Help Workers Find Solutions in Face of Change. ('It's a Very Individual Process')

By Splete, Heidi | Clinical Psychiatry News, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Help Workers Find Solutions in Face of Change. ('It's a Very Individual Process')


Splete, Heidi, Clinical Psychiatry News


WASHINGTON - It's important to find out why work matters to people, Dr. Sandra Kopit Cohen said at the annual conference of the Academy of Organizational and Occupational Psychiatry.

Retirement, reorganization, and repatriation are predictably normal life transitions, but which when they occur can be extremely stressful. Often, money is the least of the issues beyond a basic income, especially for people who have had professional success.

Other work issues as important as money include a sense of accomplishment, a sense of connection to something larger, and a sense of community, said Dr. Cohen of Cornell University, New York. If people are happy in their work, they often identify with the larger purpose of the entity For example, "even if you are making better and cheaper light bulbs, you're 'illuminating the world,'" she said.

An irony of success is that people continue later in life believing that they can control situations. With an impeding retirement or job change, that certainty is gone. Defenses that may include or depend on having a certain type of job maybe shaken.

Any change has the potential for a positive outcome, with or without intervention by a psychiatrist or counselor. Don't underestimate how adaptive humans are and the extent to which they might need just a little push or a little motivation to take care of themselves, Dr. Cohen said at the conference, cosponsored by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The purpose of a psychiatric intervention in the face of retirement, repatriation, or reorganization is to help someone move from disruption to a successful reconnection. It's a very individual process. "You are helping the individual find the best possible solution, given who they are and what their possibilities are," Dr. Cohen said. But even when people go on to better jobs, there's wistfulness for where they used to be, which is natural.

"You don't want to make people feel that they are ill," she added. "Since Sept. 11, there's the danger that we are going to turn into a disaster industry"

Some people need extra help to move forward. Some have serious psychiatric problems, aren't sleeping, and are overtly psychotic in the face of a job change. Those people need to be stabilized with medication or relaxation techniques.

* Retirement. Very few people seek a psychiatric evaluation to speculate about and talk about retirement, but most people will retire, except for those who die on the job. Usually people are on some career track in their 40s and should be asked where they think it is going. Or, if people aren't thinking about it, that fact is worth commenting on, and psychiatrists have an obligation to mention it, Dr. …

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