Jan 12, No 1, Sec 1
Jan 12, No 1, Sec 2
Mar 12, No 1, Sec 1
Mar 12, No 1, Sec 2
June 12, No 1, Sec 1
June 12, No 1, Sec 2
Sep 12, No 1, Sec 1
Sep 12, No 1, Sec 2
Dec 2012, No 1, Sec 1
Dec 2012, No 1, Sec 2

The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psyumorist (tm)

Dec 2012, No. I, Sec. I

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!


Table of Contents:

Sec. I

Notes from the Stress Doc ™
Shrink Rap I:  Maximizing the Healing and Growth Potential of Trauma/Grief Intervention
Shrink Rap II:
  A Passionate Address on the Vital Role of Workplace Grief

Sec. II

Main Essay:  Rescuing and Rejuvenating a Manager at the Bureaucratic Burnout Battlefront
Testimonials:  Business Health Services, Dept. of Homeland Security and Federally Employed Women (FEW) Women's Leadership Conference
Phone Coaching-Consultation-Counseling with the Stress Doc ™ and Offerings: Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit:  Email stressdoc@aol.com or go to www.stressdoc.com for more info.

Notes from the Stress Doc™: 

As Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwaanza, and other seasonal holidays approach (e.g., “Festivus for the Rest of Us”) and with the end of the year looming large, two developments have certainly influenced my level of focus and morale:  1) increasing consulting and training work with the national Wellness/Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Company Business Health Services (BHS) has definitely reduced a chunk of my survival stress.  Actually, there’s a tradeoff – a little less time for writing vs. less time spent on marketing.  In addition BHS has asked me to develop an “Improving Brain Fitness” program, and I will be sharing some of my ideas in future essays, and 2) the second inspiration comes from spending time with my girlfriend’s one year old granddaughter; there’s no better way to lose yourself than scrambling on the floor with a smiling ball of energy who keeps pulling your glasses off and then trying to put them on or keeps feeding you plastic blocks or bits of food from her highchair.  Charlotte’s also the impetus for my next piece:  “What I Learned about Engagement, Motivation, and Leadership from a Thirteen Month Old.”  Joy and Peace!

Essay Summaries:

1.  Shrink Rap I.  “Maximizing the Healing and Growth Potential of Trauma/Grief Intervention.”  After a “loss of life” critical incident how the company or organization structures and manages the grief debriefing process is critical.  It is vital to have a grief counselor/critical incident specialist:  a) address employees briefly as a whole, providing some “critical incident” perspective on the typical and varied responses to loss, death, and grief, b) when operationally feasible and appropriate, allow the grief specialist both to formally meet with employees in a private setting and also to walk around and tactfully converse with personnel, and c) especially engage with teams or departments most closely connected with the deceased colleague.

There are major personal, team, and organizational benefits and opportunities for a company that facilitates a more open, “all hands-heads-hearts” and a “friendly grief counselor walking the halls and floors” intervention approach.  Consider the Stress Doc’s “Key Workplace Trauma/Grief Intervention Benefits.”

2.  Shrink Rap II.  “A Passionate Address on the Vital Role of Workplace Grief.”   The Stress Doc presents an expanded written version of the words he was not permitted to share with a company’s employees at their morning “all hands” meeting.

3.  Main Essay.  “Rescuing and Rejuvenating a Manager at the Bureaucratic Burnout Battlefront.”  The Stress Doc engages with an experienced and savvy manager feeling drained by an impossible work demand situation and feeling trapped by lack of job transfer options.  A series of problem-solving steps and strategies are posited including generating documents, integrity-affirming tests, and becoming an overt spokeswoman for colleagues (and a quiet advocate for self).

Shrink Rap I:

Click here: Stress Doc: Notes from a Motivational Psychohumorist ™: Maximizing the Healing and Growth Potential of Critical/Gr or


Maximizing the Healing and Growth Potential of Trauma/Grief Intervention:

Benefits of Structured and Spontaneous Workplace Grief Consultation

After a “loss of life” critical incident – for example, whether a valued employee “dies unexpectedly in his sleep,” is “murdered outside of work” or in the workplace,” “succumbs quickly to a diagnosed or undiagnosed disease,” is “killed in a horrific motor vehicle accident while driving to work,” or “takes his own life,” how the company or organization structures and manages the grief debriefing process is critical.  It is vital to have a grief counselor/critical incident specialist:  a) address employees briefly as a whole, providing some “critical incident” perspective on the typical and varied responses to loss, death, and grief, b) when operationally feasible and appropriate, allow the grief specialist both to formally meet with employees in a private setting and also to walk around and tactfully converse with personnel, and c) engage especially with teams or departments most closely connected with the deceased colleague.

