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The Psychology of Unemployment: Why it’s not Just about the Paycheck

Posted Jul 18 2011 11:33am

The good people at ConstitutionalDaily.Com asked me to comment on the psychological effects of unemployment. This was a hot topic in late 2008 (psychologists called it Sudden Loss Syndrome) when the market crashed and, sadly, it’s just as relevant today. Take a look at an excerpt below and click here to read the entire piece.

Sudden Loss Syndrome is about identity. Healthy or not, these people see their jobs and/or their wealth as who they are. “If the ship goes down, who am I?” said one hard-core rich client of mine. While not all of these clients have little else in their lives, my practice has seen its fair share of well-to-do people with not much to fall back on: poor marriages, rocky relationships with their kids and very little recreation time because of the work that generates all that cash. If they aren’t wealthy anymore, how will they define themselves? Helping clients develop their own answers that question is how a therapist makes a living, without judging or ridiculing.

To highlight the emotional rollercoaster of unemployment, I asked a young, jobless lawyer for a take on what it means to lose your career:

“…there’s a sense of helplessness. This is probably more pronounced in a recession where long term unemployment is more common. There are few job openings, and far too many people applying for you to have a fair shake at getting it. As time goes on and you’re unemployed longer, you become increasingly unattractive to employers. Colleges are still graduating kids with the same degree and experience as you, so that’s who’ll get hired instead. Once you do a little number crunching and figure out the number of job openings per year versus the number of more attractive applicants, you start to have thoughts like “How happy is the manager at The Gap?”

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