The benefits or meaningful are well known and accepted. Working provides an individual with a way of structuring and occupying their time, social contacts and support, physical and mental activity, an opportunity to develop and use skills, social status, a sense of identity and personal achievement, money and other resources needed for material well-being.
In order to be able to afford to engage in valued and meaningful activities in one’s life, MOST people have to work. As well, work is generally good for physical and mental health, and promotes well-being (AFOEM, 2011; ACOEM, 2006; Waddell and Burton, 2006). It is also a key factor in a person’s self-worth and identity (Black, 2008). Thus, it represents an appropriate treatment goal.
Research has shown that return to work is critical to the recovery process and should be used as rehabilitation to enhance recovery, increase activity and function, and optimize successful and sustained employment (ACOEM, 2006). Our clinicians provide return to work coordination in order to facilitate and support the successful transition to gainful employment.
It is very common for individuals who are returning to work, after a prolonged absence, to experience both fear and anxiety. We find that many of our clients experience an increase in symptoms, of all types, as we begin the planning and implementation phase of a return to work. We understand that this is a difficult time for our clients and that the increased symptoms do not represent harm or signal increased pathology, but rather a very understandable increase in anxiety and fear about returning to the workplace. For some individuals, this leads them to either delay or abort the return to work process in order to avoid the discomfort. Sustaining avoidance often requires effort and energy and limits one’s focus at the expense of fully experiencing what is going on in the present. Avoidance may get in the way of other important, valued aspects of life.
Unfortunately, delaying or aborting the return to work is a solution that has the short-term benefit of reducing the discomfort. However, in the long term this strategy actually results in increasing fear and anxiety resulting in unnecessary avoidance and a shrinking of the individual’s meaningful life.
The role of our clinicians is to develop a plan for a graduated return to work in conjunction with our patient, the insurer and the employer. Typically, the graduated return to work extends over the course of 4 to 8 weeks, depending on the situation. Our involvement does not end with the beginning of the return to work. We continue to meet with our client until he/she is working full time in order to provide ongoing support, problem solving and reminders about how to best utilize the strategies and skills learned during their involvement with us. We have had considerable experience at managing a successful return to employment for our clients.
 See: Grillon, C. (2008). Models and mechanisms of anxiety: Evidence from startle studies. Psychopharmacology, 199(3): 421-437 and Barlow, D. H. (2002). Anxiety and its disorders: The nature and treatment of anxiety and panic (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.