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This article was prepared for the January 30, 2002 edition of U.S.
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Key to Success: Resiliency
What the world needs now is more Bill and Hillary. Or
at least more of a quality the pair have in abundance. When Judy
Dowd, vice president at outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison, asks
workshop groups to name a famous person with resilience to spare,
the name that comes up first is nearly always "Bill Clinton."
Then, says Dowd, someone from the back of the room invariably pipes
up and adds, "and what about Hillary?"
"Love them, or hate them," Dowd says of the power pair,
are resilient." On Thursday, January 31, at 8 a.m. Dowd gives
a mini-workshop for HR professionals on "Developing Personal
Learning to Thrive in Ambiguity and Change" at the Novotel. Call
Dowd defines resilience as the ability to remain flexible and strong
in the midst of ambiguity and change. This quality is especially
now, she says, as companies struggle through a tough economic climate
by merging, acquiring, downsizing, and reorganizing. Some employees
are facing lay-offs, while others are looking at new roles and
responsibilities in a changing organization.
Dowd, a 1984 graduate of the College of St. Elizabeth who also holds
a master’s degree in industrial psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson
University, has been flexible in pursuing her own career goals. After
working in marketing and operations in the health care industry, and
spending time in the insurance industry, too, she realized she was
"one of those people who get restless" in their careers. But
why did she make the career choices she did? The question fascinated
her, leading her to pursue the industrial psychology degree, and to
make a career of helping other choose their careers.
Dowd’s own model of resilience is her grandmother. "She raised
her children — and helped raise her grandchildren — through
troubled times," she says. As she entered her sixth decade, and
her childcare duties began to wind down, her grandmother went back
to school, earning a nursing degree, and working until she was 80.
"Then, when she was 84, she got on a train, and came into New
York to help me with my baby," Dowd recalls.
Challenges her grandmother faced included coping with Depression-era
scarcity and war rationing. Challenges Dowd’s contemporaries face
include increasing doses of uncertainty and ambiguity. "People
have become used to change," she says. "It’s part of our
Managing change has been part of the corporate vocabulary for two
decades, but the concept, difficult as it seemed a short while ago,
is easy to cope with compared to its successor.
Now, says Dowd, workers wonder "`When is the downturn going to
turn up?’" They stew over the timing of the next merger, and
over what role they will play in a company suddenly headed in an
new direction. "It’s harder than dealing with change," Dowd
says of an environment of constant uncertainty.
One of the best ways for early-21st century man to make it through
is to emulate a Clinton, and roll with the punches by developing
resilience. Dowd’s workshop explores four of its components.
to identify areas where coping mechanisms are well-developed, and
areas that might be developed. "We don’t talk about strengths
and weaknesses," says Dowd. She feels the words carry too heavy
a load of responsibility in a climate where everyone is already
People with well-developed personal coping systems might, for
have a good sense of humor, or might be able to think of both
and negatives that come with change.
in professions, the direction in which a company is headed, and how
roles within the company are shaking out.
ancestors, and perhaps even to the philosophy her grandmother’s peers
may have embraced, Dowd declares: "We can’t do everything
anymore. We can’t possibly be independent." Instead, it is now
important to know where to go for help, who to seek out as a mentor,
and what resources are offered by the company and by the community.
resources, individuals are in a position to make changes that will
position them to move easily through a shifting work landscape. But,
warns Dowd, it is not a good idea to try to change too much at one
entire life in 48 hours," Dowd says. "We try to offer
We had it all figured out. Life was allowed to hand
us varied ups and downs, but never any real derailments. Those
disasters were supposed to happen to the others — those separated
from us by distance or time. Then came September 11th and our
illusions burst. We not only mourned the tragedy that did strike,
but we confronted a new anxiety about the future.
Now we face a national psychological, medical, and even legal cleanup.
"Moving Past Trauma: Coping after 9-11" on Tuesday, February
5, at 5 p.m. the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory explores how
the cleanup can be achieved. The panel will explore post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, then discuss the medical,
legal, and management issues involved. Speakers include psychiatrist
Naomi Vilko, a PTSD specialist; attorney Steven Berlin
of Buchanan Ingersoll PC; and addiction treatment specialist Arnold
Washton. Call 609-987-7112 or register via E-mail at
firstname.lastname@example.org Attendees are required to bring a photo ID.
Even while the World Trade Center stood proud and tall, approximately
one third of Americans were victims of limiting mental health problems
severe enough to qualify for medical treatment. This is actual,
impairment, the American Psychiatric Association hastens to add, not
just feeling blue. In productivity loss, early death, paid disability,
and substance abuse, this illness costs our nation an estimated $113
billion annually. The Domenici-Wellstone amendment to the 1996 Mental
Health Act proposed to broaden mental health insurance coverage.
recently killed the amendment.
