Culture   //   August 25, 2023

Therapy corner: ‘My clients’ mental health was so awful’

People are stressed about how high their grocery bill is because they aren’t getting paid enough at work. They can’t imagine returning to an office when they are also responsible for child care. And they’re sick of their bosses not understanding. 

It’s all being dumped during therapy.

Work can be one of the biggest items of discussion during a therapy session. The hot topics are telling of what is going on in the workforce at large. That’s why for our latest WorkLife series we are interviewing therapists and career coaches to learn more about what is keeping their clients up at night when it comes to their jobs. 

For our first edition, we spoke to Nicholette Leanza, a licensed therapist at LifeStance Health, who shared how her clients are needing workplace accommodations for anxiety around RTO, feeling overworked when ex-coworkers are never replaced, and stressing around the ongoing economic climate. 

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. The stories referenced are anonymized patient experiences to protect privacy and confidentiality.

RTO mandates continue to make news headlines. How much is this coming up with your clients?

One of my clients is returning to in-person work and already has a lot of anxiety. She did well during the pandemic when it was OK to work from home. Now, the company is mandating her to return to the office. So I’m working with her to suggest asking for a health accommodation where she goes in at least two to three times a week, but is still allowed to work from home to help her navigate her anxiety. There’s a lot of that that I’m seeing happen. 

But we’re still seeing a combination. There are a lot of people not wanting to go back, but then I have a few that are like ‘hallelujah, I’m going to go back because I’m very social and miss my coworkers.’ It’s interesting to see a mix of both. 

I have another client who isn’t being mandated to go back to work, but is missing the decompression time when she did go to work with the drive home. It’s the same complaint of when you work from home you feel chained to your job. I guess the best case scenario I’m seeing is the hybrid approach from what I can tell. 

Are your clients still worried about a potential recession?

My clients might be unhappy at their jobs, but they’re afraid they won’t be able to find another one. They say ‘I’ll just keep plugging along and hope this gets better.’ I have to have a conversation of: is this job serving you or are you having panic attacks daily? Maybe it is time to move along. But then if they really can’t afford to quit, then I’m doing a lot of coaching to preserve, with suggestions on getting their resumes out there and how to nail an interview. 

Some of my clients might have started off with one wage and worked there for 10 years. Then they find out the new people starting now are making way more than what they’re currently making. So they might be like ‘I can barely afford to pay rent and buy myself food’ and here are these new people starting and making more money. 

Is political divisiveness in the workplace something your clients are talking about?

As we see Trump in the news and the indictments, I think it’s all keeping that tension there. My clientele tends to lean more left and more democratic, and then having a client work in a more conservative Republican office, it’s really caused a lot of tension there. 

I have some clients who work for a county offices, and they’re seeing anti-LGBTQ sentiments and stuff like that. It’s just interesting how the political climate continues to move into the work environment too. The frustrations have been tough to navigate, and it’s not just around election time.

There will always be bad bosses and general workplace stress. Is that worsening?

I’m seeing a lot of managing up. Some of my clients say how their boss is incompetent and they need to keep them structured, which is frustrating for them. People are feeling overworked.

Another big thing is when coworkers are quitting and they’re not being replaced. My clients are taking on not just their job, but the work of two or three other people until somebody else gets hired, but it’s taking a long time. On the flip side, my Gen Z clients are really pushing back on that and want work-life balance. I’ve seen them say ‘no, I’m not going to do that.’ So that person is working their wage and they won’t do any more than that. They are definitely working to live and not to work. I think millennials are looking at Gen Z shaking their heads. 

Overall though, this summer, my clients didn’t really take off to unplug. What I have seen is them take off because their mental health was so awful.