Withers, R. (2012). The necessity for mental health services for graduate level counseling students: A review of the current literature. [Website article]. Retrieved from http://www.counselinginsite.com.
As a population, graduate students in almost any discipline can benefit from appropriate mental health counseling resources provided either directly by the university they attend, or indirectly, through a third party agency. Oswalt and Riddock (2007) found in one study that almost 75% of graduate students surveyed at a large university in the southeast suffered from moderate to severe stress as a result not only of their graduate work, but of other factors such as marriage, finances, and work. Stress is to be expected, and stress can have adverse affects on a student’s mental health. However, for those studying mental health counseling, poor mental health is as much a stumbling block to professional efficacy as is poor grades or a poor performance in a practicum. While other disciplines can perhaps separate academic achievement and mental health, the two should be considered linked in the field of mental health counseling. What then, are counseling programs doing to ensure that their students utilize counseling services for both personal and professional growth.
First, counseling provides opportunities for professional development. If a student has never experienced counseling, the experience allows them to “step into their client’s shoes” and see what it is like to experience counseling as the client. Furthermore, a student can use the opportunity to learn from a seasoned counselor. From their experience, they can take away useful techniques and best practices. They may even learn what not to do in a counseling situation. (de Vries & Valadez, 2006). Either way, the experience is a rich educational experience.
Second, graduate school can be overwhelming. Because such a significant percentage of graduate students also work and have families, the demands of each can take a heavy psychological toll (Hyun 2006). Students need to have access to mental health counseling services that teach them coping skills, stress management, and provide a positive and therapeutic environment in which the student can voice their concerns.
Third, universities have an obligation to identify and, if necessary, remove impaired students. Bradley and Post (1991) note that CACREP accredited organizations have an obligation to evaluate and review not only a student’s academic progress, but their personal and professional development as well. It is not insignificant that the authors also note that counselors in training tend to be more prone to psychological disturbance than the general population. Given this fact, it seems that mandated counseling for counseling students should be a requirement in any respectable program. Downs (2000) presented findings from a qualitative study at a CACREP accredited university which required that all of its graduate level students seek counseling themselves. While the results of the study showed that it was hard to enforce such a policy, 68% of the students who did participate not only found the experience to be both personally helpful and invaluable, but also believed that the requirement was appropriate for their chosen field.
There is a positive relationship between counselor efficacy and willingness to seek counseling. After examining the attitudes of counseling students toward counseling, De Vries and Valadez (2007) discovered that between 6-22% of participants scores on various scales indicated possible impairment and/or negative attitudes toward counseling. One of the evaluation tools they used, the Personal Orientation Inventory (POI), is used to see to what degree a counselor can form a nurturing relationship between his or her client. In one sub score, as many as 21% of respondents indicated difficulty in this area. If one out of every five counseling students has such an impairment, are universities doing all they can to address the needs of their students before conferring upon them degrees that will allow them to work in the mental health counseling field? The research from their study suggests that the answer is no. In fact, they write that “best evidence suggests that no serious effort to address the issue of counselor and counselor trainee impairment has been made in recent years” (79).
While all graduate students can benefit from mental health counseling, it seems necessary that those students studying to be practitioners themselves be required to participate in some form of counseling. Academic prowess is simply not the only indicator of counselor efficacy. In the same way that you would not want to confer a teaching certificate on an individual who does not see the value in education, it does not seem wise to allow any student to graduate from a counseling program who is not themselves a proponent of counseling. While many universities do require counseling sessions, many others do not. In order to strengthen the profession and to safeguard the psychological well being of the clients, counseling programs need to make counseling available to their students, and mandate participation.
Bradley, J. & Post, P. (1991) Impaired students: do we eliminate them from counselor training programs? Journal of Counselor Education & Supervision 31:2, p. 100-109.
de Vries, Sabrina R. & Valadez, Albert A. (2006). Counseling students' mental health status and attitudes toward counseling. Journal of Professional Counseling Practice, Theory & Research vol. 34:1/2 (Spring), p. 77-87
Downs, L. (2000). A Study of the Outcomes of Required Counseling during Counselor Training at a CACREP Accredited University, 13 pp.
Hyun, Jenny K. (2006) Graduate student mental health: needs assessment and utilization of counseling services.Journal of College Student Development, 47:3, p. 247-266
Laliotis, D. & Grayson, J. (1985). Psychologist heal thyself: what is available for the impaired psychologist? American Psychologist 40:1, p. 84-96.
Oswalt, S. & Riddock, C. (2007) What to do about being overwhelmed: graduate students, stress and university services. College Student Affairs Journal, 27:1, p. 24-44.