Occupational Psychology: Depression Counselling

Introduction

The assigned case involves a 28-year-old employee at Data Analytics Ltd., whose name is Steven. He has been working in the company for eight years and showed excellent results in the first years of his employment. However, a traumatic event that occurred five years ago affected his mental health, causing depression and, consequently, reducing Steven’s performance. Although Steven has completed treatment and experienced a period of improved mental health, the issues returned recently. The task of the occupational psychologist, in this case, is to perform a thorough analysis and provide recommendations to Steven’s management. The primary goal for the occupational psychologist is to balance Steven’s mental health needs with his work duties, thus helping him to achieve better performance outcomes. The present paper will assess the current situation based on information provided in the case, discuss implications for counselling, and determine strategies that could be applied to achieve optimal results.

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Analysis and Critical Discussion

In order to draw together potential strategies, it is crucial to evaluate the factors that affect Steven’s work performance. The primary factors influencing the performance of an analyst are job attitudes and personality traits. Still, given the fact that Steven experienced a significant traumatic event, it is also essential to assess any personality changes evident in his case, as well as the cognitive psychological processes impacting his life and work. Although Steven works in isolation, he interacts with other people in the company, which is why it would also be beneficial to evaluate his group work skills and social behavioural skills.

Job Attitudes

A person’s attitudes to their job are crucial to occupational counselling since they impact’ performance, outcomes, and motivation. The general definition of job attitudes is that they encompass an individual’s favour or disfavour towards their job as a whole (Judge et al., 2017). Hence, in applied psychology, the term ‘job attitudes’ has been used to denote involvement, satisfaction, and commitment (Judge et al., 2017). The two primary aspects of job attitudes are job satisfaction and organisational commitment. Research also distinguishes job involvement, work/task satisfaction and other forms of satisfaction as different types of job attitudes (Judge et al., 2017). Based on these premises, the case can be analysed to evaluate whether or not Steven shows evidence of positive job attitudes.

The information contained in the case suggests that Steven has positive attitudes towards his job and the organisation as a whole. His organisational commitment and job satisfaction are evident from the fact that he has stayed in the company for eight years and does not consider leaving it. High job satisfaction means that Steven has a generally favourable view of his position, as well as the company’s policies regarding supervision, promotion, and organisational environment (Judge et al., 2017). Organisational commitment, on the other hand, reflects Steven’s positive perceptions of organisational values (Judge et al., 2017). Both of these aspects play an essential role in motivating Steve to fulfil his duties and avoid being fired.

Additionally, the case shows evidence of Steven’s positive attitudes toward the tasks assigned. The line manager commented on Steven’s consistent and effective approach to his duties. This indicates that Steven has a high level of job involvement and work/task satisfaction. These aspects relate directly to job performance as they shape whether or not a person has motivation and interest required to achieve performance outcomes (Judge et al., 2017). Steven’s positive job attitudes are crucial to his performance, and the assessment shows that overcoming mental health struggles he faces at the moment will help Steven to succeed at his job.

One of the reasons as to why Steven’s positive job attitudes do not translate into high performance lately is his mental health status. As explained in the case, Steven was diagnosed with depression following the death of his beloved mother. Although he had a period of normal performance and improved mental health after completing psychological treatment, his performance results dropped lately. This could indicate that he is experiencing a relapse of depressive symptoms.

Mental health has a critical influence on individuals’ job performance since they affect their daily functioning and motivation. According to Montano et al. (2016), “even though mood fluctuations are a normal psychological phenomenon in everyday life, they may be associated either with a negative (clinically relevant) mental health state such as depression in case of severe and sustained depressive mood (i.e., a depressive episode)” (p. 330). This means that depression is a severe condition that goes beyond normal mood fluctuations. Depression has a significant effect on performance because it impacts motivation and is associated with fatigue and loss of energy (Montano et al., 2016). A person with depression is disinterested in their duties and lacks the focus necessary to complete tasks successfully.