Expecting individual employees to find their way to a room in which the critical incident-debriefing counselor is sequestered limits the personal healing as well as the professional learning, problem-detection, prevention, and growth potential.  Remember, by definition, a critical incident, especially when involving the loss of life, is a “strike when the psyche (and culture) is hot” grief tragedy.  That is, many people are emotionally upset or in turmoil; just about all are open to words that facilitate understanding, soothing, or healing.   And a well-timed, knowledgeable, and compassionate connection has the ability both to help relieve some of the immediate pain and even to safely touch employees with preexisting wounds related to loss, threat, and trauma.  A healthful or hazardous work setting just may be in the balance.

Psychologically-interpersonally wounded employees enter the workplace every day, impacting productivity, relations, morale, and overall environmental ambiance.  There are major personal, team, and organizational benefits and opportunities for a company that facilitates a more open, “all hands-heads-hearts” and a “friendly grief counselor walking the halls and floors” intervention approach.  Consider these “Key Workplace Trauma/Grief Intervention Benefits”:

1) Walk the Talk, Don’t Fuel It – the organization “walks its talk” about having compassion for their employees; a company acknowledges that certain critical events take precedence over “business as usual”; not responding appropriately, for example,  may open top management to speculative criticism about their actions while the employee was still alive.

2) Facilitates Expression and Acceptance – it facilitates if not the full the expression of pain at least an acceptance of grief emotions and the asking of questions about the deceased, his or her family, ways of memorializing the deceased, or supporting the family; in general, structured openness illuminates and validates the grief process,

3) Opportunity for Education and Evaluation – allowing a grief counselor to address large and small groups of people not only is an opportunity to provide grief (and perhaps mental health/illness) education, it also enables employees to check out the grief counselor; that is, is this an individual I might feel comfortable talking with individually, someone I might be willing to risk sharing my own vulnerability?; improving supervisory awareness of normative grief symptoms in contrast with signs of depression and/or disrupted work performance is a valuable diagnostic tool for identifying employees in need of additional psychological support and/or referral,

4) Identifies “Grief Ghost” Carriers – invariably, a significant percentage of employees are walking around with work-family-personal stress that drains energy and attention and/or are harboring “grief ghosts” (intense and/or unstable emotions and memories connected to past losses or traumas) that affect both productivity and the quality of work relations.  When compounded by a tragic event or some kind of crisis, people already in an emotionally sensitive, uncertain, or vulnerable place are in need of and especially ripe for a “reach out and touch someone” message,

5) Potential to Reduce Hazardous Environments – in an age of workplace harassment and bullying, grief intervention has the potential for early detection of troubled individuals and/or disruptive work relations; when workplace (and community) violence routinely make headlines, prevention is your most important intervention process!,

6) Receptivity for Support and Problem-Solving – people touched by mourning are often ready for momentary venting and a reassuring shoulder as well as being receptive to new problem-solving resources; e.g., after a brief one-on-one with a grief counselor, people are frequently more open to a “building stress resiliency” suggestion or life-health style change; they may seriously consider a recommendation to call an “in-house,” company sponsored Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for short-term counseling,

7) Affirms a “Work Family” and Allows for Venting – in light of the close professional and often personal nature of work relations, a grief session for members of the deceased’s team or department is especially vital and valuable; such a session affirms a sense of “work family” or a close-knit caring community, as individuals share personal associations or connections to the tragic loss; it helps members discover they are not alone with their jumble of emotions; people may vent their confusion or even anger at the deceased, at God, at the company, etc., and group discussion may help clear up any misunderstandings or circulating rumors, and finally,

8) Recognize and Integrate the Deceased’s Strengths – with proper facilitation, a team session may encourage individuals to recognize the qualities in the deceased they particularly admired and transform this sharing into two processes that enable the spirit of the deceased to symbolically, psychically, and productively walk the workplace halls and floors:

a. Individual Identification/Integration – for example, if a team member says he admired the deceased’s ability to give people undivided attention in conversation, this individual can be encouraged to practice and apply more undivided and empathic listening and questioning skills; and by doing so, the deceased’s spirit more strongly lives within the individual, and

b. Collective Identification/Integration – if an entire team or department selects a variety of admired qualities to emulate and assimilate, then a “fallen soldier’s” spirit truly burns not just within an individual psyche but also in the mental maps and heartbeats as well as the soulful rhythms and courageous communications of the collective consciousness.

