Using CBT for Smart Coping Skills for the Unemployed

There is a lot of talk about the state of mental health services.

There is a lot of talk about the problem of unemployment.

But there is little or no talk about the mental health of the unemployed, even though it has been well documented that the economic crisis and unemployment has an extremely negative psychological effect on people, and that this is a major barrier to re-employment – and that the costs are enormous, monetarily and societally.|

(REPORTS/STATS: The Irish Mental Health Commission have issued a report on the impact of unemployment, debt, and poverty on the mental health of adults, adolescents and children. The World Health Organisation have issued a report on the ‘Impact of the economic crises on mental health’ – download a PDF of the text here . Contact me for more links…)

Personal development training to teach new coping skills, can help to give participants the confidence, motivation and ability to re-enter the workforce or retraining.

How and why? The psychological impact of protracted unemployment can be devastating and possibly permanent. Work helps define who we are. It organises the structure of our lives and gives us security in our self worth and value, and security in financial terms, and a future. It gives us routine and feeds our social networking needs. When we become unemployed and stay that way for some time, the change, the loss, can create a level of stress that breaks some people’s coping skills. They can become increasingly overwhelmed, a shift takes place in thinking, and everything seems hopeless – which leads to helplessness and avoidant behaviour. It’s all too common, and very real. It’s not a case of people ‘snapping out of it’, it’s a real disorder – and we know that it is going to hit a high percentage of people – so training in self management skills should be an automatic offering, to anybody on the register, to ensure the best chance of having the ability to either avoid the situation, or to move out of the situation.


Click to open the Removing Barriers Workshop Newsletter

A training option: I have developed a successful workshop called ‘Making Choices’, which teaches participants the theory and application of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for everyday life. CBT is not about airy fairy ‘positive thinking’, it is about rational critical thinking, it is about the science of thinking and feeling and behaviour. This type of training is given to CEO’s and MBAs to make them more productive and effective – so why shouldn’t everybody have it? Especially since it has proven to be very effective at preventing and/or curing anxiety responses to high stress situations.

This post is going to explain what it’s about, and give you some of my findings regarding the thinking and behaviour that is typical of an unemployment stress disorder. If you are unemployed, have a read through and see if you identify with anything here – and if you do, you can start to learn how to understand and change things…

What is it?  it is not group ‘therapy’, it is a fun learning by discovery workshop. Using a mix of presentations and discussions and exercises with a workbook, it teaches new skills in self management (coping skills) through understanding and applying modern psychotherapy strategies and methods. The length of the programme varies, it could be a one day stand alone workshop, or a series of up to six half days.

This learning should really be taught in schools, and would save most of us a lot of time on life’s emotional roller coaster. Why is it assumed that we humans know by instinct how to take care of our psychological health? We prove over and over that of course we don’t – and when we’re coping with dramatic change and loss, it is absolutely usual to have reactive emotional health issues, which in turn feed self limiting behaviours.

There are past and ongoing studies, most notably in the UK and Australia, that show CBT has a positive outcome for jobseekers. After the London School of Economics Layard report, the UK are offering CBT sessions (without any doctors referral) in major city JobCentre Plus offices. And the NHS doctors in the UK offer CBT as a first choice treatment for emotional issues like anxiety or depression – starting with ‘bibliotherapy’ (a prescription for self help books), or CCBT (computerised CBT), or low intensity CBT sessions (guided self help by a therapist/trainer). Even the American Military have started ‘Comprehensive Soldier Fitness‘ training, using CBT for emotional/psychological fitness. This type of work has inspired mine. Of course, this recession is very real, and it is tough to find meaningful work – so while this workshop will ideally help a participant to re-enter the job market, above all it is designed to help the participant re-enter meaningful life, whatever situation that turns out to be for them.

What type of people is it for? Everybody! Some people cope with adverse situations better than others – but whether this training is  simply great tools to help somebody do even better in life, or proactive and preventative to stop somebody heading down an emotional cul de sac, or reactive and curative to help those already suffering – well it really doesn’t matter – everybody can benefit from it. Learning about the science of thinking and feeling and behaviours – and how we can understand and recognise if our automatic thoughts and beliefs are distorted and unhealthy, and how we can change them if they result in self sabotaging behaviour – is as important as learning how to take care of our physical or nutritional health. This learning also teaches us better understanding and acceptance of other people and their behaviours, and how to communicate more effectively. It’s for everybody. It’s for you!


What do participants say? Snippets from my last workshop evaluation sheets:


Okay, let’s go: here’s a typical scenario of stress becoming a disorder with unemployment :

You experience loss – loss of structure, of financial certainty, of routine, of security, of optimism, of social networking, of ‘contributing’, of belonging…

The change and stress may affect your coping skills. You may socially isolate yourself. You may lose the ability to move forward out of the situation. You may develop low self esteem and lose confidence. You may lose hope. You may develop negative automatic thinking – which means you will live with thoughts and beliefs like:

  • There are no jobs
  • I don’t have a hope in hell of getting a job
  • There’s no point in even trying
  • Everything is awful
  • I’m useless

If you believe that this is evidence based rational thinking, you are not…

… going to have optimism or hope –  why would you when everything is so awful and you’re so useless?

… going to apply for jobs – why would you when there are none?

… going to be excited about retraining – why would you when you are convinced it’s pointless and too hard for ‘useless’ you anyway?

… going to consider working for yourself – just the thought of it is overwhelming, and it couldn’t possibly work out, you’d just waste your time and embarrass and upset yourself needlessly!

