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Handle With Care

September 14, 1997|Daniel Nussbaum

Just behind the Worldway Airmail Center on the edge of LAX is a small street called Postal Road. This means that post office workers frequently go on Postal and go to Postal. But if Craig Perman Weisman has his way, none of them will ever actually go postal.

Weisman is one of six full-time therapists hired by the U.S. Postal Service to counsel its 11,000 employees in the Los Angeles district. A peaceful and reassuring UCLA-educated PhD, Weisman mans the airport facility. There, clients can take a seat (no outmoded Freudian-style reclining here) and lay their burdens down.

The doctor admits starting the job a year ago with some misconceptions. Unlike those of us who hear the words "postal employee" and think "high-powered assault weapon," Weisman says his idea of the typical postal worker was "a happy-go-lucky mail carrier in shorts." We were both wrong.

Since then, the 42-year-old cognitive behaviorist, gray-bearded and boyish-looking at once, has learned that "postal workers represent the entire cross-section of society, including the best of it and the most disturbed."

Since about 1% of the population is severely mentally ill, Weisman wasn't surprised when he met a postal worker who believed her brain had become a radio that received thoughts beamed directly at her. The worker, popular and not obviously disturbed, had the potential to become dangerous. (Thanks to his intervention, she's on medication and is working the floor, popular as ever.)

It is the same floor onto which Weisman first ventured to introduce himself to the work force. "Hello!" he would shout--because mammoth postal machines make noise--"I'm Craig Perman Weisman and I'm a psychologist!" First he explained that if he ever blabbed, he would lose his license. He'd go on to introduce a couple of postal workers who testified that therapy worked for them in an un-voodoo kind of way. He'd invite everyone, workers and bosses, to drop in for a non-stigmatizing, get-acquainted chat. He was, he says, "a town crier for psychological well-being."

And they came. He's counseled 98 employees and family members this year and offered suggestions to a few hundred more in less formal situations.

It's been busy--postal workers flocked to his 5:30 a.m. course in anger management, supervisors were taught how to distinguish a malingerer from a depressed worker--and it's been stressful. Working on three different shifts every week for months led Weisman to understand firsthand the symptoms of sleep deprivation. He faced stress, in fact, from almost the beginning. A few weeks into the job, a maintenance worker actually crashed through the ceiling and thudded onto his office floor. Hi! Welcome to the post office!

Through it all, Weisman admits to getting, well, a little cranky. But going postal? Never.

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