Shrink Rap II:

Click here: Stress Doc: Notes from a Motivational Psychohumorist ™: A Passionate Address on the Vital Role of Workplace Grief or


A Passionate Address on the Vital Role of Workplace Grief – Part II

Part I of this two-part series illustrated the defensive and short-sighted modus operandi of a macho-driven work culture in the face of a long-time employee’s self-inflicted death by handgun.  The essay depicted how such a culture, during times of trauma, loss and grief, buries their minds and emotions in the sand.  This “self-protective” approach invariably walls off employees from the grief consultant and grief process, thereby losing a unique opportunity to impact positively the bottom line as well as touch the interconnected heads, hearts, and spiritual well-being of the employees and the organization.  The closing segment of this workplace grief series will be a somewhat elaborated written version of the words I was not permitted to share with the company’s employees at their morning “all hands” meeting.

Workplace Grief Address

Normally, I would say “Good morning,” but today these words seem hollow.  I will take a few minutes to share some thoughts on death, loss and grief; to help us all reflect on this tragedy.  Why a person with many strengths and admirable qualities still takes his own life is a complex, paradoxical puzzle.  When under intense and especially chronic stress, perhaps struggling with an unstable biochemical nature or some mental illness, taking one’s own life may ironically be a final attempt at having some control when you and your life feel hopelessly out of control.  But I’m not sure there’s ever a definitive answer other than this individual is no longer physically with us.  And many will miss him. 

As for the people in mourning’s path who live on, here’s a fundamental truth:  there is no one right way to grieve; some will immediately be visibly upset while others will appear stoic or unshaken, yet emotions smolder within.  And of course there are myriad reactions in between.  In addition, there’s no appropriate time line for grief.  My blood pressure gets worked up when I hear someone say, “It’s been three months now; get over it!”  (However, I will talk further about people stuck in their grief.)

Signs of Grief

Nonetheless, there are emotional reactions that people may well experience when in the throes of grief.  You may recognize some, several, or even none:

1.  Shock.  Many people are likely feeling a sense of shock or disbelief:  How could this happen?  You don’t know what to say or the neural wire connections between the thoughts in your head and heart and mouth are momentarily not working.

2.  Sadness.  Surely, for numbers in the room there’s a profound sense of loss; perhaps some at this moment sense their eyes starting to water as the realization sinks in that this individual will never be physically seen again.

3.  Regret or Guilt.  Some people may be upset that they didn’t have that conversation that was on their mental calendar.  Others may be torn for missing the warning signs or for not taking them seriously enough?  “Why didn’t I (or we) see this coming?”  First, it’s hard to imagine the unthinkable.  The other reality is that most of you were juggling many stress balls in your own lives.  And this individual didn’t come this far in his journey without being a pretty good juggler and fighter.  Alas, hindsight provides an insight that we truly did not have in foresight!

4.  Anger.  Anger during grief may be vexing.  How can I be angry with someone who is dying or who has died?  This is not a logical process but a psycho-logical one.  And maybe our anger, whether with the deceased or with God, or whoever is a sign of missed opportunities to connect – with battles had along with along with those avoided; perhaps anger is a cover for acute emptiness or regret; of how much we want the person back.  Or perhaps we rage at life’s unpredictability; we don’t like feeling so helplessly out of control 

Existential Questions and the Fragility of Life

 Based on personal experience and my recent Critical Incident Stress Management (or Grief Debriefing) work, when the deceased is relatively young, the fragility of life gnaws at if not haunts the imagination.  For example, when a young, mid-30s, much beloved, health-conscious – avocado salad eating, mountain climbing – manager died in his sleep, the oft-repeated refrain of team members was, “If this could happen to Steven…”   Now is a time for concerted reflection, an existential self-assessment if you will, in terms of one’s own:

1.  Personal/Family Direction – how comfortable am I in my own skin?  As an individual and/or as a family, what is the balance between aliveness and stagnation or dis-ease; am I moving forward, are we stuck in a rut?  Is work-life balance a laughable notion?  Is there a troubling gap between my aspirations and my current position? 

2.  Sense of Time – in terms of my personal, career, and/or family goals – is time an abundant resource or is time running out?; do I need to shake up my life somehow – sooner rather than later?

3.  Quality of My Relationships – especially with meaningful others or significant loved ones, how open am I with emotions and words that need to be expressed and shared?; how often am I wearing a mask?; do I run from conflict or do I try my best to grapple with it constructively?

