Mental Health Professionals Need To Understand Workplace Bullying to Better Help Clients Who Are Also Targets

Workplace bullying is extremely traumatizing to the target. Targets often utilize employee assistance programs and seek mental health help in order to cope. As such, mental health professionals need to receive training on workplace bullying to better help targets.

It is a struggle for targets to identify exactly what they are experiencing because most workers do not equate work with abuse. Nor do they fathom that they will experience workplace bullying. Therefore, it takes time to label what targets are actually going through. Mental health professionals can help targets identify and name what is happening to them. As such, mental health professionals need to ensure that they understand the complex nature of workplace bullying and recognize that other mental professionals, such as social workers, are indeed active aggressors perpetuating violence on their peers. They also can provide the support that targets need.

Mental health professionals need to develop a safety plan with targets about their work. This should include identifying at-risk times and activities where the target is most likely to be victimized, such as meetings. The safety plan should include coping mechanisms for these high-risk times including identifying supportive witnesses, developing key words and phrases to help diffuse situations, and ways to get away from the aggressor if the target is in fear of their personal safety. This can help minimize some of the fear the target is experiencing in the workplace.

Mental health workers need to recognize the continued trauma that targets suffer. Targets are victimized by the aggressor(s) and then re-victimized by organizations when they fail to intervene. This is a repeated cycle for victims that can happen daily, weekly, and/or monthly. Many targets are wounded workers because of the continued trauma they experience at their job. Some are subjected to daily violence in the workplace that is encouraged and supported by their organization. Each day, they go in to work fearful and wonder when their next attack will occur. This creates a tremendous amount of anxiety where mental health professionals can provide much needed support for the worker.

Understanding the continued trauma that targets experience is vital information that mental health professionals must have to help the target cope and manage what is happening to them. Workplace bullying has detrimental effects on a target’s personal and professional life. Mental health professionals should work with targets to develop effective coping mechanisms for reoccurring violence. Workplace bullying influences every aspect of a target’s life including work habits, family life, friendships, physical health, and mental health. Targets are dealing abuse at work and trying to manage the impact that workplace bullying is having on the rest of their life as well. They also question their own work abilities and why no one is taking the workplace abuse seriously. This can sometimes be more detrimental than the actual aggression.

Mental health professionals need to be careful on how they broach the subject of leaving and realize leaving may not be an option. Most targets need their job to support themselves as well as their family. The consequences for their career and financial situation may not be something they can live with. Leaving can be difficult especially when the target knows that they are not the problem in the workplace. Mental health professionals need to respect the target’s right to self-determination but also help the target see the long term consequences of an abusive work environment. This is a very fine line.

Targets need mental health professionals who listen to their stories, support them, provide support, and help the target to rebuild confidence in their professional skills. This will allow the target to deal with their current work situation as well as make future decisions about their job.

If you or someone you know is experiencing workplace bullying or you need education on workplace bullying, please contact me at or (320) 309–2360. You can also visit my website at Help is out there!