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The symptoms of depression are evident in Steven’s case. For example, the manager describes Steven as pensive and distracted and notes the deterioration of his everyday performance. Based on the indications in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, major depressive disorder is characterised, among other signs, by “depressed mood”, “markedly diminished interest or pleasure”, “psychomotor agitation or retardation”, and “diminished ability to think or concentrate” (Fried and Nesse, 2015, pp. 72-73). These symptoms could present as pensiveness and distraction in a person’s daily life. Moreover, people with a major depressive disorder may experience recurrent thoughts about death and suicidal ideation (Fried and Nesse, 2015). These could also distract Steve from his daily duties, which is why his behaviour is worrisome for an occupational psychologist.

Personality Traits

A personality assessment is essential for understanding the potential effect of intervention strategies on Steven’s performance, as well as the factors that play into the current situation. While there are many approaches to the evaluation of personality traits, research in occupational psychology suggests using the Big Five personality trait assessment. According to Judge and Zapata (2015), this type of assessment helps to connect job performance and personality, since there is a correlation between individual personality traits included in the Big Five and performance in various areas. Since Steven’s job performance is of primary concern in the present case, the assessment will focus on the Big Five traits.

In applied psychology, the Big Five refers to the theory focusing on the key personality traits in an individual. These traits are “conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion, agreeableness, and openness” (Judge and Zapata, 2015, p. 1152). While the most accurate format of assessment would be for Steven to complete the Big Five test, the information in the case allows predicting his results with a reasonable level of certainty. On the whole, Steven’s results would likely be fair, although there are some gaps that should be taken into account.

First of all, Steven’s conscientiousness is evident from his approach to work during the early years of employment, as well as after completing psychological therapy for depression. The line manager describes his approach to work as effective and consistent, meaning that Steve is usually a conscientious person. Secondly, Steven’s emotional stability moderate, as evidenced by his behaviour following the trauma. While he demonstrated a decrease in performance, he did not quit his job or showed erratic behaviour. Moreover, there are no other signs of poor emotional stability, such as aggression, neuroticism or substance abuse. This means that Steven is relatively emotionally stable, which could have a positive effect on the outcomes of therapy and his future work.

Thirdly, Steven is clearly an introvert, which is apparent both in his work and in his personal life. Extroverts enjoy attention and participating in social activities, and thus are more likely to choose jobs that involve a significant share of teamwork (Judge and Zapata, 2015). Steven works in isolation and demonstrates high job satisfaction despite this, meaning that he is likely to be an introvert. The information identified in the case does not openly concern Steven’s agreeableness or openness to experience. However, based on his generally good relationship with the manager, it is possible to suggest that Steven is an agreeable person. Openness to experience is significantly associated with creativity and innovation, meaning that it can reflect in one’s approach to work (Judge and Zapata, 2015). Since Steven’s approach is described as efficient instead of creative or nonconventional, his openness to experience is likely to be moderate to low.

Steven’s likely results in terms of the Big Five personality traits are compatible with his position as an analyst. Since this job requires focus and diligence, Steven’s conscientiousness contributes to his outcomes. His introversion adds to Steven’s job satisfaction as he is content working in isolation. Steven did not show any concerns regarding emotional stability prior to the traumatic event, indicating that he is moderately stable and is unlikely to show erratic behaviour or other characteristics that would make him a problematic employee.

In addition to the personality traits discussed above, it is also essential to consider Steven’s self-awareness. Self-awareness is an essential aspect of personality that affects how people respond to challenges and manage change internally and externally. While this is not an inherent personality trait, it can be developed through consistent work, both individually and with a qualified professional. Self-awareness is a cognitive mechanism that provides the information necessary for metacognition (Lou, Changeux and Rosenstand, 2017). Metacognition, in turn, “is a tool for consciously controlling behaviour and adjusting our experiences of the world” (Lou, Changeux and Rosenstand, 2017, p. 765). In other words, self-awareness is of crucial importance to learning and behaviour correction, which makes it essential for work performance. Self-regulation is particularly vital in Steven’s case as it relates to self-regulation (Baumeister and Vonasch, 2014). A high level of self-awareness could help Steven to identify unhealthy behaviours, habits and responses and seek professional help promptly, thus preventing his mental health from deteriorating further.