Communicating with People in Mourning

Another question that often looms during a time of grief is how to share your own thoughts and emotions with family members or close friends of the deceased.  Here are “Three Tips for Compassionately and Appropriately Sharing Your Concern and Condolences”:

1.  Trust Your Gut and Touch – say what you are experiencing and be real, for example, “I’m shocked; I don’t know what to say.”  And regards nonverbal communication, unless you have a close connection, a light touch on the arm will likely be more comfortably received than a hug,

2.  Be Humble – I suspect the response that has the most potential to be more upsetting than consoling is, “I know what you are going through.”  Unless you have walked in the exact same moccasins…Remember, it is difficult to comprehend the array, the intensity, and the subtlety of trauma and grief emotions (or the need to numb and momentarily close down).  Much better to come from a place of humility:  “I can’t truly imagine what you are going through.”

3.  Be Available – if sufficiently concerned, let those closest to the deceased know you are available with an ear, shoulder, or a hug if and when they are ready; “Just give me the word!”  Or, “Is there anything I can do – run and errand, cook something, stay with the kids, etc.”

Again, timing and readiness is important.  Consider, “May I call or stop by next week?”  This approach affirms your presence while respecting the deceased’s need for time and space.  I’ve also seen a spouse have an open house the night of the tragedy.  She wanted to be embraced by stories from her husband’s colleagues.  Light touches of humor do not have to be placed in hibernation.  As that great humanitarian and disability’s pioneer, Helen Keller, observed:  The world is so full of care and sorrow.  It is a gracious debt we owe one another to discover the bright crystals of delight hidden in somber circumstances and irksome tasks

But perhaps the most important way to be available is mostly to listen and accept whatever emotions the grieving person shares, or chooses not to share.  And again, you can always say, “I’m so sorry” or “I don’t know what to say.”  As a grief consultant, I’ve also learned to travel with a box of tissues.

The Awakening of Grief Ghosts

One of the most perplexing aspects of a critical incident, especially involving an unexpected or violent loss of life (or sometimes, a violent incident without loss of life), is the presence of two sources of pain – one obvious, the other covert.  The overt and immediate pain involves emotions surrounding the loss of a colleague along with heartbreak for the family, etc.  The second pain, often clouded or confusing, is how our own past, recent and even anticipated losses, threats, or traumas, which may or may not be specifically related to the workplace tragedy, often get stirred during this vulnerable or crisis period.  For example, shortly after acknowledging her visible upset for a colleague killed in a morning drive-time head-on vehicular collision, a middle-aged supervisor shifted emotional gears.  She suddenly associated to the 9/11 Twin Towers death of her sister…ten years earlier.

The loss of life is not required for the rise and release of “grief ghosts.”  All manner of losses – from separations, divorces, and disconnections to health issues, previous trauma, major regret or remorse, and a chronic loss of control as well as a slow dying dream – may trigger a ghostly uprising.  Clearly, as the double-edged Chinese icon for “crisis” illustrates, there is disruption if not potential “danger” when fighting specters of confusion along with feeling out of control.  However, piercing cracks in our psychological defenses, the opening of a psychic wound, and the resurrection of painful memories also provide “opportunity.”

Engaging the Ghost

As mentioned earlier, each person has an individual bio-psycho-social-cultural style of grieving.  In addition, there are key, oft common emotions – shock, sadness, fear, anger, guilt or regret, confusion and ambivalence, as well as relief and acceptance – that many grapple with on a head, heart, and soulful grief journey.  Here are “Four Grief Styles”:

1.  Instrumental – certain individuals in the face of grief keep busy, focusing on necessary or mind-distracting tasks – whether for themselves or others – as a way of managing their thoughts and feelings, to prevent the incomprehensible from morphing into profound confusion or chaos,

2.  Be Positive – some people believe in moving on and not “dwelling on the past”; alas, short-circuiting the grief process may, paradoxically, only prolong and complicate it. Grieving the unexpected death of a close colleague, one gentleman decided he would only contemplate positive memories and feelings.  I suspect he feared a profound emptiness or uncontrollable rage might erupt.  For me, grief is a holistic yin-yang process, especially if one wants to sustain the deceased person’s spirit within.  My analogy for mourning is a capacity to venture through two interrelated, mind-expanding doorways:  one leads you down a dark, moon-lit path while the other opens to a warm sun-lit trail.  Both hold out much potential for discovery and self-awareness.  Ultimately, not only do these passageways intersect rather, in yin-yang fashion, they circle together forming an infinitely enlightening loop.  Now the seemingly oppositional passages define and set the stage for each other; with dawn and dusk midwives, cycles of ebb and flow give birth to contradictory yet complementary, active and reflective (sometimes even manic and melancholic) twins, as day drives and drifts into night.