You are likely to…

… have ‘avoidant’ behaviour

… experience panic and excessive worrying if you get a call or a letter from your local social welfare / benefits office

… nearly give yourself a nervous breakdown if you somehow get called to an interview for training or a job through a government agency – an interview itself would be a dangerous bad thing… but what even more horrible thing might happen if you get through it? You might get the job!

If stress has become a disorder through unemployment, you are likely to have some of the following symptoms, which will convince you that you cannot actually work, at least ‘not yet’:

  • Tired most of the time
  • Emotionally upset more often
  • Have a sick feeling in your stomach
  • Often feel dizzy when worrying
  • Get ill more than you used to (colds, cold sores, headaches..)
  • Prone to constant worrying
  • Prone to constant self criticism
  • Feel helpless and overwhelmed and unable to cope
  • Feel kind of afraid a lot of the time


There you have it – a quick snapshot of a classic ‘thinking and doing’ outcome of unemployment for somebody whose stress has become a disorder! Do you recognise yourself in any of the above? If you do please don’t worry, instead understand that they are typical outcomes of extreme stress in this situation,  it is nothing to be ashamed of, and you now have information to help you. If you had high blood pressure or diabetes you wouldn’t beat yourself up about it would you? Neither should you with a stress disorder. It is what it is.


The first thing to do is step back and try to unconditionally accept yourself and the situation. The next is to go to your GP to discuss things if you feel they are unmanageable (and of course reach out to family members or friends for support). You do not have to stay feeling and behaving this way forever – and of course you know what I’m going to recommend… learn the theory and application of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy! It is entirely possible to learn to manage the situation in a better way – you can learn to have much better coping skills, you can learn to have more control over your moods and behaviours, you can make it so that you feel good more of the time and have the motivation and strength to enjoy life again – that might involve getting a job, but no matter what, these skills can give you back your joy. It will take work, but it will be worth it.



Learn the theory and application of cognitive behavioural therapy, so that you can understand and build awareness of negative automatic thoughts that stifle your life, and learn how to analyse them for evidence, to deconstruct them and take them apart if they are distorted – and to replace with healthy evidence based alternative thinking. Change your life.

Where do you learn how to use CBT?

You might choose ‘bibliotherapy‘, which is simply the use of CBT books to learn and apply to yourself (self help).

Or – you can google to find online CCBT (computerised cognitive behavioural therapy).

Or blogiotherapy (okay, yes, I made that up) – using my blog here as a free self-help guide – clicking through the posts and printing and completing the downloads – learning the theory and applying the principles and strategies to yourself and your particular situational anxiety.

Or – if you are in Ireland you might ask your local unemployment services if / how they might help or refer you, and whether they hold my Removing Barriers Workshop.

Or – if you are in Dublin you can attend private one to one low intensity CBT sessions with me – email and/or call 086 8113031 for more information.

Or – you can google to find private CBT practitioners in your area, or contact your GP for advice and referrals to recommended therapists.


New – ‘introduction to MindMapping’ sessions, Ireland

~ The best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you’re talking about. – Michael H Mescon ~

I include a half day or two in my workshop to introduce Buzan’s MindMapping – the incredible tool for organising the information in your head so that you’re articulate and wordperfect for your interviews or presentations. Familiarise yourself with it to help you prepare (google for Tony Buzan MindMapping books, or you will find them in any good local bookstore).


I use mindmapping ALL the time. A working/practical example?

I’m oldschool all the way, it’s about colourful markers and mapping simple ‘association keywords and images’… This simple yet ridiculously effective mindmap was used for this radio interview. (audioboo link)

Click here to go to a post showing a mindmap by one of my training groups.


Quick tips for anxiety :

Deep breathing: because so many symptoms are caused by an oxygen stimulus through the bodies fight or flight response to danger (click on the ‘Oh God I’m shaking..’ post for more information), breathing control exercises are hugely helpful in calming the body. Link to a podcast/audio of a Quick Fix Breathing Excercise.

Physical exercise is key in managing anxiety and fight or flight symptoms – click the ‘Oh God, I’m shaking..’ post for more information. Link to an audio podcast of Exercise and Mental Health.

Mindfulness and visualisation can be very powerful tools to distract and ground and calm us. Link to a 10 minute audio of Mindfulness Practice. Link to free mindfulness resources.   Link to my 15 minute relaxation + visualisation audio.

Regular deliberate relaxation – set regular routines where you do something you find relaxing (a movie, a book, candles and music, a walk in the park or on the beach, whatever you truly enjoy) – the body has a ‘relaxation’ physical response, which releases chemicals that reduce stress hormones, this slows your heart rate and lowers blood pressure and relaxes muscles, returning you homeostasis (balance). Free resource link: UK MENTAL HEALTH FOUNDATION PODCAST LIST

Caveman and Tiger

Click on the cartoon to watch a short video explaining your bodies Fight or Flight response to presentations/interviews/public speaking.

~~~ CBT and Feeling Good, promoting psychological health and wellbeing ~~~

Contact details:
Veronica Walsh, CBT and Feeling Good, Camden House, 7 Camden Street Upper, Dublin 2, Ireland

Private sessions take place in the Camden House office, public/group sessions are on company/organisations premises unless otherwise booked.

Note: my blog self help therapy, and indeed my personal development workshops, are not meant to take the place of a health professional – please do go to your doctor to discuss the situation if you feel you may have anxiety or depression. Your doctor will diagnose and recommend a care plan.

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