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Nevertheless, the case highlights that Steven lacks self-awareness. On the one hand, Steven does not express any concerns regarding his work performance and wellbeing. Although his current symptoms are similar to the ones he had during a depressive episode, he did not seek help or share his concerns with managers or supervisors. This indicates that he does not acknowledge the risk of relapse and pays little attention to his symptoms. On the other hand, Steven does not demonstrate self-awareness about the extent to which of the tragic life-event affected his everyday functioning, living habits and overall wellbeing. This is a significant gap that could impact his future performance and mental health. Developing self-awareness could help Steven to monitor and correct his daily behaviours both at work and in his personal life, thus addressing mental health and performance-related concerns.

Personality Changes

Traumatic events have a significant influence on personality, mental health and overall wellbeing of an individual. In a study of politically persecuted victims, Rutkowski, Dembińska and Walczewska (2016) found that traumatic events were associated, among other things, with depression and social introversion. Steven’s case shows evidence of these changes since he was diagnosed with depression and demonstrated signs of decreased social participation. For instance, he stopped socialising with friends during weekends and abandoned his football practice. The evidence showing the effect of trauma on Steven’s personality also highlights the inadequacy of his personal perceptions of the impact of trauma. Based on the case, Steven does not express any concerns and does not attempt to resist these personality changes. This factor relates to his low self-awareness and could affect the outcomes of occupational counselling.

Coping skills are an essential predictor of the impact of trauma on a person. People with excellent coping skills recover from trauma faster and experience less severe symptoms of trauma (Mattson, James and Engdahl, 2018). Healthy coping strategies, also called adaptive coping, include “exercise, meditation, and seeking social support” (Holton, Barry and Chaney, 2016, p. 300). Maladaptive, or unhealthy, coping usually involves the avoidance of social activities, alcohol or drug use, as well as overeating (Holton, Barry and Chaney, 2016). Steven’s case demonstrates evidence of poor coping skills. Following the loss of his mother, Steven refused to seek social support and quit exercising, thus isolating himself from potentially helpful interactions. At present, Steven follows the same pattern of behaviour, which indicates that his coping skills have not improved over time. Though Steven shows signs of depressive symptoms, he does not discuss his problems with the manager or his co-workers. The low level of coping skills is an important factor influencing the possibility of depression relapses in the future, as well as Steve’s success at work.

Group Work Skills and Social Behavioural Skills

Group work skills are essential to performance in most organisational settings. According to Brandler and Roman (2016), group work skills involve communication, conflict resolution, decision-making, persuasion, listening, and other capabilities. Individuals with high group work skills show better results in team projects, facilitate effective communication within the organisation, and are better equipped to work with customers (Brandler and Roman, 2016). Given the nature of Steven’s work, some of these skills are not relevant to his performance in the current context. Still, they could contribute to his future career growth by enabling him to apply for leadership roles. The information contained in the case does not explicitly consider Steven’s group work skills. However, based on his experience in team sports (football), it is possible to suggest that Steven possesses a good foundation for developing these skills. Additionally, there are some descriptions of Steven’s interactions with his line manager, which show that Steven has good abilities in communication and listening.

Social behavioural skills are different from group work skills as they concern an individual’s social functioning in all areas of life. These skills involve “showing empathy, participating in group activities, communicating with others, helping others, and solving problems” (Meisinger, Angell and Sheridan, 2016, p. 5). These skills are usually developed in early childhood but can be improved in adolescence and adulthood (Meisinger, Angell and Sheridan, 2016). The information in the case suggests that Steven has moderate social behavioural skills. On the one hand, practising team sports successfully requires individuals to have excellent collaboration and communication skills. On the other hand, the case notes that Steven has a group of friends, which suggests that he can establish connections with people, show empathy, and participate in social activities. Still, it is crucial to note that Steven’s social participation was impacted by depression and maladaptive coping, which caused him to refrain from social interactions and discontinue football practice. This should not be taken as a sign of deterioration in his social behavioural skills, as he will likely be able to enjoy social activities again when he learns healthy coping strategies and overcomes depression.

