Mobbing, Bullying and Psychotherapy


Bullying, Mobbing and Psychotherapy

Dr Jonathan Haverkampf

Individuals or groups can make one’s life difficult. Often the bullying or mobbing happens in a group context and the objective is usually to have one expelled from the group. In a professional situation this might mean getting fired or quitting oneself. It is a painful experience that often leaves the victim in a seemingly helpless and lonely situation. In the 1980s, the psychologist Heinz Leymann applied the term ‘mobbing’ to ganging up in the workplace. Leymann noted that one of the possible side-effects of mobbing is post-traumatic stress disorder, which is often misdiagnosed.

Konrad Lorenz, in his book entitled On Aggression (1966), first described mobbing among birds and animals, attributing it to instincts rooted in the struggle to survive. In his view, humans are subject to similar innate impulses but capable of bringing them under rational control. In the 1970s, the Swedish physician Peter-Paul Heinemann applied Lorenz’s conceptualization to the collective aggression of children against a targeted child.

Mobbing usually occurs in places where individuals or a group feel threatened by an individual wo may be creative, talented and dedicated. In good organizations this should not be a problem, if the growth and survival of the organization is a priority. Thus, mobbing occurs often in situations that are unable to foster growth and promote productive people internally. This often goes with a lack of transparency and inadequate management systems, where a hostile environment for a valuable employee can emerge without repercussions.

Mobbing may be very subtle, which often makes an individual question whether he or she is really being mobbed. There may be innuendos, a lack of clarity and talking behind one’s back. Mobbing can be used quite consciously and systematically.

The effect on the individual can range from PTSD to depression. It is a traumatizing experience that can affect one’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. If self-confidence is reduced, this can make it harder for the individual defend himself or herself. The result is even more susceptibility to the mobbing situation.

In therapy it is first important to get a sense for the communication environment the patient is exposed to. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge the difficult situation the victim is faced with. Often, victims of mobbing situations begin to doubt themselves and whether there actually is a mobbing situation. Here it helps to also help the patient to become aware of the felt emotions. Developing strategies in coping with the mobbing situation should involve helping the patient to identify values, interests and aspirations, build confidence and establish more appropriate communication strategies and patterns.

Fundamentally, in such situations to rediscover one’s values, interests and aspirations to determine if one is happy with one’s job on an emotional level. Often people become easier targets for mobbing when they are ambivalent or unhappy about their present jobs. It may also be a relief for the victim to know that he or she might be happier somewhere else.

Knowing what you want can make you stronger in mobbing and bullying situations. Often victims of mobbing become unsure of themselves and are no longer able to stand up for themselves and defend themselves effectively. A closer look at one’s values, interests and aspirations can help to get clarity and better stand up for oneself.

Mobbing can only occur in communication environments that are somehow deficient. This is why finding one’s voice and communicating better and more openly and strategically are effective in achieving a greater sense of control and raising one’s self-confidence in the face of a difficult situation.




© 2012, 2016 Dr Christian Jonathan Haverkampf. All rights reserved.

Psychotherapy & Counselling, Communication, Medicine (Psychiatry); Dublin, Ireland,,


This paper is solely a basis for academic discussion and no medical advice is given, nor can it be given in it. Always consult a professional if you believe you might suffer from a medical condition.


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