Addressing Emotional Challenges Of Patrons (And Yourself) Amid Job Loss And Economic Crisis
by Diane Shelton, MA, LCPC, founder of Follow Your Instinct
America’s economic crisis is affecting libraries and librarians in disparate and challenging ways. This article addresses several common situations and recommends techniques and resources to assist.
One of the greatest gifts we can offer another person is to listen to them with compassion in a way that they feel heard and understood, while also attending to safety and appropriate boundaries. Given the emotional fragility of some patrons, speaking with them using “reflexive listening” and “positive language” is important. For examples and excellent suggestions see these sites:
In particular, they tend to generalize the lack of power in their job and financial situations to their overall life, and lose perspective over what is still working. From that position, hopelessness and paralysis are often the result. You will hear it in their word choice, and can assist them by mirroring back what they say while subtlety changing the words – altering “never” to “seldom”, and “always” to “often” or even "sometimes." You can also encourage patrons to explore the question “where is the evidence for that belief (about them or their situation). Often that will help them to widen their perspective again (what I call “the landscape is larger than you can see” mindset).
Another key remedy to the sense of powerlessness and lack of hope is to reflect on what is and is not in their control – essentially adopting the Serenity Prayer attitude (“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”). They can be encouraged to acknowledge that what others – a spouse, child, bank, employer, or government - may or may not do is generally totally out of their control. Yet the good news is that how they approach those events and the work they do to prepare fully is totally within their control. Asking “what are three actions you can do right now (or put into motion) to improve your situation” will help refocus patrons and allow them to be more positively productive, and hence more hopeful and creative.
“Cognitive reframing” is another technique that assists people to regain perspective, through statements such as “Although it might be tougher for a while, I know that we will get through this economic cycle”, or “Although there are lots of candidates for this job, I did all that I can do, and that is enough”. Both of these statements will inspire hope and increased motivation, rather than despair and paralysis. Sites detailing cognitive reframing techniques and tips are found at:
So, we’ve demonstrated that there are clearly many ways that librarians can assist their patrons with the emotional distress of their current situation. One other important area is to increase the safety quotient for both patrons and staff. Each library will of course follow their own safety policies and there is no guarantee that a potentially hostile person might not turn violent. However, there are certain behaviors that library staff can take that tend to decrease the likelihood of a situation escalating. They include the following techniques:
Finally, a useful resource (though nearly 10 years old) is the book “Dealing with Difficult People in the Library”, reviewed at http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=31714, and available at http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=339.
Taking Care of Yourself Emotionally While Helping Others
Dealing with people in emotional distress can be draining and discouraging. Librarians need to manage their own stress and worry in order to be effective for patrons. Enhancing your support systems is one key, as is developing relaxation, breathing, and meditation routines. These sites provide good ideas:
What to Do If Lose Your Own Library Job
Losing your own job is possible, especially for those in the harder-hit specialty library sector. The emotions you experience will likely mirror those of the general population. Practicing all of the above skills on how to care for oneself in order to help others will be of benefit, as will the skills on how to care for the patrons. Draw on the considerable career and financial resources readily available through your colleagues on how to conduct an effective job search in today’s market. Use this seemingly “bad” event as an opportunity for self-reflection, refocusing, and renewal.
Hear Diane speak at the workshop Helping Job Hunters: Recommendations and Resources for Librarians taking place Tuesday, June 16, 2009, 9:00 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. at the Oak Brook Public Library. Register at http://www.librarylearning.info/events/?eventID=6744.
About the Author
Article author is Diane Shelton, MA, LCPC, the founder of Follow Your Instinct. She is a licensed therapist with a private practice in Algonquin, Illinois, providing individual, teen, couple, and family counseling. She also provides counseling, coaching, and consulting services by telephone and frequently speaks and presents workshops on emotional and motivational topics for the library and other diverse industries throughout the United States. She can be reached at (847) 594-7447, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at http://dianeshelton.com for speaking, training, coaching, consulting, or counseling services. She will be presenting a workshop on Meeting the Emotional Needs of Patrons While Caring for Yourself (subset of Helping Job Hunters: Recommendations and Resources for Librarians) at the Oak Brook Library on June 16, 2009. Registration is available at http://www.librarylearning.info/events/?eventID=6744.
Published May 20, 2009 in vol. 3, iss. 10 [View]