Why This Italian Company Believes Therapy Leads to a More Transparent Culture

Psychology is such a taboo in Italy that the first university courses dedicated to the field were launched only in 1971.

Courtesy of Mindwork
Courtesy of Mindwork
By Federica Pasini
7 minute read

According to the European Association of Panic Attacks, 70% of Italians consider psychotherapy completely useless. In Italian culture, if you’re physically healthy, you can work on mental health by yourself. Maybe friends and family can help out, but psychologists are useful only in case of madness. This is true even though therapy is guaranteed by the public health insurance, which eliminates the economic barrier.

In fact, psychology is such a taboo in Italy that the first university courses dedicated to the field were launched only in 1971.

To overcome this stigma, Italian organizations have started investing in psychologist services like Mindwork, a company that provides support to employees and HR in order to uncover normal needs that everyone has. This transparency decreases the fear of workers asking for help and leads to stronger, healthier businesses.

The company arose from the idea of its co-founders, Mario Alessandra and Luca Mazzucchelli, who believed in the need of disclosing and raising awareness about psychological topics. Especially in Italy, where the stigma of mental disease is still strong and pervasive, it seemed necessary to find a new way to normalize psychological needs and reach a higher number of people who are possibly struggling with their mental health.

Mindwork supports companies in better identifying and understanding the psychological needs of their employees, and it helps them find new strategies to face and cope with people’s mental, emotional and relational difficulties.

Spending a large amount of their day at work, people experience new interactions and social challenges with colleagues, managers and clients. In addition, employees bring their own emotional baggage to work: family conflicts and worries, fears, struggles with illnesses, external stressing events, traumas, and mournings. All these emotional experiences, added to the fact that every workplace leads its employees to face deadlines, responsibilities and all kinds of setbacks, can be explosive triggers for psychological diseases. Therefore, workplaces could be a good environment to explore people’s emotions, relationships and welfare in general.

But that’s not as easy as it seems. The stigma of mental illness collects a lot of fears and not all of them are conscious. People often feel anxious about the possibility of discovering something dark and frightening about themselves, they label those who need psychological support as crazy or “not strong enough,” and they carry this label on themselves when they decide to start a therapy.

A frequent reaction to the unconscious label of fragility in Italy is, “I can get the same support from my friends (and/or colleagues), who know me even better than a psychologist.” While it’s true that they know you well, and know perfectly which buttons they should not press and towards which fears they should not lead you, oftentimes friends will not push you to those places. That’s not a matter of selfishness: their vision is affected by unconscious biases because they care too much about protecting you.

That’s why therapists say the only possible way to get rid of harmful thoughts or patterns is through the help of a professional. Psychologists and psychotherapists can accompany those in need during the therapeutic pathway, allowing them to connect with their fears and emotions, still maintaining a safe and protected setting. And yet with that said, therapy remains an uncommon choice in Italy.

These biases and difficulties were recently confirmed by a survey conducted by the research and consulting company BVA Doxa, for Mindwork, on the psychological well-being of the Italian workforce. The analysis confirmed the reluctance of the Italian workers in openly discussing their psychological malaise and the persistence of the stigma: while about half of the respondents are keen to share their difficulties with their families and friends, such rate drops to 30% for those who feel free to discuss their issues at work. This reality furthermore interferes with companies’ productivity, as also reported by several entities such as the European Commission (which estimates a €136 billion loss per year caused by absenteeism). Around 30% of those interviewed reportedly took at least one day of absence from work due to psychological distress, while managers and executives are often the ones who resort to absenteeism to cope with psychological issues.

Another key finding is related to drop-out rates: 37% of those surveyed left their job due to the psychological distress caused by an unhealthy working environment. Millennials and workers under the age of 34 are the ones most affected by this problem.

For all these reasons, Mindwork says that companies should become both a positive example and an agent for change: through the acceptance and normalization of mental health issues from managers and HR, it would be possible to progressively break down the stigma of psychological disease and promptly take action on it. This would express a high level of willingness for companies to become more transparent, empowering a different vision of what it means to work together.

For companies, Mindwork provides a wide range of services, from single psychological sessions to webinars to on-site training regarding a broad variety of psychological topics chosen according to the needs of the company.

Moreover, Mindwork offers online psychological contents – from articles and surveys to presentations and posts – addressed to companies’ managers, HR representatives, and employees who might benefit from its services. To try and get past the therapy stigma in Italy, Mindwork increases mental health awareness on the company level by showing that a decrease in the psychological health of employees has a tangible cost for companies through turnover, burnout, and absenteeism. Since launching in March 2019, the company has been able to work with more than 40 psychologists and help several of the largest companies in Italy.

Every package of psychological sessions, webinars, or on-site training is structured in agreement with the company after an internal investigation of its workers’ needs, critical issues, resources, and strengths. In most cases, it is helpful to build surveys and other investigation tools to frame the situation within the company in terms of internal communication, relationships between colleagues, and psychological issues related to the workplace. These surveys aim to increase the awareness of managers and HRs on the psychological, relational, and organizational problems in the workplace, and at gathering information for the construction of ad hoc tools optimized for the specific needs of their specific employees.

Especially during the Covid-19 crisis of 2020, it’s important to provide support spaces for workers within companies. Being open to psychological support is a lever for Italian companies to demonstrate to employees how their employer is aware of the importance of being present and supportive for them. To give real value to the manager-employee relationship is to express how worker’s needs are something to highlight, not to hide. Companies’ well-being is achieved only through their people’s well-being.

This is the real challenge for Italy’s future: to give companies precious instruments to look inward and acquire awareness, with a new perspective devoid of any judgment.

“That’s a kind of work that requires time and we all know it, but it has to be started now,” said Mindwork psychologist Chiara Maggio. “The culture we've lived in so far will never be spontaneous to such a radical change, it has to be accompanied and supported through it. Covid-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on every person, in ways that are clear to everyone by this time. But there’s still a huge submerged part of psychological issues and fears that hide beneath the surface. And culture, politics, institutions are still denying it. Mindwork is making an effort to break this surface of avoidance, accompanying people and companies during this delicate acceptance and healing journey. We all desire well-being, eventually. It is time to step in.”

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