About half of graduate students in clinical and counseling psychology programs seek therapy during their graduate training, according to a study in June's Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (Vol. 36, No. 3, pages 323-329). Students in therapy tend to believe their participation is important for professional development and think faculty members positively view students in therapy, the study found. Meanwhile, students who do not seek therapy report they shy away from it because of confidentiality and cost concerns, according to the study and a related, unpublished qualitative study of student help-seeking.
Psychologists Ronda Dearing, PhD, James Maddux, PhD, and June Price Tangney, PhD, investigated predictors of whether students seek therapy. They asked 262 counseling and clinical psychology graduate students to complete a questionnaire on their perceptions of therapy, including perceived faculty attitudes about students in therapy and their personal experiences, attitudes and perceived barriers to therapy.
Most students reported concerns over the cost of therapy and confidentiality. In particular, students' confidentiality concerns may have stemmed from seeking therapy at their university counseling center--usually the least expensive and most convenient place for students, says Dearing, a research scientist at the University at Buffalo of the State University of New York. Often, students' professors, classmates and even the students themselves work at the center, which poses confidentiality problems.
To counter that, Dearing suggests graduate programs consider forming a cooperative agreement with local counseling centers, so students can see a therapist who isn't affiliated with the university. Another option is to recruit alumni to provide low-cost or pro bono services to students.
While most students report that faculty attitudes about students in psychotherapy are mildly positive, Dearing found in an as-yet-unpublished qualitative study on the topic that students wish faculty would talk about it more--perhaps addressing personal therapy in graduate courses or supervision, Dearing says.
"Graduate school is a stressful time for almost all students," Dearing says. "Demands of a graduate program are usually quite taxing, and there are a lot of outside demands," such as moving to a new place, building new social networks and preparing for comps and clinical work.
In addition to personal help, therapy also provides professional benefits to clinical and counseling psychology students, Dearing says. "You can learn a lot about therapy by being in therapy," Dearing says. "You can learn how to be a therapist, and use your therapist in almost a mentoring role."
Dearing suggests students raise the issue of their own therapy in courses or clinical supervision to learn about other students' experiences with personal therapy and their faculty and supervisors' views.