Therapy and Counselling for Bullying

29 - Nov - 2021

Bullying is abuse and the initial focus must always be about stopping the bullying from occurring or continuing. The very nature of bullying, namely the use and abuse of power, means that action is needed to address the power dynamic. Whether you are being bullied, have been bullied or think you might be bulling then get others involved and if you witness or suspect bullying then there is always something you can do. Ultimately bullying is never good for the bullied, or the bully and to have a society that does not stop bullying is not good for anyone.

Bullying often brings short-term and long-term negative effects on the victim, no one experience of bullying is ever the same and as such the affects vary. It is not unusual for bullying to have devastating longer term impacts. Research looking at the long-term psychological effects of bullying showed that the people who were bullied as children had a greater risk of depression, anxiety, suicide, low-self-esteem, panic disorder and agoraphobia as adults. It is important to remember that the psychological damage caused by bullying doesn’t end only because a victim has become an adult and now has a different life in which they are no longer bullied. Bullying commonly causes long-term issues, therefore the sooner the problems are addressed, the sooner they can be prevented from creating deeper problems. 

As bullying is happening, the victim may feel that they cannot talk about it. They may feel scared, ashamed or embarrassed of what people will think of them especially if the environment in which the bullying is occurring is not supportive. Contrary to popular belief, bullying is not only something that happens in school, as it can occur at any age. It can happen at your workplace or even in your personal life. Schools, employers, other organisations, friendship groups and families often fail to either identify or take action against bullying.

Meanwhile bullies can continue in a pattern of unhelpful behaviour which ultimately leads to poor quality relationships, impacting upon the quality of life and those around them. As such it is not unusual for those who bully to also suffer with concerns including depression, drug and alcohol abuse, relationship concerns, anger management difficulties and suicide.

Therapy and counselling can help whether the bullying event was in the past or is occurring now. The therapist will discuss with you what is/was happening, how you feel, what you can do to change the situation and talk about different ways of coping with it.

Therapy focuses understanding how the bullying or its affects are experienced. As a result, this greater self-awareness and understanding makes you feel stronger and more empowered, by removing the feelings of helplessness and vulnerability. The goal is to heal, gain new perspectives and greater compassion and empathy for yourself as well as for others.

Bullying creates a cycle of victimisation / perpetration that can continue into adulthood, affecting many parts of a person’s life. The first step of therapy and counselling for bullying is to understand the behaviour that needs to stop. The second is to focus not on blame or right versus wrong but work towards finding ways to cope, stop and change unhelpful behaviours, feelings and thoughts. This will not come immediately, undoing the effects of bullying as a child or adolescent is not an instant thing. However, by bringing the awareness, it will be easier to break the cycle and begin to undo the harmful effects of bullying.

One of the most important aims of therapy, in order to get over the traumatic bullying experiences, is to stop blaming yourself. There have been numerous studies indicating that this is very common and a result of wrongfully developed perceptions. The victims of bullying may blame their appearance, personality or inability to “stand up for themselves” as the reason they were bullied or excluded. If these victims do not accept their individuality and stop self-blaming, it can be very hard to heal from trauma. 

Meanwhile if you bully, you will be aware of your struggle to manage your emotions and will at times be painfully aware of your impact on others. It is not uncommon to feel shame, regret, fear and dislike and these emotions will be heightened prior to, during and after episodes of bullying behaviour. If you are dissatisfied with aspects of your life it may well be that the way you interact with others is bullying.

Therapy can help you to navigate the situation, process painful feelings, reflect, learn and encourage healing and recovery. It can also help you to understand any behavioural patterns that can make you vulnerable to bullying so that you are more equipped to recognise warning signs and can protect yourself better in future. Therapists can assist you in developing alternative behaviours. They can work with you to help you develop positive coping skills and show you how to stand up for yourself in a safe and effective manner.

If you have a child who has been a victim of bullying, therapy can help them to focus on the positive friendships that they have or encourage them to build new, safer friendships. Having trusting friendships is very important as it builds a solid support group. Children who are bullied need to find activities where they can increase their self-worth and can spend time with positive role models.

Meanwhile if you think your child might be bullying, then therapy can help them to understand their feelings and express themselves in more helpful and healthy ways.

Where bullying has been a concern for some time, or the bullying has been severe in nature then longer term therapy will be necessary. Therapy begins by establishing a trusting relationship with the therapist where the person feels safe to share what’s happening, their thoughts and feelings. Given that the clients experience of relationships has included bullying it will be the experience of a relationship where emotions are explored, understood and managed in a more helpful and healthy way that is therapeutic.

The next step is to help improve self-esteem by building confidence. The therapist and client will work together to lower anxiety. The therapist will assist in learning the skills needed to gain confidence  and help to teach social skills. Each of these long-term goals can be broken down into short-term goals, and different interventions will be given for each problem.

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