Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Workaholism the Best Dressed Problem of the Era?

Work nearly destroyed Bryan Robinson’s life 20 years ago.

The UNC Charlotte professor emeritus and psychotherapist wrote about workaholism in his book, “Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians who Treat Them.”

Robinson said, “I used work to defend myself against unwelcome emotional states — to modulate anxiety, sadness, and frustration the way a pothead uses dope and an alcoholic uses booze.”

His experience led him to study work addiction — what he calls “the best-dressed problem of the 21st century” — and its consequences. While a professor of counseling, special education and child development at UNC Charlotte, he was among the first researchers to publish on the topic, and he continues to counsel patients from all over the world in his clinical practice in western North Carolina.
Robinson said workaholics tend to be separatists, preferring to work alone and focusing on the details of their job. They often attach their egos to their work. Healthy workers see the bigger picture and work cooperatively with others toward common goals.

Perhaps the most salient distinction is this: Healthy workers experience work as a necessary and sometimes fulfilling obligation; workaholics see it as a haven in a dangerous, emotionally unpredictable world.

“I would ask people when they see some of the symptoms to look a little deeper. The 10-year- old in the class who is a little adult might be that way because of what’s going on in his or her life; the same goes for the child who has a fit when he gets a 99 instead of 100 percent on a test . These children can be treated and taught how to let go,” Robinson said.

obinson says workaholics often require professional help that encourages them to put the smartphone or laptop computer away. But beware that many therapists don’t recognize workaholism, and some therapists are themselves work-addicted. Workaholics Anonymous is an option, with chapters worldwide. It can provide referral services for the workaholics and their families, Robinson said.

At a time when he unemployment rate has skyrocketed, broaching the subject of work addiction becomes more difficult than in times of prosperity, but Robinson is determined to continue to preach the gospel of work-life balance to the public.


A feature article, on this topic appears in the Q1 2010 edition of UNC Charlotte magazine for alumni and friends of the university. It is accessible online at ...

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