What If My Boss Tells Me to See a Shrink? Some Questions You Should Ask… 

One of my patients recently told me that his or her boss told them to go to the EAP and get some help.  The boss had mentioned some performance issues.  S/he had gone to the doctor first and had gotten a fitness report.  S/he then put a cover letter on the report and handed it to the boss.  Was this a wise idea?

There are no general right answers to this question.  If your boss or supervisor asks you to see someone, you should acknowledge the statement.  That is, you should ask your boss whether there is a problem in your work.  The odds are that s/he would have mentioned the problems already, either before the suggestion or at the time of the suggestion.

Then you need to ask yourself whether you think there are issues and, if so, what resources you have to deal with them.  There are several questions you should have in mind.  First, are you covered by a union contract or other contract that specifies your level of performance and review?  If so, then there may be a provision for addressing problems, including whether you need to seek counseling.  Your review process may entitle you to having an advocate or delegate in the room if there is a formal issue raised and put into your personnel file.

Second, your boss or supervisor may have suggested that you go to your EAP—your Employment Assistance Program. You need to find out the terms under which you can or must go.  Is s/he suggesting you go, referring you to go, or requiring you to go?  EAPs vary in terms of the ways in which they involve management.  Some allow you a certain number of free visits, with no contact whatsoever with management.  Others may have programs where, if you are referred, management is notified and involved to varying degrees in the process.

This last point is crucial:  your therapist may be working in the middle, helping you as well as telling your boss how much progress you’re making—or not.  Be clear about what you’re getting into.  Some EAPs may have the therapist try to solve the problem directly, whether you like the solution or not. Or the therapist may mediate between you and your boss.  Find out what the rules are.

You have another choice that does not break confidentiality.  If you feel that you have a problem, whether it’s yours and/or the boss’s, you can go to your own therapist and keep it confidential.  You can also ask your therapist to disclose any relevant information you want to your supervisor.  In this situation, you have control of the information.  EAPs can also provide legal benefits as well, with access to a lawyer.  If you are certain that your use of the lawyer remains confidential, you can talk to her or him about work situations.  Some EAPs also have financial planning information.  If that is relevant to your work situation, again, check for confidentiality and use the resources.

Your main goal is to make sure your situation is protected and that only you can release confidential information.  That may mean that if your boss asks you whether you are seeing someone, unless it is part of an agreed upon personnel action, you have no obligation to answer.  You should always address the specifics of work performance issues.  That is your obligation as an employee.  Make sure that you do!

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