Relieving Trauma of Job Layoffs

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Layoffs Hurt, But TFT Helps

by Herb Ayers, MA, LMHC, TFT-Dx

Lay off one person from his or her job and it’s a disaster for the family; layoff hundreds of people from a business or plant, and it’s a disaster for that town.

Layoff disasters occur throughout the United States and other countries every day because of our current economic recession. Paradoxically, our movement out of the recession is not ending layoffs nor is it creating enough needed new jobs.

Economic recession causes a chain reaction loss of jobs that affects the security of millions of people. The outcome generally results in serious emotional problems for those affected.

I’ve been called to visit a number of different companies recently that were in the process of laying off employees. Most of the people being laid off are people who have been with their company for many years; some, upwards of 20 or even 30 years.

Most of these people are not ready to retire and they have essential bills to pay each month such as a mortgage, utilities, car payments, school loans, etc., and they usually lack other financial resources. Therefore, the news that they have to find other employment comes as a terrible shock to them.

One of these companies was on the brink of a shutdown when I was called. The employees had not yet been informed that a layoff was com- ing, so the management wanted me to be on the scene when the announcement was made. In essence, I was like a “first responder” to help employees deal with the firestorm of bad news.

There were 250 employees about to lose their jobs and frankly, they didn’t know me from Adam, but the management assured them that I would be available for counseling if they wished to see me. I was also available to help any of the managers who might become overwhelmed with the problem, and some were.

Over three days, I met with 40 people; some in small groups, some individuals and some couples. In one instance both husband and wife worked in the same company and both were being laid off.

When I arrived, I immediately sensed the tension and the apprehension among the managers. The core treatment I use is Thought Field Ther- apy in these circumstances, but it’s also important to help the employees in other ways. Mingling with them in the lunch room, being an empa- thetic listener, learning which of the employees knew others whom they might refer for help, and following the instructions of management are all important factors.

In general, I believe it is a good idea to help the employees understand how stress can affect them in negative ways. I explain Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Theory for stress, and involve them in talking about how they manage their own stresses. I help them appreciate the fact that stress is cumulative and that everyone has their own “comfort level” for tolerating stress.

When problems are not resolved satisfactorily and in a timely manner, the individual can move to a higher stress-level, that is, higher than their “normal” stress tolerance level. When this happens, the person may start thinking that their new stress-level is what is “normal” for them and they forget what it means to be in their own comfort zone. This problem can be magnified by multiple stressors that fail to be resolved until the person’s system is at high risk for physical, mental or emotional consequences.

I also explain how a person’s resistance to disease changes under stress as their chemistry changes with the introduction and persistence of stress hormones such as cortisol, and norepinephrine that are released at periods of heightened stress. The hormone regulating system is known as the endocrine system.

Cortisol is believed to affect the metabolic system and norepinephrine is believed to play a role in depression and hypertension. Severe trauma or stress events, or even caffeine, can elevate cortisol levels in the blood for prolonged periods.

I also explain to them that heightened stress can also cause loss of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, memory problems, lack of concentration, ten- sion and fatigue. These problems can lead to accidents on the job or interpersonal problems at home or work. Short temper and anger sometimes result. When nothing is done to alleviate the stress, a person’s immune system can take a serious hit which can then lead to other medical problems.

When appropriate I also remind people that the loss of a job can also result in them going through a process of grieving. After all, it’s not just the loss of a paycheck; it may also be the loss of relationships developed over many years when people have to move away.

Clearly, the employees often react with denial. “This just can’t be happening.” And with anger, “How can they betray me after I’ve been so loyal! Or, “Why didn’t they tell me this was coming!” Elizabeth Kubler Ross defined 5 overlapping stages of grief as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

Once I have my employee-clients sharing and understanding the importance of doing something positive to manage their stress, I explain there are also ways to eliminate stress. I usually take them through the TFT complex trauma algorithm by having them think privately about a problem they are experiencing.

We use the Subjective Units of Distress (SUD) scale as well. Not everyone has the same problem on their mind during such a crisis. Some are worried about their mortgage payments; others about their age and difficulty finding another job; some are distressed about their medical benefits and what may happen to them.

By the surprised and doubtful looks on their faces, it’s obvious that my first mention of “tapping on one’s face and fingers,” elicits some snickers and grins. But with a little coaching, good humor and clarifying that they don’t have to talk about their problems, the client-employees participate in the exercise.

But not everyone is ready or willing to do TFT or to sit down with a counselor. It’s not unusual to find some employees quite devastated by the layoff news bordering on panic, yet the only one he or she will turn to is a close friend or colleague.

But I’ve also seen employees change from a highly distressed state to a calm state in which they become resolved to help themselves and others over the layoff hurdle. One employee commenting on how calm he felt following TFT remarked, “Why doesn’t everyone know how to do this!” A month after meeting with the employees, I read in the newspaper how happy they were that the company brought in a counselor to work with them.

Layoff’s are not the only time employees can use TFT. Sometimes I’m called to work with employee groups when a coworker has died. In these situations I still use the psychosocial approach to understanding stress, and the elimination of stress by using the Complex Trauma Algorithm.

In one such situation however, a participant became very indignant with me and angrily told me I have no right to have them bring up painful emotions as they were trying to heal their own grief. I was not expecting this kind of response at the time, yet anger is a normal part of the grief process.

While I don’t remember exactly what I said, I tried to sympathize with her. I also asked the group of 25 employees for their permission to continue with the algorithm and they approved my doing so. The complaining person then relented.

Following the use of the complex trauma algorithm, the group spontaneously applauded. They asked for more information, and the angry participant also appeared happy.

On another occasion I used TFT to help an employee and his family members after they had been kidnapped at gunpoint by armed robbers. The adults and children had exceedingly high stress levels but following the TFT intervention they functioned normally once again. The employee could finally relax stating, “I was so frightened for me and my family but now I can breathe again.” I also taught them how to use TFT for their anxiety that the gunmen would keep their threat to come back to kill them.

So Thought Field Therapy can help many employees who lose their jobs and their family members. It can also help employees in other distressing circumstances. Callahan Techniques should be made available to all Employee Assistance Counselors and crisis counselors for this purpose.

2 thoughts on “Relieving Trauma of Job Layoffs”

  1. Thank you Herb, the way you wrote your story has inspired me to continue to included TFT into our business. My husband runs the business side of things and I have steped aside to do what I love doing, helping people. Having learnt TFT and other helping tools to release stress and trauma not only in my life but those around me, I find it difficult to get our staff to accept that I can help them with TFT, our business employs around 250 wonderful people but there job is very stressfull and our managers not only have there own problems to deal with but also the pepole that they manage. I really am at a stand still in trying to explain to our people that I can help them relese any stress, trauma, anxiety, that is taking place within and around them when there under pressure.
    I want to help our people because I care and we have youth that work for us to and I would love for them to have released any trapped emotions before they leave our group and follow there dreams with ease.
    Do you have any ideas on how to introduce this into our business. As I am not sure in which way to go anymore.
    With appreciation

  2. It’s gratifying to see your interest in helping people at work with TFT, as well as helping those who are laid off. There’s no question that any employee’s productivity would increase if they are not self-absorbed in issues causing them anxiety. By using TFT to alleviate the anxiety, workers can do a better job concentrating on their tasks. Sometimes work tasks require our full attention to avoid accidents on the job as well. I hope you are able to encourage your workers to use TFT for their sake and the sake of the job.

    Wishing You Well,
    Herb Ayers, MA LMHC TFT Dx

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