"The Domenici-Wellstone amendment," explains Berlin,
on the heels of the 9-11 disaster brought a lot of necessary light
to a long ignored problem." The bill, aimed at fixing the
between mental and physical health care insurance payments, stated
that neither insurance companies nor employers with more than 50
could categorically limit mental health payments. "But since
with the economic downturn, no bill that puts a greater burden on
employers is greeted fondly," Berlin says. "Nonetheless it
is a disparity that must be repaired."
"Count on it, psychological trauma will prove the greatest loss
— in human or cash terms — to come out of the September 11th
debacle," warns Vilko, who initiated the February 5th seminar.
"Our trauma-induced downtime and costs have just begun to
Vilko, a native New Yorker, took her undergraduate degree at Barnard,
then received her psychiatric training at the New York Medical
For the past 22 years, Vilko has maintained offices in both Princeton
and New York, where she specializes in post-traumatic distress
and substance abuse. She is on the staff of Princeton Medical Center
and has taught at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. Her son, an investment
banker with Deutsche Bank, barely escaped from the 9-11 attack.
"There is nothing vague or categorical about post traumatic stress
syndrome," insists Vilko. "It is delineated by three clearly
recognizable symptom groups." First, flashbacks and nightmares
occur, usually only for the most immediate victims. Secondly,
moves in. The victim doesn’t go out, avoids trains and public places,
and fails to communicate. The third symptom, hyper-arousal, Vilko
witnessed clearly on the subway immediately following 9-11. A single
jerk or sudden loud noise sent several crisp-suited business folk
crashing to the floor in expectation. "It was exactly the kind
of behavior one so often sees in disturbed Vietnam vets," says
Post-trauma stress symptom is an old and familiar disorder. While
the syndrome only came into official terminology in the l980s, it
pre-dates World War I shell shock. "A lot of it came to our
after Vietnam, in the form of substance abuse," says Vilko.
via drugs and alcohol can typically reach 50 percent among traumatized
"But 9-11 is unique," says Vilko, "because, unlike
we can catch the problem before the victim is beyond control."
The events were seen by millions on television. After a month, the
initial symptoms of PTSD were evident in most sufferers. A blended
treatment of medication and psychotherapy has proven quick, relatively
simple, and very effective in most cases.
The problem now becomes getting people in need to receive the
treatment, without waiting. First, we face overcoming our societal
block concerning any mental problem. Victims of flying bricks get
immediate bandaging. Victims who faced the trauma of flying body parts
should just buck up, we say, and not lower themselves like wimps to
seek any psychiatric aid. Secondly, most people fear mind-altering
medications. But Pfizer’s Zoloft and the new Paxil are reducing the
stress amazingly well with virtually no side effects.
Conversely, stalling off treatment plants a costly time bomb in
As indicated by Holocaust victim analysis, post-traumatic stress
creates a chemical imbalance not only in the victim, but passes the
imbalance on to succeeding generations. The initial cost may be
but comes due in succeeding generations.
Berlin agrees that the victims of 9-11 need immediate treatment, but
he feels that "in the first knee-jerk gush of sympathy after the
World Trade Center bombing, companies with the best of hearts adopted
some terribly wrong methods." Typically, mental health problems
in the corporate community have been handled in group sessions. While
this has some merit by addressing the problem, it frequently delays
"You would not invite all those who had suffered back trauma out
on the loading dock to come in and talk the situation over," says
Berlin. "You’d get the individuals some fast, one-on-one,
help. The same should be done with those facing emotional trauma."
The Americans with Disabilities Act linked with the New Jersey Law
Against Discrimination form a united barrier protecting workers
with physical or mental handicaps. Legally, an employee who is
perceived as disabled, or who has a disabling history (e.g. recovering
from substance abuse), must be able to return to his job without
His employer must also make reasonable accommodation for his
This baffles most employers. The legal ramifications of handling
workers are vague, but the spirit is common sense. "Treat them
as a worker returning healed from a broken leg," advises Berlin.
"It may be counter intuitive, you may want to walk on eggshells
around them, but use common sense and react normally."
The scope of the explosions of September 11th may be comparatively
minor when set against the air raids of hundreds of cities during
World War II. But this one certainly struck hard into the national
psyche. Not because we were unprepared or weak; if anything we had
taken too great a refuge in our strength. Our trauma, collective or
individual, did not spring suddenly from the destruction alone. Rather
it is layered heavily upon a lot of other problems we had not quite
gotten around to addressing. Let us hope we can use this event to
address them now.
— Bart Jackson
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