Bullying at work EAP case study

One evening a female employee called the EAP helpline. She talked through her issues with the telephone counsellor, reporting that she was experiencing bullying at work – and as a result has been on sick leave. 

The employee had recently been feeling low and was very tearful with depression-like symptoms. She had been experiencing increased tension and stress, and was finding it difficult to concentrate at work. She had begun to have regular nightmares, and hadn’t previously spoken to anyone about her situation.

The telephone counsellor arranged for the employee to have short-term face-to- face counselling to address her difficulties from a psychological perspective.

During the first face to face session she told the counsellor that after the conversation with the telephone counsellor she had experienced some relief as it had been the first time she had told anyone that she was being bullied at work. The previous week she had seen her GP who decided that it would be in her best interest to be signed off work to allow time to deal with the psychological effects of her difficulties at work. The GP indicated that there would be a three to six month wait for an NHS counselling appointment. Once he heard that the patient could have access to counselling via work he encouraged her to begin short term therapy to see if she could address her symptoms.

Bullying – the goals of short term therapy

  • To encourage the employee to express her feelings about her current situation and to consider all the options available to her.
  • To aim for a return to work within three weeks, at which time she would put into action the strategies that she had worked on to see if she could counter the bullying behaviour by responding to it differently with a view to diffusing the situation. In order for this to occur she realised that there would need to be a shift in her perspective of the impact that the bullying was having not only on her work, but on her life as well.
  • To stop persecutory feelings and ruminating thought patterns, and to teach her effective skills in interacting with her line manager differently so as to elicit responses which would be more likely to improve her self esteem and restore some of her lost self-confidence.
  • To exercise more frequently in order to improve her sleep pattern and to decrease her preoccupation with her health and to face up to her assumptions and fears.

In the second session, the employee was worried about returning to work. Most of the session was spent on strategies of communication in her response to what she had experienced as bullying behaviour at work.

By the fourth session, she was back at work and she found that the strategies were helping in disarming the bullying behaviour of her manager. The strategies enabled her to focus more on her work and her sense of satisfaction. She reported feeling more energized and she seemed to be rediscovering her self-confidence and feelings of worth both at work and at home.

The employee reported that she also felt in control of herself and her life situation. Her stress levels and anxiety had reduced significantly. She had reached a state of manageable equilibrium where she felt safe and recognised her value and sense of self. The client showed significant improvement in all areas of her personal functioning, her life and her interpersonal relationships. She managed to recover from the work situation as she became more objective and more rational.


The counsellor closed the workplace bullying case and reported back that the employee had returned to work midway through the course of the therapy sessions. Her symptoms had dramatically decreased and she had implemented the strategies which she felt worked best for her with good results. She was able to tolerate being back at work and in fact was beginning to once again gain considerable satisfaction from it.

As she had benefited from a brief psycho-therapeutic intervention, the counsellor encouraged her to take up NHS counselling sessions when they became available to review her progress and address any other issues that there may have not been time for in short term therapy.

To read more about the benefits of CBT