My client who was certain custody would be determined at a trial, had a signed parenting agreement within two weeks.

Q: How does that differ from other consultants?

A: I use a psychologically informed perspective to formulate what legal strategy and inter-personal approach would best bring about the desired results for the client. In other words, there are times when the most aggressive legal strategy will have absolutely no impact because the parties embroiled in the legal battle are making decisions based on emotion and historical influences. I use my understanding of human behavior alongside my business and legal knowledge to understand the individuals involved and to devise a strategy that takes this crucial element into account. Most often, complex dynamics are what creates a particular situation and one must untangle all of what is intertwined and creating the obstacle, in order to move forward towards the desired result.

Rachel Blakeman, JD, LCSW-R is a consultant and psychoanalyst in private practice in Manhattan. She is a on the faculty at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Education In addition, Ms. Blakeman is a consultant providing psychological perspectives on divorce and other legal and business matters