Why business is turning to psychiatry to help workers who deal with risk

Picture: Supplied by Stan Australia.

  • The fast-paced, dirty dealing world of big money on Stan’s corporate cat and mouse series “Billions” is back for its third season (Mondays at 2pm AEST – same time as the U.S. – only on Stan)
  • Key to the rise and fall of the characters is Dr Wendy Rhoades, the in-house psychiatrist/performance coach for Axe Capital and confidante of its billionaire leader Bobby Axelrod
  • ‘Billions’ consultant pyschologist says therapy can be an essential tool for unlocking peak performance

In “Billions”, the charismatic Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod leads a team of ambitious and cash-hungry hedge fund managers.

At Axe Capital, the stakes are high. Anyone who steps out of line is quickly walked out the door.

While the show and its scenarios are fictional, the depiction of life at top-tier corporate hedge funds is true to form in many ways. According to the creators of “Billions”, who put years of research into the show, hedge fund managers are under constant pressure to synthesise information intelligently in a high-stress environment.

The character of Dr Wendy Rhoades is also based on real life. Part psychiatrist, part Tony Robbins-style performance coach, her role is to keep the high-flyers’ feet on the ground.

Dr Rhodes pulls few punches, directing her patients to uncover the motivation behind their actions.

At Axe Capital, Bobby Axelrod understands his team needs to be mentally on point to perform at their best. Axe pays Dr Rhoades several times more than her husband earns as DA to act as a confidential sounding board and psychological jump-starter for his team.

On Wall Street itself, there are plenty of so-called ‘stock market shrinks’. Like Dr Rhoades, these therapists have an important role to play in not only the mental health of high-stakes financial managers but in the stability of the companies themselves.

Increasing performance through therapy

Major businesses have been offering perks like free fruit, health insurance rebates, remedial massage and on-site gyms to help staff stay physically fit for years. The simple equation behind these benefits is that healthy staff means reduced absenteeism and better productivity.

Now “Billions” has put corporate psychiatrists into the spotlight, exposing how they can be a trump card for high-stakes workplaces.

As explained by Denise Shull, the Wall St psychologist who acts as a consultant for “Billions”, when you’re at work you need more than resolve to get results.

Shull has spoken about how pep talks from managers aren’t enough to instigate a U-turn from someone who is stuck in a rut.

Instead, those facing challenges require a more considered approach from someone with a detailed understanding of the interconnection between thoughts, emotions and basic functions. This can help employees understand what’s behind their shortcomings.

With the help of a therapist, they can put a stop to the actions that are preventing peak performance.

Instead of expecting someone who is feeling the pressure at work to simply pull their finger out, or to take action independently to seek help, providing an in-house psychiatrist and scheduling appointments like meetings can be a smart option for big business.

Like the free workouts and increased dietary fibre of physical wellness programs, offering this type of therapy can result in fewer days off and an increase in workers who are confidently playing their A-game.

Prevention is better than cure

Perhaps more importantly, an in-house therapist can play a role in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and the workplace.

In the past, the “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” approach of the corporate world has shoved those who struggle with mental health to the perimeters. People who have hit stumbling blocks have found themselves with nobody to turn to, reluctant to confess to moments of weakness.

This is despite the fact that in Australia, 20 per cent of working-age adults experience a mental illness in any year, with the most common disorders being depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

According to the Black Dog Institute, almost half (45 percent) of Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

With this in mind, it makes sense for big businesses across industries to take a prevention rather than cure tactic.

In “Billions”, the characters are lining up to sit down with Dr Rhoades and uncover why their feelings are causing success-blocking actions. Even charismatic billionaire Axe turns to Dr Rhoades when the pressure becomes all too much.

Wendy relies on her vast cognitive training and psychiatric experience, reminding Axe not to allow his emotions to blind him to consequences.

The corporate world is populated with intelligent, high performers. However, mental illness does not discriminate, as we have witnessed recently with the withdrawal of James Packer from his role of director of Crown Resorts.

With this in mind, many businesses could do well to take a leaf out of Bobby Axelrod’s book, bringing their own version of Dr Wendy Rhoades on to support the team.

The third season of the hit drama Billions is now streaming same day as the U.S. – only on Stan. Watch it now.

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