Treatment: Workplace Bullying

  • Bullying can cause physical, psychological, social and personality injuries for targets, victims, bullies, bystanders and families.
  • The sooner you obtain treatment the better, don’t wait for months or years.
  • Even if you go to court later, some symptoms will never heal.
  • Some clients can get health fund rebates, managed health care plan (Medicare, Australia) or Workcover to subside their treatment. Some can deduct sessions as being work related.
  • Personality changes - most victims describe themselves as being different, "I am not the same person I used to be".

Workplace Bullying Trauma (WBT)

  • Thus Evelyn M. Field (2010, 2012) believes that not all traumas are the same and that the constellation of symptoms displayed by victims of workplace bullying is different to other traumas, and has named it W.B.T (Workplace Bullying Trauma).
    • Thus treating practitioner needs to be knowledgeable and skilled in many different areas, understand bullying and be able to provide short and long-term therapy and use a range of treatment methods, depending on their clients' needs.
    • There is also a growing awareness that the bullying behaviours experienced by a target do not provide a rational explanation that adequately explains the severity of symptom formation and personality change. Thus some understanding of the beliefs/schemas/assumptions that targets have about themselves, their work and their workplace are also important. (refer The Target)
    • Evelyn Field has worked as a therapist for many years and provides full day training for therapists in treating targets of school bullying or workplace bullying, they have been approved by the Australian Psychological Society, and can be used for professional development.
  • Many workplaces don’t manage workplace bullying effectively as they deny its impact on employees and productivity.
  • If the bullying has just begun then seek help from your family doctor, speak to your local professional association of psychologists and request someone who is professionally skilled at helping you manage workplace bullying.
  • You will need to learn how to block the bullying behaviours and work out your best options as regards work, legal rights etc.(Refer ‘Bully Blocking At Work ‘) Treatment should take 6-10 session on average.
  • If you have been seriously injured by the bullying, and are still at work or have left it, then you will need to see a psychologist who has specific experience in dealing with bullying at work.
  • You may also need to see a psychiatrist with similar expertise.
  • You may need to consult your therapist for many months or years to recover from the impact of the bullying and subsequent medico-legal hazards.
  • Be aware that although there are specific day or residential clinics for assessing and treating victims of workplace bullying in Germany, Norway, Italy, there are none in USA, Australia, New Zealand, England.

International Association on Workplace Bullying and Harassment (IAWBH)

This association has sponsored the Therapist Special Interest Group (SIG) for a number of years. Evelyn M. Field OAM is the Convenor and Dr Pat Ferris is the co-convenor. Together with small group of international experts including Dr Marie-France Hirigoyen, Christiane Kreitlow, Miwako Wakui, Nils Mageroy and others.

They have conducted full day training on the diagnosis and treatment of bullied people in Copenhagen, Milan, New Zealand, Melbourne, and a four day Summer school in Calgary.

Consequently they have published a document on the Therapist SIG website, (for IAWBH members only) providing a framework for diagnosis and treatment. Evelyn bases on training for mental health professionals on this document.

Training for therapists

Diagnosing and treating targets/victims of workplace bullying is a new area of research and practice. According to the International Association of Workplace Bullying and Harassment (IAWBH) Board report 2014, there are no clear evidence-based diagnoses or treatments.

Thus I would encourage all serious therapists to join the IAWBH and follow the Therapist SIG website to familiarise themselves with the current international thinking around evidence -based and practice-based diagnosis and practice, which will provide a more comprehensive diagnostic framework and treatment protocols.

  • Bullying is caused by dysfunctional systems in the workplace. It is further affected by the employee’s past history, current circumstances, support structures and personality. Thus treatment issues are complex.
  • Bullying causes many individual injuries. According to Field (2010, 2012) bullying causes different symptoms for example:

    Physical injuries, (e.g. sleep difficulties, nightmares, weight loss or gain, gastro difficulties, headaches, blood pressure, skin disorders, muscle and joint pain, hair loss, voice changes and others report symptoms such as heart rate changes, palpitations, fatigue, eye sight difficulties, shortness of breath, tics, Graves disease, thyroid, increase smoking, drinking, deep vein thrombosis, auto immune conditions, jaw pain, suicide ideation, heart palpitations, low blood platelets, incontinence, sweating, , fibromyalgia.)

    Psychological injuries, including depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress disorder. When the injuries last longer than six months it cannot be described as being an adjustment disorder (McFarlane) but becomes a posttraumatic stress disorder.

    According to Dr Patricia Ferris (2014) Evelyn M Field ( 2012, 2104) and others, the most seriously injured victims of bullying also display common symptoms including a high degree of ruminative thinking, hyper-vigilance and psychological paralysis.

    Cognitive changes - Targets find it hard to concentrate on anything but the bullying, learning new work is hard, etc.

    Social life - Change’s in one’s social life that lead to reduced social interaction, this includes going to the supermarket, shopping centres, catching up with extended family or friends.

    Personality changes - most victims describe themselves as being different, “I am not the same person I used to be”.

Thus Evelyn M. Field (2010, 2012) believes that not all traumas are the same and that the constellation of symptoms displayed by victims of workplace bullying is different to other traumas, and has named it W.B.T (Workplace Bullying Trauma).

  • Thus treating practitioner needs to be knowledgeable and skilled in many different areas, understand bullying and be able to provide short and long-term therapy and use a range of treatment methods, depending on their clients’ needs.
  • There is also a growing awareness that the bullying behaviours experienced by a target do not provide a rational explanation that adequately explains the severity of symptom formation and personality change. Thus some understanding of the beliefs/schemas/assumptions that targets have about themselves, their work and their workplace are also important. (refer The Target)
  • Evelyn Field has worked as a therapist for many years and provides full day training for therapists in treating targets of school bullying or workplace bullying, they have been approved by the Australian Psychological Society, and can be used for professional development.

The DSM V

Although the DSM V (known as the "psychiatrists bible") should form one part of a diagnostic framework it is worthwhile noting the changes.

According to the DSM V, the section on posttraumatic stress disorder indicates that the “PTSD criteria clearly cover bullying when there is actual or the threat of, harm to an individual.” (Dr Mathew Friedman, 2013)

Page 368 V 62.29 Other Problem Related to Employment
This category should be used when an occupational problem is the focus clinical attention or has an impact on individual’s treatment or prognosis. eg Recent change of job; threat of job loss; job dissatisfaction; stressful work schedule; uncertainty about career choices; sexual harassment on the job; other discord with boss, supervisor, co-workers, or others in the work environment; uncongenial or hostile work environments; other psychosocial stressors related to work; and any other problems related to employment and /or occupation.

Page 370, V62.2 Social Exclusion or Rejection This category should be used when there is an imbalance of social power such that there is recurrent social exclusion or rejection by others. Examples of social rejection include bullying, teasing, and intimidation by others; being targeted by others for verbal abuse and humiliation; and being purposefully excluded from the activities of peers, workmates, or others in one’s social environment.

Page 370 Target of (Perceived) Adverse Discrimination or Persecution This category should be used when there is perceived or experienced discrimination against or persecution of the individual based on his or her membership ( or perceived membership) in a specific category. Typically, such categories include gender or gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, country of origin, political beliefs, disability status, caste, social status, weight, and physical appearance.