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Does having a history of psychological trauma give you an advantage?

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by Mufa, Apr 13, 2012.

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  1. Mufa

    Mufa

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    Hey,

    I'm wondering if having a history of psychological trauma gives you an advantage in getting accepted into a psychology program.

    I ask because, coincidentally, I kind of have a history when it comes to this. Despite having very little background in formal psychology, I find it hard to believe that my experience with my issues counts for nothing. I'm pretty sure many psychological departments would be dying to hear about what I have to say...I'd certainly make an interesting case study.

    I've been corresponding with a couple therapists here and there, but I'm largely unsatisfied since the nature of my issues aren't really, umm, standard...though I doubt I'm unique. We exist...

    I just have a pretty good feeling that I'll become another statistic, to be honest. A person who was deeply messed up, and, you know, went the way most of us understandably go. In an effort to, perhaps, breaks the cycle for others...or delay it for myself, I could see myself helping people who went through what I did...perhaps just giving them guidance on how to cope with it.

    It's honestly a miracle I made it this far...and quite honestly I don't know whether to thank the day or curse it whenever I wake up. (Just a little joke...)

    Anyway, I was a philosophy major (still am, actually) with a not too stellar gpa. It's kind of hard to concentrate on making a grade when, umm, non existence could be hours away. But I've persisted. I'll likely graduate with a 3.1.

    How likely would it be that I'd get accepted into a PhD program with that gpa, a non existent psychological background, and my unique circumstances? Particularly one tailored in my type of...ailment....if you will.

    I think I can reasonably expect to get into a masters program somewhere, perhaps with a concentration in statistics while filling in the formal education gaps. Would that better endear me to the psychological programs? It's my Plan C.

    What's Plan B, you ask? Well, I have half a mind to go to the nearest mental institution and tell them exactly what's wrong with me, and explain to them I refuse to cope anymore. I'd likely be taken to the loony bin, or wherever they take us "social deviants" these days. I'd document the experience and hopefully publish it, secretly if necessary, such that people of my "ilk" can decide what it is they want...while subtly encouraging what others wouldn't want me too...

    But I figured I'd pursue the traditional route at first.
  2. erg923

    erg923 Psychologist-Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

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    No

    Entrance to Ph.D. programs in clinical or counseling psychology is based on undergraduate GPA, GRE scores, research experience, demonstrated potential for scholastic apptitude (critical thinking, analaytic reasoning, quantitative reasoning), letters of recommendation, and evidence of a strong work ethic, commitment to science, and personal/psychological maturity (e.g., compassion, empathy, appropriate social skills, ability to handle stress).

    With respect, I dont think i would want a self-described "deeply messed up person" to be in my program or to be my psychologist if i was in need of mental health services.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  3. zensouth

    zensouth

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    Nope.

    It's like wondering if having a broken bone helps you get into med school.

    It might earn you some credit with clients if you work within the same population later on. If anything, you would have to carefully present the issue when you apply. A therapist shouldn't steam roll a client with his/her own issues. In fact, in all of my training/supervision self disclosure about the therapists own problems is actively discouraged as it usually isn't helpful and takes the focus off the client's change and onto the therapist.

    Straight to a PhD or PsyD will be very difficult. Just check out the 2011-2012:The Numbers thread for how stiff the competition is. A master's might be good for you because you can bump your GPA, get some research, and find out if doing therapy is actually for you.
  4. Psychadelic2012

    Psychadelic2012 PhD Student

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    If you ask other applicants, I'm sure they'd tell you that you have an excellent shot ;). "Yes, tell them all about your personal psychological history in your statement of purpose, it's all you need! And, by the way, apply to the schools I'm applying to and to the POIs I'm applying to, pretty please?!"
  5. Iwillheal

    Iwillheal

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    Greetings. Your post sounds cryptic and strange enough that I don't know if I should play a game of Twenty Questions with you, have you committed, or offer you advice.

    All joking aside, you do not necessarily have an advantage. Depending on what your issues are, how well they're managed, how they affect your daily life, etc, you may be in fact at a disadvantage.

    Here's a metaphor: Sometimes you do not need to have fallen down a well to help someone climb out of it. Yes, it does help at times: you can tell the person various techniques you used to cope with the loneliness down the well, and you can perhaps better understand that feeling of helplessness or desperation, the terror, the loneliness that they feel. So if a guy comes along and says it's not so bad, you can tell him that it is indeed horrible and this person needs help and badly too.

