Try to define what work really means to you: a greedy mistress, a familiar ritual, a compelling game, a voracious furnace, a stimulating journey, a necessary evil?
Because it can mean any of these things, and contradictory combinations of them, it is no wonder clients often find work a difficult issue to examine in therapy, let alone admit that this is what lies at the heart of their problem.
Steve worked long hours, out of the house at the crack of dawn and invariably back in the late evening after his wife, Ellie, and their 3 sons were already in bed. At weekends he tried to find time for them and his infirm parents, but was consumed by the demands of a small business he and his friend had started on the side. His goal was altruistic: to provide a better life for his family, and because of this Ellie and the boys had tried hard to be flexible and undemanding. However the very life he was working so hard to build was being undermined by his efforts; Ellie was increasingly distant and resentful and professed to be frustrated and bored, and his sons were alternately desperate for his attention or dismissive of his intermittent attempts to reach out to them. His second son was increasingly in trouble at school. Arguments raged. Steve described himself as baffled, guilty, exhausted and lonely, but also stimulated by his work and the challenges it offered. Although reluctantly at first, he came to the conclusion that the destructive element in their lives revolved around his work situation and believed if he could find a solution that would suit him and his family, the quality of all their lives would improve. The entire family worked together, both in and out of therapy, to solve this problem, as it applied to them individually and as a unit.
These were just some of the discussions they had in their quest to find a solution:
- What did ‘work’ mean to each of them and how would they like ‘work’ to work for them?
- Would they rather have less ‘things’ but more family time, with both parents present?
- What would a better life together look like for them, both as individuals and all together, if the issue of work could be sorted out?
- What good times did they already enjoy all together, and one-on-one with their Dad, in particular, and how could they build on this?
In exploring solutions Steve and Ellie considered these factors, amongst others:
- Could he actually afford to work less?
- How could he/they manage their time better?
- What function was work fulfilling for him: was it just a way of making money, a stimulating challenge or a form of avoidance?
- How may it be possible to have it all – a fulfilled personal life and success at work?
- What would Ellie like to change with regard to her own situation and the work issue?
Of course the above case study highlights just one aspect of the issue of work. Clients bring many other problems regarding work: lack of work, being unwilling or unable to work, retirement from work. There is no doubt that work lies at the heart of all our lives in one form or another and is one of the factors which define us, shaping who we are and how we are perceived. Perhaps for some it’s easier to go to work where roles and expectations are more clearly defined than they often are in the home. And there are many definitions of work, one person’s idea of work being another person’s idea of playtime. From my experience as a therapist it’s clear that if you believe your work is your problem and you want to improve matters, there is no reason why you can’t find a solution that is effective for you, whether you are overworked, underworked, unable to work or retired from work.
If work is your issue I would welcome the opportunity to facilitate you through the process of finding a solution. And I hope you’ve noticed that I’ve managed to write this entire blog about work without once using that weary phrase ‘Work Life Balance’!
Books you may find helpful:
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. Pub: Simon & Shuster UK Ltd
Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity, by David Allen, Pub: MPG Books Ltd
Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play, by Mark Forster, Pub: Hodder and Stoughton
The situations mentioned in these blogs are an amalgam of cases I have worked with, which share a central theme. Although universal themes emerge in discussions with clients, central to solution focused therapy is the recognition that each client experiences their problem in a way unique to them, it therefore follows that their solutions are also unique to them. My job is to facilitate the search for their solutions. Discussing these central themes by representing an amalgam of cases allows for client confidentiality and anonymity to be protected and to this end also any identifying details and names have been changed.