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David Blustein, Ph.D.
Lynch School of
Boston College
 Introductions
 Review the relationship between unemployment
and psychological functioning
 Strategies for self-care
 Strategies for a reinvigorated job search
Setting the stage
 Introductions and expectations for presentation
 What do you hope to achieve by participating in this
Guiding Questions
 What can research tell us about the relationships
between unemployment and mental health that can
help you manage with unemployment,
underemployment, and the job search process?
 What are the most effective self-care strategies that we
can use to help ourselves get back to work and restore
our mental health?
 What are the best job search strategies that have been
identified by research and best practices?
Where can we find
 Narratives and memoirs of the unemployed:
 Staying in touch with the real lived experience
 Research:
 Creating the foundation for evidence-based practice
 Best practices from career counseling and
Vignettes from the
 “Everything gets touched,” said Colleen Klemm, 51, of North
Lake, Wis., who lost her job as a manager at a landscaping
company last November. “All your relationships are touched
by it. You’re never your normal happy-go-lucky person. Your
countenance, your self-esteem goes. You think, ‘I’m not
 New York Times, 12/14/09
Vignettes from the
 “Every time I think about money, I shut down because
there is none. I get major panic attacks. I just don’t know
what we’re going to do.”
 “After struggling and struggling and not being able to pay
my house payments or my other bills, I finally sucked up
my pride; I got food stamps just to help feed my daughter.”
 New York Times, 12/14/09
Vignettes from the
 ‘I would say the part I’ve reached now is my career’s
over, that’s the part I feel I’ve reached now; and now,
you know, it’s over so I just take whatever is around
really. You know, I’ve had my chances in employment,
I’ve done as well as anyone could, anyhow in what I’ve
had to face.’
 Narrative from Gabriel et al. (Organizational Studies)
Unemployment and Mental
What does the research tell us?
 Marie Jahoda proposed that work provides us with five
important life needs:
 Time structure
 Social contact
 Collective purpose
 Status
 Activity
Paul and Moser’s
 The meta-analysis:
 Integrated results of 237 studies
with nearly half a million
 Results included the following:
 People who lost their jobs
experienced an increase in
mental health problems
 Once people became
reemployed, their mental
health improved
Journal of Vocational Behavior,
Paul and Moser’s
 Mental health problems
exist in 16% of the
general population and
34% of the unemployed.
Paul and Moser’s
 Mental health problems
are more pronounced
 Men
 blue-collar workers
 long-term unemployed
William Julius Wilson:
When Work Disappears
 Wilson studied urban Chicago to understand the impact
of the loss of employment.
 The loss of work was associated with increases in
family problems, the breakdown of communities
(increased crime, substance abuse, etc.)
 Work creates the link to the greater social community.
 People suffer individually without work.
 Communities suffer as well, creating a cycle of poverty
and despair
Wilson’s Conclusion
“In the absence of regular employment, a person
lacks not only a place in which to work and the
receipt of regular income but also a coherent
organization of the present – that is a concrete
system of expectations and goals. Regular
employment provides the anchor for the spatial
and temporal aspects of daily life.”
A Contextual Caveat
 Focusing on the mental health of the unemployed may function to
avoid active consideration of the root causes of unemployed.
 Review and critique the Downward Drift Hypothesis
 Paul and Moser’s work counters this view.
 Fryer argues that we need to actively consider that “which is
implicitly responsible for the unemployed person’s plight — the
social institution of unemployment — as impoverishing, restricting,
baffling, discouraging and disenabling.’ (Fryer 1992: 114)”.
A Contextual Caveat
 We need to consider the big picture.
 Rich Feller’s remark is telling…
 “The best career counselor is an expanding economy”
Shoring Ourselves Up:
Effective Self-Care Strategies
 Assessing Ourselves
 Self-Care Strategies
 Accessing Relational Support
 Reinvigorating the Job Search
Assessing Ourselves
 Assess your current level of functioning.
 How are you feeling overall?
 What sort of changes have you noticed in your life since
you experienced the major work-based transition?
Assessing Ourselves
 At times, the best intervention is to seek out some
professional support…
Assessing Ourselves
 Recall the results from Paul and Moser
 Unemployment of more than 6 months is associated
with marked increases in mental health problems.
 The loss of work is often akin to bereavement
Self-Care Strategies
 Identify support in your communities.
 Learn about and nurture support groups in your
 One-stop career centers
 Public libraries
 Networking groups
Self-Care Strategies
 Stress management
 Mindfulness to manage the ongoing anxiety and
ruminations about the loss of work
Letting thoughts and feeling flow through us
Develop a compassionate relationship to ourselves and others
 Meditation
 Exercise
 Other adaptive forms of distraction
Mindfulness and the Present
 Kabat-Zinn—”Wherever you go you are there”
 Our ordinary waking state is severely limited
 The essence of being alive is in appreciating the present
 Being in the present moment takes practice and
A Brief Mindfulness Excursion
 You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf…
 Emotional regulation…
 Think of an issue that you are struggling with.
 Imagine it and get in touch with the feelings.
 Observe it from a distance—do not repress it or disavow.
 Let it exist, but see it as a cloud in the sky
 Empirical research supports mindfulness-based
 For example, significant treatment gains were
endorsed among clients with generalized anxiety
disorder and panic disorder (Kabat-Zinn et al. 1992).
