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Victims of Corporate Layoffs Lose More Than Their Income : Psychology: New counseling technique addresses the sense of loss that executives may feel after being separated from their work families.

August 04, 1994|From Reuters

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — They work together, eat together, know each other's spouses and children, and share the daily peaks and valleys that make up a lifetime.

So when the layoff notice comes, more than income is lost: A whole family is torn apart and bereavement is common.

That is the premise of a new counseling technique being used by Dr. Robert Deutsch, a Connecticut psychologist who has seen a big jump in the number of laid-off business executives as the defense, aerospace and insurance industries have been rocked by economic hard times.

"These executives spend an inordinate amount of time at work and the work-family relationships are vital to them," he says. "Many of these folks find themselves, at the drop of a nickel, losing their entire work family."

Deutsch said that because of this, one of the first items on the agenda is bereavement counseling, as well as crisis intervention.

"It is often the first time they have experienced failure, so they really do not have an adaptive template for coping with rejection and loss," said Deutsch, an associate at Bank & Hiebel Child and Family Associates.

"These men and women are devastated by the experience."

The founder and president of Private Interventions for Public People Inc., which specializes in counseling executives and celebrities with substance abuse problems, Deutsch says business executives who lose their jobs struggle with shame and are often reluctant to seek help.

"They're ashamed of a dramatic change in image. They're fearful of never achieving success again. They're fearful of the impact of this experience on family relationships, peer relationships," he said.

"These are people who aren't accustomed to asking for help. Many of these folks are former elite athletes who are not only extremely successful in the boardroom, but maybe played professional ball as well. They're accustomed to achieving all the time."

Deutsch said he has found the slogans and survival techniques used in recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous--concepts such as looking at life one day or one hour at a time--helpful in teaching these men and women to reduce the pressure on themselves.

Such a notion is radical for people who by nature are long-range planners, he said.

Families also are brought in to deal with their own sense of shame and fears of economic insecurity and instability, he said.

"When an executive is laid off you often see major disruptions in parent-child relationships and in marital relationships," said Deutsch.

"It is not unusual to see sexual dysfunction, or depressive reactions. Kids might develop fears, sleep disorders. They have always had the notion that things were solid, and then suddenly there is a major crack in the lining."

He said he urges his clients to give themselves time to recover from the blow of losing a job and to exercise restraint and caution instead of jumping back into the workplace to escape the discomfort of being unemployed.

The recovery time varies from person to person, said Deutsch, and depends on the executive's personal history, whether they were raised in healthy families and learned good coping skills.

Women executives, he said, tend to be more resilient because they have had more experience with facing roadblocks in their lives and are better able to adapt to change.

"Also, women typically are better able to benefit from support systems," Deutsch said. "Men tend to isolate more when they have this experience."

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