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Therapy and Whistleblowers

The crazy label highlights the stigma attached to whistleblowing, which is one of the reasons the 1994 Amendments made referrals for psychological testing a prohibited personnel practice. Name-calling and avoidance are both ways for individuals and organizations to avoid even needed change.

Few professionals receive specific training concerning whistleblower retaliation, even those in the mental health field. Most general therapists simply counsel clients to leave an abusive situation, as any workplace where retaliation has occurred certainly is. Depression caused by co-worker ostracism will probably lift when that type of bullying ends and the employee makes friends in a new position. That is, unless the new boss gets briefed by the old one, or the whistleblower was traumatized by long exposure to reprisals. Thus,a few therapists may advise "working it through," including litigation, as an empowerment strategy leading to personal growth. Speaking out can help avoid post-traumatic stress disorder, which is more common in those who minimize and deny their own emotional responses to a traumatic situation. Denial's a survival trick that can become counterproductive over time. Emotionally and spiritually painful situations can produce growth or a rut. That's where psychological and/or spiritual counseling comes in, allowing the discernment of an outside perspective. Still, not all professionals have that discernment, and one who denies the ethical or spiritual aspects of a retaliation system can become another problem (or growth opportunity).

The gamesmanship involved during the retaliation/escalation cycle compounds the stigmas attached to both therapy and whistleblowing, to whistleblower's pain, if not detriment. On a practical level, retaliating bosses often "counsel" whistleblowers to seek therapy, either to stigmatize them directly, or in the hopes of a therapist simply advising departure. Controversy within the psychological professions complicates matters further. Developmental theorist Lawrence Kohlberg has argued that breaking the law can sometimes be justified as a "higher level of moral development." What those reading snippets of his work often don't (or don't want to) realize, is that most law-breakers believe themselves justified. They invariably place their own perceived needs, as well as their values, above those of their victims and of society as a whole. That's what Dan Olweus found in studying bullies, that they have inflated feelings of their own self-worth and little anxiety or insecurity. It's a bad kind of self-esteem that can lead to lawbreaking and other anti-social activities.

Whistleblowers, like others in trouble, naturally turn to those offering solutions. Quick ones often seem especially attractive; it takes time to discern the quacks or gurus or simply ethically lazy therapists. The Selection Guideposts page discusses related issues, and the links page includes books by professionals describing positives and trouble signs. Please get second (or third) opinions before doing drugs or (shudder) electroshock. Context and confidentiality also matter a lot when trying to work through the emotions of these stressful situations.

The author obviously cannot know and will not advise about what may be "healthier" for a particular reader. Therapy can be oversold. Plus, inadequate or just plain wrong information often produces bad decisions. Retaliation problems at work are a type of breach of trust, and therefore test faith as well as sanity. Trust issues come up in a variety of ways, only two of which are anxiety and depression. No one said the process is easy. But the cloud does have other sides: developing inner strength, as well as learning who your friends really are.


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