    On the other hand, what that person feels is not necessarily exactly how you felt. You may be familiar with the famous philosophy paper "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" In addition, perhaps your own wounds, from having fallen down the well, can make it more difficult for you to help the person. Maybe what that person needs most is a strong man who knows how to pull the guy up, using a rope. That's all.

    Hopefully this metaphor was not as patronizing as I think it was. Compassion matters greatly, no doubt. But reality of situation is that to make it to grad school, you need great GPA, GRE scores, research experience, volunteer experience, match between your interests and a faculty, great reference letters....all those. You need to be mature, emotionally stable, disciplined, industrious, etc. The work is emotionally taxing. It really is. Try seeing a patient with a history of serious abuse, after a sleepless night, after working your ass off writing a paper, doing stats homework, driving an hour to screen someone for a research study, deal with a lab manager who hates you, a supervisor with a head in clouds, worrying about paying the bills, etc.

    In short, it's tough. Get therapy, make sure you're totally in control of your difficulties, take some psych classes, talk to professors, talk to grad students, do some research, make sure you're going to grad school for the right reasons, that you can make it, and that is what you really want. Best of luck to you.
  6. SpecterGT260

    SpecterGT260 Catdoucheus

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  7. cara susanna

    cara susanna Predoctoral Intern

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    The way you talk about your trauma actually would be a red flag to me if I were on an admissions committee. Clinical psych programs are highly stressful and I would worry that someone who already talks about "cursing the day" and "a miracle that I made it this far" (even jokingly) would not be able to handle additional stress. Furthermore, I would also be concerned about this person's ability to see trauma clients without experiencing counter-transference or further vicarious trauma. There are people without trauma histories of their own who even have difficulties seeing trauma clients, and I imagine it could be even worse for someone who does have that history.

    Disclaimer: I am not referring to all people who have trauma histories, just the OP and the way he or she comes across to me.
  8. AcronymAllergy

    AcronymAllergy Neuropsychology Fellow Moderator

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    I agree, not even with respect to the OP specifically, but in a more general sense--if a therapist has undergone a particular type of struggle or adversity of his/her own, working with clients who've experienced similar difficulties can sometimes "hit too close to home," making it tough for the therapist to maintain appropriate boundaries and remain an objective professional.
  9. futureapppsy2

    futureapppsy2 Ed Psych PhD student Moderator Gold Donor

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    ITA. Counter transference is a real issue--not saying everyone has it, but you need to be able to carefully manage it when/if it does arise, and that requires being on top of your own "issues."
  10. penguinbean

    penguinbean

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    No. And you probably shouldn't be going in expecting to be fixed. They're not accepting students to make into projects. They want students who can do the work and excel at it.

    Unless you're using your trauma experience as a "learning/growing/motivating" type of thing it's certainly not a leg up, and if your trauma comes across as something that you haven't addressed or cause problems with your productivity it could be considered a hindrance. They're not going to send you an interview invite to hear your story. If they wanted to study you, they might just ask you to participate in their research, although this seems like an odd way to get study participants.

    As someone who has been through trauma and got my masters, now getting ready for a PsyD program - if one of your "options" is truly that you feel like you should go to a mental hospital- take care of your mental health before getting into school. It'll make it so much worse for yourself if you don't
  11. 4410

    4410

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    There are psychologists who have major mental disorders and recently on another list serve that I frequent, a female revealed her story of having bipolar disorder and the challenges she had in pursuing her doctoral degree. She had her first psychotic break in undergraduate with inpatient hospitalization at that time. She was in gifted education her entire primary and secondary education and was accepted at one of the top Universities in the USA. She had ongoing psychiatric outpatient treatment and continues with treatment. Interesting in that she indicated that undergraduate and graduate education provided her necessary structure and that she had obsessive-compulsive tendency of a perfectionalistic nature and thrived on academic challenges. She would do obsessive-compulsive things and stay up all night during her educational training. She mentioned one incident where she was living in the dormitory and could not sleep. She took all of the dry-erase marker off of each floor message board as somewhat of a prank except for her floor, which provided some evidence that someone on her floor may have done the deed. She had some 30 markers in her room and once she realized this she had left the one on her floor, she tried to figure out how to reduce her potential for being discovered. I don't remember how it ended, but I believe she took all of the markers back the next night on each floor.

    It happens where individuals with major mental disorders are able to advance but this is most likely the exception to the rule. She was able to have resources and insight to maintain her emotional stability with medications and therapy. However, others may not be as resourceful and struggle with emotional stability under stress.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  12. psychRA

    psychRA PhD Postdoc

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    No.

