Nordstrom: Psychotherapy Lessons From The Cathedral Of Commerce By Howard Rosenthal, EdD on 12/14/11 - 2:31 PM

Let's get something straight right from the get-go. I don't work for Nordstrom, nor am I am affiliated with them in any way, shape, or form. I've never spent a dime there. Truth be told, the only time I ever set foot in a Nordstrom was to walk from the mall to the parking lot. (Elapsed time: one minute and forty-five seconds.)

But I do know this. Nordstrom has become the darling of the customer service movement. If you are searching for the prime example of the customer-is-always-right philosophy, trust me when I say, you just found it. The stories are legendary, such as the time during the mid-1970's when a customer returned a set of snows tire to Nordstrom. Yes, the customer received a cheerful refund. The only wrinkle was that Nordstrom didn't sell snow tires. Then there's the saga in which an unhappy customer returned a set of ice skates. Here again, Nordstrom took them back. Never mind that Nordstrom didn't carry ice skates.

Historians and business scholars who have investigated these transactions are still debating how much is myth and how much is fact. I don't pretend to have the answer and indeed will let the MBA's battle it out on their own turf. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Nordstrom is the poster child for the customer is always right, even when the customer is wrong philosophy.

But do we, as helpers, always abide by this stance or do we hide behind our favorite technique, what helped us when we were wounded warriors, or what the latest evidence based practice literature tells us?
A well-known dyed-in-the-wool behaviorist once gave me an excellent clue. The therapist noted that he was seeing a client whom he was treating with behavior therapy and behavior modification techniques. But there were two problems with this approach. First, was simply that the behavioristic modalities did not seem to be working. Second, was that the client kept insisting he wanted classical psychoanalysis. This went on for a significant period of time until one day when the therapist was so frustrated he threw in towel and agreed to provide classical analysis.

The situation became a tad more bizarre when the therapist explained to the client that he was sure psychoanalysis would not work. He thus created a behavioral contract stating if the analysis didn't work in six weeks, the client (excuse me, I mean the analysand), would agree to give behavior therapy another whirl. Since a course of analysis usually runs approximately three to five years this contract was about as paradoxical, if not downright silly, as it gets! Moreover, the use of a behavioral contract in psychoanalysis is little like trying to mix purified water and used motor oil!

For the next six weeks the client made the couch his new psychotherapeutic home as he babbled on about his childhood and his dreams, while the his behavior therapist, turned Freudian analyst, sat out of his sight and took copious notes.

In less than six weeks the client reported that he had overcome his symptoms and was feeling well enough to terminate treatment. No doubt somebody had to pinch the therapist to make sure he wasn't dreaming.
So, the next time your client makes a treatment suggestion, my advice is to listen very carefully. You might just catch a rare glimpse of the path less traveled from the annals of Nordstrom.

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, Therapy Humor, Musings and Reflections