Seek to Understand. Not Judge.

I’m part of a Facebook group for Therapists in Private Practice. For the most part, I enjoy the group and its conversations. There are times, however, when someone posts something that stings me to my core. The following is an example of just such post…


Unnamed Clinician: “So, after having an invigorating conversation with my clinical team, we have decided that there should be a diagnosis added to the DSM-6… Jobless Man Syndrome. 

Symptoms include but are not limited to: 

  1. Highly critical of wife
  2. Emotionally unavailable
  3. Refuses to take personal responsibility


Have you seen this? What other symptoms would you include?” 


At the time of me reading this post, 38 people laughed at it and 39 gave it a thumbs up. One person loved it. 


Needless to say, I did not share in this emotion. 


Now perhaps you’re reading this and thinking, “Okay, Steve. I could see how perhaps this isn’t the kindest or most appropriate post ever written, however, perhaps this is just someone looking to vent and making a poor attempt to humorously point out some challenging aspects of the job.” 


If you’re thinking that, that’s a fair and incredibly empathic response. Indeed, this is a very human post. Perhaps a challenging client just walked out the door and this therapist is simply looking for some support and empathy. Perhaps he’s frustrated or at his wit’s end, or maybe just having a bad day. 


Indeed, it’s impossible to tell tone, intent, and context when posting online, and yet when one responds, one must assume exactly that. So, to that point, I try to assume good intentions and correctness from one’s own perspective, but also feel morally compelled to advocate when I feel a damaging misperception is being promoted. 


For me, this is a textbook example of insidious hate. It’s insidious because it’s sneaky and many, even professional therapists, don’t even recognize it as hate. 


The reality is that making a joke out of “Jobless Man Syndrome” is sexist and victim-shaming. A person without a job has a higher risk of suicide and potential violence. Whether it’s due to automation, AI, outsourcing, injury, aging out, or societal stigma – the mental health ramifications of this are so high, in fact, that it’s been a huge force in driving down our collective life expectancy for the past three years! 


For a man especially, who has been conditioned to identify himself by his work and has been pressured for years by society to be the protector and provider for his family, to be without a job creates a deep sense of pain and disconnection. 


From my perspective this type of post is completely against the spirit of what we want to promote as therapists. We sometimes wonder why men feel shame in seeking mental health treatment. Perhaps judgments like these are exactly that reason! 


Imagine this post weren’t about a “Jobless Man,” but about any other marginalized population instead, “I see a lot of addicts, LGBTQ, etc. characteristics include…” For me, any group that’s not accepted and judged as lesser than could be considered marginalized. (Marginalized literally refers to being pushed to the margins or fringes due to lack of acceptance by the mainstream.) 


This post perpetuates gender stereotypes, misses the root of the issue, assumes judgment rather than empathy, falls prey to the fundamental attribution error, and victim shames via the personal responsibility argument. 


In short, it’s actually an excellent example of judgment or hate. It offers no solutions. It’s venting, but it’s venting in a very mentally unfit way on a public forum. 


Seek to understand. Not judge.


If there were a Hippocratic Oath for therapists, I would vote this ought to be it:


I get it – our job is hard. Empathy takes work – it’s taxing and draining at times. Whether you’re a therapist or not, it’s hard to admit when one is struggling and to seek support. 


As therapists, however, we ought to have a higher standard for ourselves. When we pass our boards and get licensed, that privilege comes with responsibilities: a responsibility to help the downtrodden without judgment, a responsibility to call out hateful speech when we encounter it and not support it, simply go along, or turn a blind eye. To do nothing is to perpetuate societal groupthink and to permit mental toxicity to grow. 


Perhaps this post could have been framed as this: 


“I’ve noticed an uptake of men who have lost their jobs who are struggling. It seems to be leading them to relationship distress and to be emotionally closed off. Therapeutically, this is tough for me as I’m struggling to help them take ownership of their circumstances, get unstuck, and to inspire them that change is possible. Is anyone else noticing and/or struggling with this too? Any suggestions on how to better reach these clients would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!” 


On a personal note, this is a real-life example and I pray, and will loudly advocate, that this man gets the help and support he needs to work through this difficult period in his life! 

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