Are you mad about Mad Men? I have loved watching the series from the beginning and its recent finale attracted a record audience according to EW magazine. As a coach, I found it intriguing that Matthew Weiner chose to weave in a little history of psychology throughout the series.  As tormented as the characters often were, with the exception of Betty, none sought professional help.

In the finale, the lesson in psychology is deep and powerful. SPOILER ALERT: In the finale, Don Draper finds his way out to California and attends a sort of hippie pop psychology retreat at Esalen, where he hugs a nobody, moved by the man’s admission to the group of his feelings of inadequacy. As Don dabbles in what professionals call Positive Psychology at Esalen, the birthplace of all that has come since – creative studies, the science of happiness, coaching and the use of therapy not to diagnose illnesses and conditions, but to enhance and enlighten one’s life – Betty comes slowly to her death, spending more and more time in her bedroom in a glorious dressing gown. And as she is dying, still smoking in her perfect kitchen, she is reading Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria – the establishment psychological view of its day, since wildly discredited and derailed.

mad men

Betty sought therapy because she couldn’t control her children, and Don was worried about her. In fact, the therapist an imposing authoritarian, spoke to Don about their sessions, and not Betty. She was kept in the dark about his diagnoses. Therapy, in the Freudian model, was for sick individuals, and its primary goal was to seek a “diagnosis” for a mental illness or condition.  Betty’s therapy was as tortuous as it was useless as she tried to deal with her anger and repression – common for the women of the era.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the work of Abraham Maslow – the father of positive psychology – begin to get published, accepted and adopted. Maslow gave us the idea of self-actualization, the goal and drive to become actually what we are potentially. He listed examples of people he thought who had self-actualized, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Einstein and Beethoven. For Maslow, a person is always ‘becoming’ and never remains static in these terms. In self-actualization a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them.  For some people self-actualization can be achieved through creating works of art or literature, for others through sport, in the classroom, or within a corporate setting.

There’s a lovely story about Abraham Maslow and his wife – near the end of his life – driving around in California as tourists. There was a terrible storm and they could not continue on the treacherous coastal highway. They ventured inland at one point and found a big house with lights on. Inside they found a bunch of hippies – as he recalled – sitting around on pillows on the ground, reading his book, Motivation & Personality. They revered his work and had built this retreat – Esalen – on his psychological theories – that a person can experience the world totally for what it is, by self-actualizing and seeking peak experiences, giving them feelings of euphoria, joy and wonder.

Coaching – the idea of looking inward to find your blocks and limiting thoughts grew out of Esalen. And Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner chose that place to reach out and help Don Draper. Always a man of the future, Don “drank the Kool-Aid” as it were, and brought us the famous, upbeat, universal commercial for Coca-cola – “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” Is there a better summation or catch phrase for what a creativity coach is? I’d like to teach the world to “sing.”


mad men and I’d like to teach the world to sing