Advancing Trauma-Informed Career Counseling

In my job helping customers create resumes and conduct job searches I often find myself acting as a therapist. The library patrons have unique life stories they bring to the table. Their experiences impact their employment needs and choices.

Peers with mental illnesses as well as other clients have often experienced trauma in their lives. The job a person has should aid in healing not make us ill.

Especially when we are individuals who have historically have been treated in a subpar way. By the very mental health staff tasked with helping us. If you didn’t think we could recover were you happy to spin your wheels helping us knowing that what you did wouldn’t enable us to recover. Then why did you become shrinks and social workers to begin with?

I’m going to talk in here about the reality of having a mental illness. Not a fan of total honesty this is why I cannot advance a “let-it-all-hang-out” on your lips mentality on the job. Though I write about my experiences I choose carefully what I disclose and when and where.

So–here goes–this could’ve happened to me. Or you. It happens to everyone regardless of our race, creed, gender, socioeconomics, illness or whatever demographic we fit in.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Abuse is not confined to a house or apartment. Our jobs are our living quarters for 8 hours a day. A victim of abuse or trauma could be wary of a coworker taking advantage of them.

Having a mental illness–especially in the early stages of our recovery–can be a trauma. This shouldn’t prevent us from trying to get a job. The last thing we want is to experience a new trauma in the workplace.

Our jobs should not make us ill. Our coworkers and supervisors should not gaslight us. Issues of power and control exist in the workplace. Which is why I say tread carefully with what you tell others.

To begin with individuals with mental illnesses are at a greater risk of being victims of crimes than of committing a crime.

In fact other people with mental health issues are often our abusers. Trust–this has happened.

It’s no easy task finding a company to work for where our coworkers are healing allies not self-interested adversaries.

Pain and trauma are part of everyone’s life. “Everybody Hurts” to quote the 1990s REM song title.

How to transform our pain into creative energy? How to get a job where working there can be an act of healing from illness?

I’m keen to give readers specific strategies for finding these needle-in-a-haystack positions.

The next blog entry here will be a hyperlink to a guest blogger entry that I had published at the Resources to Recover website on October 6. That entry will be my parting shot in focusing on disclosure on the job. After this I will start to talk about DEI initiatives–how Diversity Equity and Inclusion measures can help peers with mental illnesses on the job too.

Acting Vulnerable on the Job

No other expert has talked about risking becoming vulnerable at our jobs. There’s scant research into and advocating for bringing “All of You” into the workplace.

What’s written does point to the economic advantage companies have when employees are treated right and feel like we belong. Hello–where is that business and how can we apply?

My goal is to help peers with mental illnesses find jobs with employers who recognize, accept, value, and celebrate the differentness of every human being.

We should not shy away from using the word differentness. It has nothing to do with not being normal. Not that being normal is such a great prize to begin with.

Our differentness is a competitive advantage.

We are not robots. We are not machines. Though we will break down under the unrealistic pressure to be someone we’re not.

I’m thinking long and hard about the solution to this dilemma. How it hasn’t been okay to cry at the office. Or show other emotion. It’s said that in the workplace forced positivity has been expected.

In the coming blog entry I will talk about how trauma can influence what we do and say at our jobs.

Should we make ourselves vulnerable with coworkers?

Working Versus Shirking

I wanted to write about this topic because all of us will experience this fate on one of our jobs.

It’s not ever a good idea to be lazy as a coworker.

Doing the bare minimum. Or not doing anything at all.

I’ve worked with individuals who don’t do their fair share of the work. Not only that they don’t do any work. They even try to pass off their work for you to do.

Wait a minute. You shouldn’t be doing your coworker’s job.

It’s a double bind: if you’re perceived as being a hard worker more and more work will be dumped on you.

In Betting on You Laurie Ruettimann talks about this dilemma in detail. I reviewed her book here. You can click on the Book Reviews category to read this review.

Ruettimann tells readers how to be a “slacker” in a good way on the job. So that the pressure you’re experiencing doesn’t steal your energy and sanity.

In an ordinary work day all of us should have the free time to take 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon as a break and breather.

Sadly, a lot of coworkers treat the full seven hours of the day as a “break” to do nothing.

This can be demoralizing. You can be tempted to join them in serenading the water cooler every 10 minutes. Or scrolling your Facebook account instead of doing any numbers crunching.

I say: as hard as it is to work with lazy coworkers refrain from ratting them out to your boss about their behavior. You’re not the schoolyard monitor for a fourth-grade class. You and your coworkers are adults.

For women especially [and particularly at law firms for female attorneys] we can work twice as hard thinking we have to prove ourselves. We’ll get twice as far even though we’re better than the men.

What is the solution when dealing with the not-acceptable kind of slacker behavior in the workplace?

I say: do your job and be great at what you do. Be different. Refrain from being tempted to do the work your coworkers fail to do.

The fact is that not everyone who gets a promotion will be the best qualified. As multiple women who experienced sexism as female attorneys in law firms have attested.

The remedy is to do your due diligence. Research the company you’re interviewing at. Go on GlassDoor to scope out employers. Arm yourself with the typical salary, working conditions, and other criteria.