Supporting Unemployed, Middle-Aged Men: A Psychoeducational Group Approach

Article excerpt

This article presents a comprehensive group counseling approach to support unemployed, middle-aged men. An inclusive group curriculum designed to provide support and address potential mental health issues related to unemployment is introduced. The focus of the group is divided into 6 major areas that research has shown to have a significant impact on unemployed men in particular: expressing feelings; reducing depression, anger, and anxiety; building social support; improving interpersonal communication; confronting unrealistic role expectations associated with the male gender; and providing an improved sense of control. Practical strategies for counselors working with this population are presented.


In 2010, 2 years after the start of the financial crisis, the unemployment rate in the United States increased to 9.6% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d.-a), the worst since the 1982 recession. Of that percentage, men compose the majority of those who are unemployed or out of the labor force. Currently, the percentages of men 20 years and older who are actively unemployed and classified as "not on temporary layoff' or "job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs" (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d.-b) are 66.3% and 52%, respectively. Of those men in the same categories of the current Household Data Annual Averages report, 12.7% of job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs are unemployed for 15 to 26 weeks and 39.3% are unemployed for 27 weeks or more. Of those who are classified as not on temporary layoff, 15.2% are unemployed for 15 to 26 weeks and 51.1% are unemployed for 27 weeks or more. According to a report by Ilg (2010), in 2009, only 18% of workers 25 to 54 were able to find another job after being laid off, whereas those 55 and older were least likely to find another job. These alarming figures are not without repercussions. Research has shown indications of psychological effects of unemployment, particularly among the male population.


Psychological Effects

Masculine-specific manifestations of the psychological effects of unemployment include the tendency to express sadness by exhibiting increased anger, engaging in antisocial and narcissistic behaviors, and initiating conflict with spouses and loved ones (Rabinowitz & Cochran, 2008). Unemployment may also result in lower self-esteem, shame, isolation, and depression (Guindon & Smith, 2002). Guindon and Smith (2002) further stated that if depression does become worse, an unemployed man's ability to seek reemployment can be impaired. The impact a man may experience from unemployment may be amplified by gender role expectations and societal norms. According to Rabinowitz and Cochran (2008), gender role expectations and the rigidity with which they are held influence the level of depression a man experiences following job loss, particularly when the man defines himself as a breadwinner. Increased depression, low self-esteem, and decreased interpersonal communication are noted effects of a shift in gender role expectations (Funk & Werhun, 2011; Hoyt, 2009). Therefore, the significance that a man places on his gender role and employment status may considerably influence his psychological experiences and well-being.

Furthermore, men who become unemployed can experience increases in spousal abuse, marital friction and dissolution, psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety, and spousal depression and suicide (Jarzombek, 2010). Additionally, spouses often experience a decrease in overall well-being and in their social connections outside the home. In his study, Jarzombek (2010) found that respondents reported an increase in relationship problems and interpersonal difficulties. This could be attributed in part to communication difficulties, which Wong, Pituch, and Rochlen (2006) posited are due to restrictive emotionality in men, defined as "having difficulty and fears about expressing one's feelings and difficulty finding words to express basic emotions" (p. …