    Especially if you are interested in studying trauma in a PhD program, I would strongly discourage you from taking about your personal history in your application. Although different research labs may have different approaches, in ours, applicants who talk about their own trauma history in their personal statement are generally eliminated from consideration, unless they are incredibly strong applicants and they handle it VERY skillfully and appropriately. It's not that my mentor doesn't think that people with trauma histories shouldn't be in doctoral programs; indeed, primarily, this professor's concern is that someone who is sharing personal information in their application is not going to have good boundaries.

    I would also be concerned about the fact that your symptoms are making it hard for you to do well in undergrad. Grad school only gets harder, so you will definitely need to address your struggles first.

    If you are very committed to a PhD program, my advice is to take enough psych classes (before or after you graduate) to get the equivalent of a psych major. Get a job in a research lab, and get your name on some posters and papers. You may need to do an MA first to demonstrate that you can succeed academically. And you are going to need to ace the GRE if you want to try to offset your low GPA. Mine wasn't much better, but I knew that getting into PhD programs was going to be a huge uphill battle, and I had to work my ass off after college to get in, trust me.
  13. erg923

    erg923 Psychologist-Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

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    4410, I'm sure she appreciates your disclosure of this on an open internet forum. Use your brain, dude. Edit your post or I'm sure mods will do it for you...
  14. Mianess

    Mianess

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    The fact that your choice to get a MA is your plan C, and committing yourself to a mental institution is your plan B speaks volumes. Also, after taking a look at your previous posts, part of me wonders how serious this thread even is.

    Of course I could be wrong, in which case my advice would be that if you were serious about wanting to "give guidance to help others cope" you should really look into taking care of yourself first.
  15. Mufa

    Mufa

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    Hmm.

    The consensus is disturbing.

    There is something flawed about a system that doesn't account for the consequences of the very phenomena they are trying to help. A sort of "holier than though" attitude..."You're the mentally ill one, we normal people will tell you how to function.."

    Functioning in normal society for me, particularly after "the episode" was an achievement all on it's own.

    I would have assumed that some leeway would have been given to me in this regard in account for the unique and genuine perspective I would have provided. A field such as psychology could use some credibility after all...

    But, I guess not.

    Thanks for the insights. May your lives be awesome, and your deaths even more so...
  16. Mufa

    Mufa

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    Humor..it's a beautiful thing.
    I was seriously considering it. It's on the table of options.
    I'm doing fine, for the most part. My biggest issue at the moment is trying to explain to my girlfriend why her being similar to my mother (physically and temperamentally) is freaking me out.
    But that's neither here nor there...
  17. futureapppsy2

    futureapppsy2 Ed Psych PhD student Moderator Gold Donor

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    To be fair, I don't think anyone here has said that people with psych disorders can't become psychologists (cf., Marsha Linehan), just that it's a poor decision to disclose such information, especially in an application, and that any serious psych disorders should be well under control prior to grad school, as it is a very stressful experience.
  18. AcronymAllergy

    AcronymAllergy Neuropsychology Fellow Moderator

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    Exactly. Psychologists are just like anyone else; some are going to have histories of trauma and/or will have struggled with some type of disorder in their lives. But as futureapppsy2 mentions, the crux is having the condition well-controlled so that it doesn't interfere with your ability to act objectively and in the best interests of your clients/patients. To do otherwise, and to practice psychology when you're in any sort of compromised state (physically or mentally/emotionally), would be unethical.

    As for the field of psychology being in need of "credibility," that's a fairly loaded statement, and one I'll leave alone.
  19. penguinbean

    penguinbean

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    Um... what people are saying (to put it bluntly) is get your stuff together before you apply to PhD programs (i.e. get therapy if you need it). If you have your stuff together, and your past trauma is not going to interfer with your functioning as a psychologist/therapist or as a student, apply away.

    But just because you have traumatic life expereinces is not going to get your foot in the door. There is a whole phrase for this, "the wounded healer" it is not unique to want to go into psychology because you have dealt with some form of trauma or mental illness.

    Focus on making the rest of your application strong, and that is what you should bank on to get into grad school.
  20. Psychadelic2012

    Psychadelic2012 PhD Student

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    Yeah. There is nothing about being traumatized or psychologically wounded that makes an applicant to a psychology program unique. In fact, it is exactly what makes everyone alike :sleep:. Find another way to stand out, OP.
  21. erg923

    erg923 Psychologist-Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

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    No one said anything about people with mental illness being unfit for psychology or in anyway "less than."

