Saturday, January 2, 2010

Psychotherapy and Operational Research / Change Management

Happy New Year to the ThinkOR readers and the Operational Research community.

What better way to celebrate the new year than learning something new!

1. "Although there are many details about our patients that we cannot know, nonetheless, our task is to delimit a system of observation in which we can trace the essential causal chains, and find accessible points, or handles, where interventions can be made."
2. "...It is perhaps clear... that the choice of a system is not only dependent upon the nature of reality, but also upon the means we have to investigate it and the purpose of the inquiry. The larger the system we choose, the safer we can be in assuming that it will include the relevant causal relationships. However, such a system may not be manageable and therefore of no help at all."

Upon first glance, these would look like quotes from an Operational Research book. However, they are in fact quotes from a book titled Integrated Psychotherapy, published in 1979 by the wonderful family friends, Doctors Ferdinand Knobloch and Jirina Knobloch, who are renowned Psychiatry Professors specialising in psychotherapy. I want to share with you the similarity of a psychotherapist's task and an OR practitioner's.

Never would I have thought that there'd be anything in common between Operational Research and Psychotherapy, a branch of Psychiatry, treating patients with mental health problems through communication and contact, without medication. Wikipedia's definition of Integrated Psychotherapy is:

Integrative psychotherapy may involve the fusion of different schools of psychotherapy. The word 'integrative' in Integrative psychotherapy may also refer to integrating the personality and making it cohesive, and to the bringing together of the "affective, cognitive, behavioral, and physiological systems within a person".

The first quote from the Integrated Psychotherapy about a psychotherapist's task made me think of my work immediately. I am currently a project manager at a children's hospital in London working on process improvement and transformation projects. When we go about solving systematic problems within a process to improve it, it is impossible that we understand all details of such a process. Our goal is, as exactly Dr Knobloch's describe, to find out enough information to diagnose the problem, understand why the problem exists ("trace the essential causal chains"); then we need to identify the levers to improve upon it, to successfully apply any change management ("find accessible points, or handles, where interventions can be made").

The second quote about the choice of a system rings rather true for any simulation projects. The perfect system is the real world itself, but it would be rather impossible to simulate it.

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