“There’s no way I can entertain my clients without at least one bottle of red or white grand cru at dinner…I mean, it’s expected…” Jack’s* reference to the highest quality offering on a wine list wasn’t lost on me, nor was his feeling that he was powerless to change the cultural expectations that defined the professional world he’d successfully negotiated as the C.E.O of one of London’s most prestigious publishing houses. In this regard, Jack shared a narrative that defines nearly every executive I’ve treated for mental health, personality, relational and substance abuse disorders in my private practice and as a client at Urban Recovery. These women and men have artfully surmounted extraordinary obstacles to position themselves at the top of their professions. Their intellectual capital, honed interpersonal skills and innate intuition have enabled them to thrive in their hyper competitive professions. They’re smart, charismatic and profoundly successful at mastering the sport of elite corporate politics in a coliseum filled with alcohol, drugs and frequently- sex.
One of my male patients who achieved black swan success in the realm of commodity trading described the prevalence of intoxicants in his field as “tribal.” Another, a female C.E.O of an international real estate concern, spoke of the culture of excess as “baked into the souffle” of her specialty.These people saw their successes as occurring, not in spite of their indulgences, but because of them.
And for a long time, it appeared as if they were right. Being successful meant working hard and playing hard. It meant internalizing the narrative that the ends justify the means and a myopic focus on closing a deal and exceeding professional expectations.
But then they underwent a shift in their calculus.
Sometimes quickly, but often slowly, the substances and behaviors that historically added to their success began to chip away at them. Negative consequences encroached. They’d awaken the morning after an evening of excess heavy with guilt, remorse and shame. Their health would begin to suffer. They felt their loved ones and colleagues turning against them. Some were asked to leave their positions of power and prestige in spite of the financial largess they delivered to the insatiable mouths of their corporate endeavors. In turn, they felt betrayed by the elixir of their success and humiliated in the wake of out of control behavior.
Intuitively, they sensed something had to change but couldn’t sort out what that would entail. They had found the intelligence, focus, grit, and resilience which had enabled them to succeed in the quantitative aspects of their life had proven ineffective in managing the chaos and out of control behaviors that was eroding life’s qualitative aspects. They wanted to stop the hemorrhage of self esteem from their personal narrative but simply couldn’t.
If this chronicle of professional and personal regression resonates, you’re not alone. A recent study out of the University of San Francisco found that nearly 50% of entrepreneurs, specifically men and women who have transcended extraordinary obstacles to attain great financial successes, suffer from a mental health, personality and/or addictive disorder. Also know there’s a solution to stop the deterioration and place you on a path which propels you to a higher level of functioning.
Out of necessity at Urban Recovery, we’ve created a program of clinical care that’s focused on enhancement rather than abandonment, reality rather than fantasy, and repair rather than contrition. Successful treatment for the C-suite executive must identify and build on core strengths — the grit and resilience that have enabled one to succeed, rather than abandoning one’s ambitions. A successful treatment plan must meet you in the reality of your world and the unique systems you must navigate to reclaim success. A path forward cannot pretend success doesn’t matter; and must repair the damage caused by out of control behaviors rather than expect someone to live a life of apology for professional and personal lapses.
The net result must be a program and plan for life that works collaboratively with someone to enhance their functioning. A plan must be designed to get one back in the game and along a path of success that is uniquely theirs. We don’t put someone in a sterile bubble, but rather allow a safe, contained and structured environment to emerge that allows them to practice and enhance their expertise in successfully managing life’s challenges. To do this they must learn new skills to manage and enhance your success, facilitate relationships that enable them to repair disappointments and integrate them into a new community of like-minded and similarly situated people who share their aspirations. A C-Suite client must be challenged, but appreciated; questioned, but heard. And perhaps most importantly changed, but for the better.
*To protect the confidentiality of our clients and integrity of our relationships with them, Jack and the other clients referred to in this article are compositions rather than actual clients treated.
About The Author
Dr. Paul L. Hokemeyer (Dr. Paul), part of the clinical staff at Urban Recovery, is an internationally renowned clinical and consulting psychotherapist, and a founding principal of Drayson Mews International, who works with individuals and families in the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and the European Union. A member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, he received his certification as a Clinical Trauma Professional and is licensed in New York State as a Marriage and Family Therapist. In addition to holding a Ph.D. in psychology, Dr. Paul holds a doctorate in law, a B.A. in economics and a M.A. in clinical psychology with a focus on family dynamics. Dr. Paul’s academic and clinical research, in which he explores the culture of wealth and celebrity has been published by Lambert Academic Press, The Journal of Wealth Management and is the topic of an upcoming book to be published by Hazelden and distributed by Simon & Schuster, Spring 2019. Dr. Paul has become one of the world’s most sought after media experts for his on-air work on CNN International, Al Jeezara, Good Morning America, FOX News, and the Today Show. He is frequently quoted as an expert by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, Market Watch, WebMD, London’s Daily Mail, Men’s Health International, Prevention, Women’s Day, Yahoo, and others.