Awareness and Work
 Learning to stop automatic thoughts can lead to
authentic self-exploration.
 Training one’s capacity to concentrate can enhance
work performance and reduce attentional difficulties
The Present Moment
 The present moment refers to fully focusing attention
to the present moment and the here-and-now. The
ability to experience the present moment as fully as
possible decreases worry and anxiety about the past
and future.
The Present Moment and Work
 Paradox:
 Focusing on the present in a clear manner helps to plan
for the future
 Concentrating on the present moment provides
individuals with a way to ward off the stress of an
unstable work life.
 Acceptance involves recognizing experience
without judgment, with a sense of interest and
curiosity and kindness toward the experiences and
the self.
 Acceptance does not refer to a blind acceptance of
disparity or unstable work environments.
 Mindfulness aims to help clients gain clarity, better
cope with stress, and reduce anxiety in order in
order to explore external options and make better
informed decisions.
Self-Care Strategies
 Tell the story of your work history to your loved ones;
 The process of creating the narrative is therapeutic.
 While the events are often experienced in a deeply individualistic
way, the real story needs to include the context.
 This can form a powerful reframe as well as a story that is
ultimately affirming
Self-Care Strategies
 Recall Jahoda’s findings:
 We need structure in our lives…..
 Try to plan your day with job search activities, skill
building, stress reduction, and social connections
 Try to experience new accomplishments and internalize
previous accomplishments
 Work hard to actively engage in your lives, which can
help to reduce depressive symptoms
Accessing Relational Support
 We know from extensive research that relational
support is critical in managing stress and painful
 Relational support works in multiple ways for
unemployed and underemployed individuals:
 Emotional support
 Instrumental support
 Networking
Accessing Relational Support
 Emotional Support:
 The loss of connections at work needs to be understood
as a major source of psychic distress.
 It is critical to feel connected to others while you are
looking for work.
 Also, we need the emotional refueling to keep going
when faced with significant barriers in life
 Maximize your time with your loved ones
 Structure time with people you care about
Accessing Relational Support
 Instrumental Support
 Other people can help us in very tangible ways.
Feedback on job search strategies
Review emails, cover letters, and resumes
Giving us rides to interviews
Accessing Relational Support
 Networking
 Networking is a critical aspect of the job search.
 It also provides relational support—it offers multiple
 A strategy:
 Make a list of everyone you know and the kind of work
they do.
 Begin the process of informational interviews with your
existing network
Accessing Relational Support
 Expanding your networks:
 Join a professional networking group at a One-Stop
Career Center
 Explore other networking opportunities.
Join organizations related to your field
Attend professional meetings
 Social networking:
The Power of Shared Experience
The Power of Shared
 “Even when someone couldn’t help me out financially
or otherwise, just being a sounding board; being
someone who can give you psychological help. That
has been the biggest help that I have had. Knowing
that you’re in the same boat with a lot of other people.
Um, but that is, probably the most of what I’ve gotten.
Along with that, I know that if my back is to the wall,
that I know if they can they will, will help me out.”
 (Boston College Unemployment Study Participant)
Job Search Strategies
 The best predictor of a return to pre-unemployment
levels of mental health is…..
 A new job!
Job Search Strategies
 Supporting an active, engaged, and creative job search
 Review latest approaches that are working
 Networking
 Assess transferable skills
 Skills development…..Critical for the 21st century
Job-Search Interventions
 A recent meta-analysis by Liu, Huang, and Wang
of job search interventions concluded the
 Job search interventions, in general, are effective in
helping people to obtain work.
 Job search programs are particularly effective when they
blend skills development with motivational
Job Search Interventions
 The effective interventions tended to include the
Teaching job search skills
Improving self-presentation (includes in person
presentation as well as written materials)
Boosting self-efficacy
Encouraging proactivity
Promoting goal setting
Enlisting social support
Job-Search Interventions
 Lui and colleagues also identified that job search
interventions are less effective for long-term
unemployed job seekers.
 They suggest that the complex needs of the long-term
unemployed may require:
 Occupational skills training
 Interventions that focus on enhancing self-esteem
 and healthy lifestyle may be an important addition to
traditional job search interventions.
The Jobs Program:
An Intervention Project
 Price and Vinokur designed a structured reemployment
program that combined social support and specific job
search strategies.
 Research evidence indicates the following:
 The social support of the group is a critical ingredient.
 The program worked better than self-help efforts (clients following
a printed reemployment guidebook).
 In sum, people benefited from both instrumental and emotional
 The groups helped people to find work and to reduce mental health
Unpacking the
Jobs Club Results
 What seemed to help?
 Social support
 The experience of telling one’s story to an empathic and
concerned group.
 Learning practical job search skills
Closing Comments
 Let’s give an unemployed person an opportunity to
 “I never thought I’d be at this stage now because I, I
thought I’d throw in the towel, but I’ve always been
a fighter. I come from a strong family. I know strong
people and I can’t let myself down. Society has let
me down but I can’t let society define me. I can’t let
unemployment define me. “
 (Boston College Unemployment Project participant)
Group Discussion
 What new skills did you learn in this workshop that
you can implement immediately?
 What other resources might be helpful to you in
advancing your job search and enhancing your overall
psychological functioning?
and Comments
 Feel free to contact me….