Almost half of psychology graduate students have noticed a fellow therapy trainee failing to provide quality patient care or behaving unethically, yet only 30 percent act on their concerns, according to a study published in the June issue of Training and Education in Professional Psychology (Vol. 5, No. 2).
The survey of 321 graduate students in clinical, counseling and school psychology programs also found that students were more likely to report a colleague's problem if the student in question was having a romantic relationship with a client or abusing drugs or alcohol, but they hesitated in less clear-cut competence cases, says lead author David Shen-Miller, PhD, a counseling psychology professor at Tennessee State University.
"There is a clear feeling among some folks that students' competence is the faculty's job to monitor," says Shen-Miller. "We need our whole community — students and trainers — to help with competence concerns."
Students have the same ethical responsibility as faculty to act if they see a fellow trainee providing inadequate care or engaging in unprofessional behavior or other ethical violations, says Shen-Miller. If you notice such a problem, he says, you should:
Discuss what you've noticed with other students or faculty to determine whether further action is needed. You can also contact the APA Ethics Office for a free and confidential consultation at (202) 336-5930.
Tell the student you're concerned about what you've seen, citing specific behavior. For example, say, "I have noticed you consistently show up late for appointments with your clients," rather than "You're acting unprofessionally." Then suggest ways he or she could fix the problem.
If the problem continues, report it to a faculty member.
Skip directly to step three if you see direct evidence of gross incompetence or exploitation, says Shen-Miller. Don't feel discouraged if it seems that faculty are not acting on your concerns, he adds.
"I take these reports very seriously, but out of respect for students' privacy, I usually can't talk about what we're doing to address them," he says.