Cognitive Psychological Processes

Assessing cognitive psychological processes is also essential due to their impact on performance. In analytical jobs, cognitive skills such as attention, memory, logic and reasoning, and processing are crucial since they impact task completion directly. Based on the case, Steven had excellent cognitive skills when he first started working at Data Analytics Ltd., which allowed him to perform his job effectively and meet performance standards. However, more recent accounts of his performance show the lack of sustained and selective attention, which is among the primary reasons for his poor performance. The reason for the disruption of Steven’s cognitive psychological processes likely lies in his traumatic experience and depression. Research shows that emotions can influence cognitive processes negatively, for instance, by distracting a person’s attention or distorting their reasoning (Petty and Briñol, 2015). Thus, while Steven has high cognitive skills, he can no longer apply them at work successfully due to distracting thoughts and depressed mood. Addressing his symptoms and improving coping skills would make Steven more focused and enable him to show better work outcomes.

Implications for Counselling

Integration of Psychological Theories

While the analysis above helped to understand the case better and uncover various factors related to Steven’s struggles, it is also crucial to use relevant psychological theories to explain Steven’s past and current workplace behaviour. Psychological theories provide a solid foundation for assessing behaviours and their origins by highlighting cause-and-effect relationships between different actions, thoughts, and events. Hence, the use of psychological theories could contribute to counselling practice in Steven’s case. The three types of theories that would be particularly useful are cognitive, behavioural and developmental theories.

Developmental psychological theories focus on the individual’s development throughout their lifetime. These theories are commonly applied in counselling practice with children, adolescents, and young adults. However, they would also be useful in the present case since Steven’s attachment to his mother and inability to move on after her death influence his current condition. For example, Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development focuses on the comprehensive evolution of an individual from birth to death and encompasses the topics of attachment and isolation that are relevant in Steve’s case (Frey, 2018). Based on this theory, it is likely that gaps in Steven’s psychosocial development in early life resulted in his extreme attachment to this mother, which explains his depression after her death. Moreover, if this topic was not addressed during Steven’s first treatment, then the reoccurrence of the symptoms is justified.

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Cognitive and behavioural theories focus on individuals’ thought processes and actions. In particular, cognitive theory considers people’s thinking patterns and their influence on beliefs, feelings and behaviours (Corcoran, 2004). Behavioural theory, on the other hand, focuses on how behaviours can be developed, maintained, or corrected through reinforcement (Corcoran, 2004). The combination of these two theories, resulting in the cognitive-behavioural theory, can be used to approach individuals’ issues comprehensively, targeting both their thoughts and the resulting behaviours. Cognitive behavioural therapy is widely used in various settings, including in people with depression, and a recent systematic review shows that it is effective in preventing relapses in patients with major depressive disorder (Zhang et al., 2018). Hence, the application of cognitive-behavioural theory would also benefit counselling in Steven’s case.

Problem Origins

The analysis of the case also showed the variety of problem origins contributing to Steven’s situation. On the one hand, some problems evident in the case stem from the individual. These issues include maladaptive coping and inadequate self-awareness, both of which contribute to Steven’s mental health problems and prevent him from overcoming depression. On the other hand, there are some issues that stem from Steven’s work and non-work environment. The fact that Steven works in isolation may play a negative role in the case as it prevents Steven from developing group work skills and building supportive connections necessary for recovery and future career advancement. Additionally, the death of Steven’s mother played a primary role in the situation since it was the main factor that contributed to his depression and triggered maladaptive coping mechanisms. The variety of problem origins calls for a comprehensive approach to Steven’s treatment and future development, as each of these issues needs to be addressed.

Integrative Behavioural Development Plan

Approaching work and non-work related stress in Steven’s case is important to achieve optimal outcomes. Managing the personal aspects of Steven’s life would assist him in improving wellbeing and reaching better mental health outcomes while also removing distractions impairing his work performance. However, focusing on the stress arising from work duties is also necessary to support Steven’s recovery and improve motivation. An integrative behavioural development plan could be used to address work and non-work stress by altering Steven’s daily behaviours in professional and personal life. This, in turn, would assist in solving Steven’s mental health issues and enhancing his work performance.

