Helping targets of workplace bullying: The need for an integrated counseling approach

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Years of talking to targets of workplace bullying and mobbing have reinforced my belief that we need to fashion multifaceted counseling approaches for people who are dealing with this form of abuse.  At least three categories continually intersect:

Mental health counseling

We know what bullying and mobbing at work can do to people: Anxiety attacks, depression, PTSD, and more. Bullying targets often need help dealing with these mental health outcomes and finding their way out of the morass. Therapists who understand workplace abuse can be essential in these circumstances.

Career counseling

Workplace bullying often poses a severe threat to one’s vocation or profession. Simple questions such as “should I stay or should I go?” are full of ramifications that may not be easily apparent to someone who is struggling under the boot heel of a tormenter. Sometimes this experience may be the catalyst for rethinking a career path. Career counseling or coaching can help someone explore these options and work through challenging decisions.

Legal counseling

As I have written extensively, even in the absence of direct legal protections against bullying and mobbing, various claims invoking employment discrimination law and various whistleblower/anti-retaliations protections may apply. In addition, possible employee benefit options may include workers’ compensation, disability benefits, unemployment insurance, and family & medical leave. A lawyer also may be able to help negotiate a severance agreement that includes provisions such as a positive reference. Sorting out these options often requires expert legal knowledge and assistance.

The need for an integrated approach

These areas often overlap. Career options are going to be informed by a target’s mental health. Funding for counseling may require accessing employee benefits. A lawsuit may offer the possibility of compensation but impacts both mental health and career decisions. Typically, however, it is up to the individual to bring together these various pieces. And when folks are in a state of distress, chances diminish that they will be able to do so in the most effective and thoughtful ways.

I don’t have any easy systemic answers to this, but I think we should look at other social service settings, where caseworkers attempt to draw together various service providers to help people in need. An integrated approach toward helping targets of severe workplace bullying and mobbing will be of great help to those who are trying to make sense of an array of often perplexing choices and difficult circumstances.


This post was revised in December 2021.

20 responses

  1. Yes, you have hit it right on the nail. None of this is available where I am in Alaska. I even went to the Dept. of Rehab. and they acted like-who the hell do you think you are just walking in here asking for assistance. Forget legal counseling in Alaska, only the well to do get real attorneys here. Those who have been workplace bullied and lost their jobs can’t afford counseling let alone legal counsel.

  2. Thank you David, what you say is absolutely correct and as a survivor I emphatically agree with the need to bring together systems of effective support for targets/victims. However, in Australia, the further difficulties and complications encountered by governments raising the bar, to unachievable levels, in relation to actually having a workplace abuse injury acknowledged, ‘qualifying”. It is clearly the aim/function of authorities to discredit claims by any means possible in order to deny victims the right to even access any of the insurance and support options. I make this statement without fear of contradiction as in my very own state, Victoria, legislation has been introduced in the past 12 months to redefine “psychological/emotional injury” and diminish culpability of abusive employers. It would seem that in Australia more work is being done to discourage claims because the process has become so adversarial and harrowing for an already emotionally depleted individual and in fact the Workcover proces has become an extension of the brutality and abuse.

  3. You are probably correct that support and counseling would be valuable, but – for me, anyway – all I wanted at the end to was to get out. Fortunately, I had a supportive husband and a small 401(k) to tap. I’ve been “retired” for 3 weeks now and am still having a difficult time leaving the house, let alone seeking out counselor(s) who might understand the situation I left behind and its impact. I suspect this would be true for many other targets of abusive employers.

  4. Mental health counseling,Career counseling and Career counseling are all beneficial and useful resources. However, as this statement notes;”…in the absence of direct legal protections against bullying….” Congressional action making bullying illegal is one of two deterrents that will be the MOST effective.

    The other is raising awareness and education of every career seeker and employee to Learn Basic Employee Rights including bullying before seeking and accepting employment!

  5. David, you are absolutely right.
    I also think, that it is important to see an independent counsellor/therapist, rather than one offered by the employer, simply for ethical reasons. There is no support for victims here in the UK. NHS and Universities pride themselves with induction courses on bullying and “Dignity at Work”, but exactly the same are turning a blind eye if something happens.

  6. Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful comments. I’m guessing there’s a pretty firm consensus on these points among those who have experienced severe bullying at work or who are helping those who have endured it.

    I hope that we can create opportunities to make this kind of integrated counseling a reality.


  7. The severe lack of support services and counseling targeted for this problem in the US is very alarming. I have not ever heard of even a support group that meets in person. This is all very sad.

  8. The profound lack of support services and counseling, such as a (that’s right…not even 1 involving meeting face-to-face exists) support group, is very alarming in the US!

  9. Does anyone know of any resources in the Boston area for counseling? I’ve searched the Internet and haven’t had much luck finding anyone who specializes in this.

    • It may be difficult to identify a therapist who has a specific expertise in workplace bullying, but if you look for therapists with expertise in trauma, depression, or in working with clients experiencing sexual harassment or domestic violence, that may put you in the right direction. Good luck to you.

  10. As a mental health counselor and a current target of workplace bullying, I am thinking of trying to put together something that would encompass the areas that you have mentioned: case management for targets to give them the services that their individual cases require. If there was such a service, would there be interest? I am trying to think of ways in which I can create a position for myself now that I am currently out of work. I had to resign. It was simply that bad.

  11. seabreeze – you could start our own business and private practice for this, especially if you are licensed.

      • I’m an LICSW too in MA. I want to connect with you, but anonymous here for obvious reasons. not sure how to let you know how to reach me here. maybe through David?

  12. seabreeze, I attempted to send you an e-mail using the address that David gave to me, but it got bounced back to me, assuming that this is no longer your address. therefore, you are welcome to obtain my address through David instead.

    • I have a PO box. Why don’t you send me your info: name and phone number or email address to POB 275, White Horse Beach, MA 02381. Thanks.

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