Psychotherapy for Work Stress?

There are many ways that people can decrease work stress. One can meditate, eat something delicious during breaks, do daily yoga, get counseled (expert feedback on how to do things differently) on how to do their job differently, have a backup plan if they are stressed out about the possibility of being laid off, etc. But that deep process of psychotherapy, which still has some stigma about being just for the mentally ill, how useful can it be? This article answers this question from the perspective of an actual psychotherapist with years of experience treating actual clients for work stress.

Psychotherapy for work stress often starts off with some counseling. The counseling involves providing specific feedback on how to make changes in the job so as to reduce stress. For example, if you work on a salary and end up doing 60+ hours work weeks that wear you out, the counsel may be to find ways to be just as productive at 50 hours as you were at 60+ hours. Another suggestion can be to improve your delegating efficiency, especially if you are one to micromanage.

Sometimes all behavior changing feedback in the world is not enough. Being told to not micromanage, along with specific suggestions on how to improve delegating, would work if we were computers ready for reprogramming. Human beings are thinkers and feelers. It is not easy to break old habits. In such cases, the next step is to get a bit of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This involves learning new ways to think about old situations, which makes it much easier to change behaviors that normally would be very difficult to change.

Let us apply CBT to the manager who micromanages and has trouble efficiently delegating. The therapist can first ask the manager to spend a week writing down how he felt and what he thought whenever he could have placed more authority into her workers. For the first time in her life, the manager identifies her feelings as critical and distrustful. Her thoughts included, “Others are not as effective at the tasks required for the research project as I am, so if I do not give detailed instructions on how to do each task, as well as to do as much of the work myself as possible, the job will not be done well.” Ironically, the more she micromanages, the more dissatisfied her workers become, decreasing the overall productivity. She also loses patience both at work and with her family, due to stress.

The therapist teaches her how to override her thoughts, thus creating new emotions, by coming up with incompatible thoughts. An example would be, “The more trust and ownership of the project I place in my well-trained workers, the more they will come through for me. Also, the better I can delegate, the more patience I will have, therefore I will be better able to assist people with difficulties by listening and troubleshooting.” Overtime, and with enough practice, these new thoughts can trigger the emotion of being trustful. She then becomes patient both at work and at home, as she thinks and feels differently, which then result in new behaviors and lower levels of stress.

For some people, the above is still not enough. We then go to the deepest layer of psychotherapy, utilizing a more psychodynamic approach. One such approach to getting to the root of the difficulty is called Internal Family Systems (IFS). IFS does not involve other family members, but actually helps a person to get in touch with their different parts/subpersonalities. Continuing with the manager example, imagine that the manager relaxes in front of the IFS therapist and thinks about that part of her that is critical. Speaking from the perspective of that part she answers relevant questions about criticism. It is discovered that she had critical parents, as well as critical teachers throughout most of her schooling. She has internalized this criticism, now being her own worst critic. Any time others do something that can reflect poorly on her, she unconsciously criticizes herself. This then comes out as criticism to others.

She and the therapist also learn that that critical part of her does not trust her core self. If she cannot trust her self, then it will always be extremely difficult to trust others. Therefore, the therapy c…. (sorry, didn’t get to finish this yet)

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