Recommendations

In light of the analysis above, the core issues in Steven’s case are the potential relapse of depression, maladaptive coping, social isolation, distraction, lack of self-awareness and impaired performance. Some of these issues require professional help from a licensed therapist, whereas others can be addressed through daily behavioural changes. The goals for Steven are to achieve better mental health outcomes, enhance social participation, meet performance standards, and develop adaptive coping patterns and self-awareness.

Based on the list of problems and goals, a list of recommendations can be provided. First of all, it is crucial for Steven to see a licensed psychiatrist who would be able to assess his symptoms and determine whether or not he has a major depressive disorder (Fried and Nesse, 2015). If there is evidence of depression, Steven should complete treatment as indicated by the psychiatrist. Secondly, Steven should practice adaptive coping strategies, including exercise, social activities and meditation (Holtona, Barry and Chaney, 2016). It is possible that Steven would benefit from going to local support groups for adults with depressive symptoms, as this would increase his level of social support and provide an outlet for Steven to discuss his feelings and experiences.

Thirdly, it would be useful to use strategies aimed at maintaining focus at work and preventing distractions, such as working in intervals. According to Solis (2019), the so-called Pomodoro technique can be useful for removing distractions and improving task concentration among employees. In addition, Steven’s isolated work environment presents challenges for developing group work skills and maintaining a good level of social functioning. Hence, Steven would benefit from working in a room with other people or taking on group projects. In order to improve self-awareness, it would be helpful for Steven to keep a diary to record his daily feelings, experiences, recurring thoughts and behaviours. The last recommendation is for Steven to draw a career development plan for the next five to ten years, with clear goals and objectives that can be translated into his daily performance. Based on the goal-setting theory, this would improve Steven’s motivation and performance at work (Locke and Schattke, 2018). These recommendations would help to address the problems evident in Steve’s case.

While some of the recommendations require Steve to devote his spare time, others need to be implemented in his daily work, which is why both Steven and his line manager need to be engaged. None of the recommendations provided above would interfere with Steven’s completion of his duties and the overall organisational activity. Still, advice to Steven with regards to the daily working routine should include working in intervals and allocating sufficient times for breaks between tasks. Short meditations could also be practised during breaks as they could help to keep optimal levels of concentration. The line manager should also be advised to monitor Steven’s performance more closely and provide feedback based on the professional aspect of his development plan. Additionally, the line manager should monitor group work outcomes once Steven is placed into a more collaborative work setting. For instance, the manager should observe performance indicators while also assessing break time used by Steven and other employees. This would assist in preventing disruptions to organisational functioning while also improving the manager’s understanding of his teams’ performance.

Conclusion

On the whole, the case presents a number of problems, both personal and professional, that impair Steven’s performance. The core issues identified are depressive symptoms, low self-awareness, maladaptive coping strategies, poor performance, and the lack of concentration. The analysis helped to identify the origins of Steven’s problems, which are varied and thus require a comprehensive approach. The set of recommendations provided in the paper will help Steven to improve mental health and wellbeing, as well as develop strategies and abilities necessary for future success. The recommendations will not affect organisational functioning, although the line manager is advised to monitor performance to identify any gaps and assess progress.

Reference List

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Locke, E. A. and Schattke, K. (2019) ‘Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: Time for expansion and clarification’, Motivation Science, 5(4), pp. 277-290.

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Meisinger, R. E., Angell, S. R. and Sheridan, S. M. (2016) Developing social and behavioral skills in early childhood: a TAPP research brief. Lincoln, NE: Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools.

Montano, D., Reeske, A., Franke, F. and Hüffmeier, J. (2017) ‘Leadership, followers’ mental health and job performance in organizations: a comprehensive meta‐analysis from an occupational health perspective’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38(3), pp. 327-350.

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Zhang, Z. et al. (2018) ‘The effect of CBT and its modifications for relapse prevention in major depressive disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis’, BMC Psychiatry, 18(1), pp. 50-63.

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