Innovation and Psychotherapy

A Synthesis for Enabling Novelty


  • Armin Schönberg University of Vienna



This theoretical research project aims at comparing two disciplines, both concerned with enabling radical change: innovation and psychotherapy. To conceptualize the process and method of profound innovation, Scharmer's “Theory U” [1] is used. In this process, the phase of presencing labels the state of immersion where real novelty emerges and where the purpose of an organization is about to actualize its future potentials. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is a discipline that has long been concerned with providing a relationship-space that enables such radical changes of identity and the emergence of profoundly new structures and behaviors in a person.

At the crucial step of presencing, the innovation process relies on an open will [1] – this implies being radically open for novelty, being fearless, being willing to let go of old patterns and being ready to take a leap of faith. The hypothesis is, that psychotherapy is the discipline of expertise most acquainted with enabling and holding a space where these conditions are met and where these processes of change can occur [2].

Research Question & Literature Gap

The main question addressed by the present paper is whether the field of innovation can learn something from the theories, attitudes and methods used in psychotherapy. It endeavors to translate therapeutic models and practices of enabling change and growth to make them usable for the context of radical innovation.

The question at hand has not yet been dealt with for several reasons. On the one hand, despite the growing interest and worldwide hype about innovation, very little concepts deal with these profound levels of change. Models of innovation that touch the existential realm are seldom applied [3]. On the other hand, psychotherapy is typically not considered related to working with teams and organizations in the innovation context.

The processes presented here are by no means limited to the domains of companies and products. Rather, they can be applied to the fields of science, education, activism, and many others [3].


The method of this paper follows a comparative and integrative approach. First, connections between the two disciplines are sought with a special focus on the phenomenon of presencing and the conditions under which it can take place. In a second step, translations of concepts and methods that are considered useful are made.


[1] C. O. Scharmer, “The Essentials of Theory U. Core Principles and Applications”. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 2018

[2] C. R. Rogers, “On becoming a person: A therapist's view of psychotherapy”. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 1995

[3] M. F. Peschl, “Design and innovation as co-creating and co-becoming with the future.” Design Management Journal, 14 (1), p. 4-14. 2019