3.  Delayed – some people must allow grief to smolder underground for a considerable time before they are ready to receive its poignant gifts.  I recall one gentleman who described being alone, quietly listening to a soulful jazz record, belatedly realizing it was his father’s favorite.  His dad had died two years earlier; he had not been able to shed tears at the funeral.  Yet now, with grief gods and ghosts aligned, in geyser-like fashion, his tears poured forth.  This son had finally achieved a sense of peace with the loss of his father.

4.  Emotionally Expressive – and, of course, there are numbers of people along with some cultures that encourage the immediate and intense expression of grief – open wailing, tears flowing, anguished nonverbal gestures, even the beating of one’s body, customary black clothing, etc.  I suspect a sensitive, somewhat introspective-depressive-expressive nature (actually, a melancholic-writer cave persona along with a sometimes manic speaker stage persona; more intense cyclic tendencies before biochemical intervention) mostly places me in this fourth and final category.  As I once penned, Whether the loss is a key person, a desired position, or a powerful illusion each deserves the respect of a mourning. The pit in the stomach, the clenched fists and quivering jaw, the anguished sobs prove catalytic in time.  In mystical fashion, like spring upon winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal.

When Mourning Becomes Depression

Some people hold off grieving because they fail to make an important discrimination:  there’s a real difference between “Feeling sorry for yourself” and “Feeling your sorrow.”  When you are feeling sorry for yourself you are mostly blaming others.  When you are feeling your sorrow you are demonstrating the courage to face your pain.  And there are times in life when we all need to feel our sorrow.

Another barrier to effective grieving is confusing the sadness or temporary depressed mood of grief – a natural part of the healing process – with clinical depression, which in fact may be influenced by or a consequence of delayed or denied grief.  If after six to eight weeks in response to the loss of a significant professional or personal-family relation, colleague, or friend you are still feeling exhausted, drained of energy, or going through the motions, are underperforming at work, isolating yourself, perhaps uncharacteristically losing your temper, and/or are having trouble eating or sleeping please, please, reach out for counseling.  If your organization or company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), make the call; talk to a professional.

While a first year graduate student, struggling to manage an array of external and internal stressors, my School Social Work Field Instructor imparted some much needed wisdom:  Not everyone needs therapy…but everyone can use it!

Workplace Grief Intervention serves a somewhat analogous broad-based healing and protective function for individuals, teams, and organizations.


Thank you for this opportunity to reflect on death and life…to share some of the psychic and spiritual air that I breathe.  I hope my words were “inspirational,” as in the literal translation of “’spirit” or breath and of the word “inspire” – to breathe life into.  I will close with haiku-like verse, attempting to capture the vital role of grief in realms uplifting and mythical as well as fiery and motivational:

For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain,
To transform the fire to burning desire!

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote, kickoff and webinar speaker as well as "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring, and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations.  In addition, the "Doc" is a Team Building and Organizational Development Consultant as well as a Critical Incident/Grief Intervention Expert for Business Health Services, a National EAP/Wellness/OD Company.  He is providing "Stress and Communication,” as well as “Managing Change, Leadership and Team Building" programs for a variety of units at Ft. Hood, Texas and for Army Community Services and Family Advocacy Programs at Ft. Meade, MD and Ft. Belvoir, VA as well as Andrews Air Force Base/Behavioral Medicine Services.

A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger.  The Stress Doc blog appears in such platforms as HR.com, WorkforceWeek.com, and MentalHelpNet.  His award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" www.stressdoc.com – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-875-2567.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2012

Shrink Rap™ Productions

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW
The Stress Doc ™

301-875-2567 www.stressdoc.com

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Mark Gorkin, the Stress Doc ™, www.stressdoc.com, acclaimed Keynote and Kickoff Speaker, Webinar Presenter, Retreat Leader and Motivational Humorist, is the author of Practice Safe Stress and The Four Faces of Anger. A former Stress & Violence Prevention consultant for the US Postal Service, the Doc leads highly interactive, innovative and inspiring programs for corporations and government agencies, including the US Military, on stress resiliency/burnout prevention through humor, change and conflict management, generational communication, and 3 "R" -- Responsible, Resilient & Risk-Taking -- leadership-partnership team building. Email stressdoc@aol.com for his popular free newsletter & info on speaking programs.

Stress Doc Mantra: "Think out of the box, perform outside the curve (the Bell Curve) and be out-rage-ous!"