Marital, individual therapy might be necessary for some to cope with a layoff

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
People who are laid off from their jobs may need professional help coping with the fear and anxiety that accompanies the loss.
“It’s just a devastating life experience,” says Dr. Craig Hummel, medical director and chief psychiatrist for Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare in Concord, the local mental health management entity serving Rowan County.
“Losing your job can be devastating to not only the breadwinner, but also the family.
“You need to look out for the well-being of everybody involved.”
Patti Lyerly of Lyerly Counseling Services says it’s very difficult for people who lose their jobs to explain to their families that their way of life has to suddenly change. “Job loss affects the entire family,” she says, “and therefore can lead to either the family pulling together in the time of need or the family developing conflicts that were not so obvious before.
“Thus, marital therapy in addition to individual therapy may be needed to assist the couple in being able to communicate effectively during an emotionally and financially stressful time.”
Piedmont Behavioral and its providers, including Daymark Recovery Services on East Innes Street, offer sliding scale fees so that people with reduced incomes won’t have to pay the full cost of services. Even private mental health professionals will sometimes work with people who can’t afford the full cost.
John Whitfield, a retired public mental health professional, says there are several steps displaced workers can take to prevent the fear and anxiety that accompanies job loss from progressing into more serious issues such as depression.
One is to take a realistic look at the situation, he says, including your resources, monthly expenses, how much money you have in the bank, a retirement account or home equity you could borrow from and cuts you can make, such as canceling the cable bill.
“Then begin to cut,” he says. “The main thing is to be able to do whatever you need to do to maintain your home, keep from going bankrupt and make it through this crisis, which is going to end at some point.
“Under no circumstances should you live on credit cards. That only deepens the problem,” he says.
Even if you can’t find a full-time job, Whitfield says displaced workers might be able to do something part-time to get by.
“A person who had a job as a sales person might not want to help out a friend who needs a part-time painter,” he says, “but some income is better than no income.”
Networking is also important in looking for jobs, Whitfield says. “See who’s doing what, who might know of an opening,” he says.
And be persistent in looking for a job, Whitfield says. He had a relative who during the Great Depression went to an insurance office every day for weeks looking for work.
“Finally there was a vacancy,” he says, “and he got the job and stayed 31 years. But it was a matter of going back and going back and going back.”
Whitfield says he talked recently with a woman who had lost her job and went on 28 interviews before she found another one. It’s difficult to remain upbeat when it takes that long to find a job, he says, “but the important thing is not to panic.”
“You need to have the feeling of control in your situation and to believe that you’re going to be all right,” he says, “that you’re indeed going to come out of it even though it may be difficult.”
Lyerly says the shock of being laid off can be so traumatic that people can become almost frozen in time. She uses a therapy method called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which has proven effective in helping people process trauma.
With appropriate assistance, Lyerly says displaced workers are able to recover from losing their jobs. They can begin to realize that sometimes situations are outside of their control and “that what they do have control of is how they choose to cope with the loss of a job and what steps are taken afterwards,” she says.
If it’s a situation where the job loss resulted from something an employee did or didn’t do, “then the goal will be for the individual to learn self-forgiveness,” Lyerly says. “Either way, learning how to love oneself unconditionally is the ultimate goal.”
Whitfield says it’s important that people who lose their jobs don’t view it as a personal failure. “Don’t blame yourself for this,” he says. “Don’t withdraw and say that you are a failure.
“Don’t let it give you a sense of hopelessness. We’re hearing about suicides. We’re hearing about people getting depressed or very discouraged and angry.
“This is not your fault. You’re a victim of a worldwide economic problem along with thousands and thousands of other people.”
Whitfield says displaced workers need to be open to the idea that their job loss could turn out to be an opportunity.
“I run into a lot of people who have said, ‘What happened seemed bad but ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me,’ ” he says.
The job loss may have given them the opportunity to go back to school or start their own business. “Consider the possibility that this really opens some doors as well as closes some,” he says.
Whitfield says it’s also important for displaced workers to remember they still have family, friends, health, intelligence, competence and the ability to do things.
“This isn’t the end of the world,” he says, “even though you may feel like it is.”
Hummel says displaced workers who remain depressed or begin having thoughts of suicide need to be treated. Anyone who is experiencing these feelings can call Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare’s 24-hour crisis call center at 1-800-939-5911 for help.
Therapists at the center will help determine whether the callers’ needs for mental health services are routine, urgent or an emergency, then direct them to the appropriate resources.
Stephan Tomlinson, Piedmont’s director of community relations, says the center even has a mobile crisis capability where clinicians can go to the callers’ homes. Depending on the situation, he says the person may need to stay in an inpatient crisis recovery center for a brief period.
Hummel says clinical depression is usually treated with medication. “If you’re feeling extremely depressed, if you’re having trouble sleeping, if you’ve lost weight, if you’re having thoughts of suicide, if you’re getting to the point where you’re dysfunctional, I would say seek out mental health care,” he says.
Support groups can also be helpful for displaced workers, he says, in that they can share their feelings and ideas on finding jobs.
Whitfield says the recent onslaught of layoffs may have a permanent impact on the people involved.
Some people who lived through the Great Depression remained distrustful of banks and buried their money in coffee cans in the bank yard or hid it in their freezers, he says, while others feared going hungry again and hoarded food.
Even after they find new jobs, Whitfield says people who go through layoffs may be anxious they’ll get laid off again. “They may become compulsive about saving every dime even though they’re beginning to prosper,” he says.
Like people who lived through the Depression, the people experiencing hardships in this recession may never feel as financially secure as they did again. “I think we’re going to see some symptoms from this thing over the next several years,” he says.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.