    You asked if having a trauma helped in the admissions process, no? The answer was no, it does not. The answer is it can actually hurt your chances if you dont have your **** together, for reasons that should be quite obvious. And you were not shy about the fact that you do NOT think you have your **** together...

    So, what's the problem?
  22. Mufa

    Mufa

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    The problem is a system that doesn't take into account factors that it itself stresses as important. It's hypocritical...

    Especially the fact that it could actually hinder me professionally. That I must hide it professionally in order to compete, after already keeping it to myself for just over 20 years, especially for a profession that specializes in just this type of thing, is laughable.

    At what point does the psychological field do more to hurt the psyche than help it?

    It isn't too big a concern. I could always go the non profit route and set up an organization that is more in tune with the condition of those who need help.

    "For the mentally touched, by the mentally touched.."

    Just a small dig expressing my frustration. I couldn't help myself..
  23. Pragma

    Pragma

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    You asked if you would get bonus points on the application. You won't. But it can be viewed as a strength if you demonstrate maturity and a concern for ethics. From your posts, I don't see that.
  24. ClinPsychEnthus

    ClinPsychEnthus Psy.D. candidate, VA intern

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    Pragma began to make a point that I think is important.

    There is room in the field of psychology for people who have experienced trauma and who have other mental health symptoms and disorders.

    Discerning where in the field is the issue. If you are able to work through these issues so that you can handle the education/training process and then the ongoing work of being exposed to others stories and struggles, then pursuing a Ph.D. or Psy.D. once you have "demonstrated maturity...ethics..." etc would make sense.

    If you believe that you may not want to be under that pressure but want to offer support, give back, and speak for those who are hurting, you could be trained and then work in the field of Peer Support as a Peer Support Specialist, which is often a Bachelors' or Masters' equivalent position in a mental health related field. This person has to (depending on the diagnosis, usually) demonstrate that they are working on their own self-care. In Recovery-oriented services, this position is highly valued, works alongside clients to provide support, participates in treatment team meetings, but does not bear the responsibility of doing the work of treatment.

    Maybe a position like that would fit your goals and desire to "give back" while allowing you to develop professionally and advocating for those who have been through problems personally? In either case, the most important thing is for you to take care of yourself first, as all work with others relies upon working on and maintaining ones personal health.
  25. erg923

    erg923 Psychologist-Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

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    When the treating clinician is too acutely unstable/distressed to function as a objective professional.

    Your posts reflect (by your own admission and words) that you are not at a point, at this time, where you would be able to handle 1.) the academic rigor and stress of a ph.d program 2.) the stress and proper judgment needed when seeing patients. YOU are the one who has shouted this from the rooftops with your description of yourself, did you not? Again, whats the problem? Your question was answered.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  26. Psychadelic2012

    Psychadelic2012 PhD Student

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    It isn't that mental illness would hinder you (although going on and on about it in the application process, and consequently in the rest of your career, definitely would--everyone has to, it's boundaries). You asked whether it would give you an advantage when you have less-than-competitive stats and experience (GPA, coursework, experience) than the rest of the competition. It won't. That's the answer.
  27. penguinbean

    penguinbean

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    No need to be obtuse. No one here is saying that someone who has been through something traumatic or dealt with some other mental health issues can NEVER be a clinican or get into a PhD program.

    What we're saying is- deal with your mental health issues THEN get involved in helping others. Also what we're saying is your past can help you be a better clinican IF you have dealt with it appropriately and your judgment isn't impared by your trauma.

    But your original question was (as others have pointed out) "will I get bonus points/extra notice/mad props for having survived the trauma and come out on the other side?" Our answer was no. You should be judged on your capablity to be a quality clinician and what your stats are.

    Your trauma history will not innately preclude you from being part of the profession. As I and others have said, plenty of people who have been through many many different kinds of trauma are part of the profession, myself included. But presenting it in a "I dealt with this, you should totally let me in just because I did" wont get you in. Sorry if that upsets you.
  28. Mufa

    Mufa

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    erg923;

    Now that my question has been answered, I'm questioning the validity of the answers. I do not doubt the accuracy of those answers, I have no reason to.

    You seem to not be very willing to participate in any meaningful discussion so perhaps it would be best for all involved if you simply dismissed yourself.

    .....

    Putting aside my perceived level of maturity and level of morality...

    This is my concern.

    I think I may have overstated my level of mental ineptitude, or perhaps just did a better job of selling myself than I anticipated. I'm decently competent at life. I've had 15 years+ of experience dealing with psychological trauma, and I'm still existing, some would even argue relatively thriving, so I must be doing something right. At the very least, the mistakes I'm making don't seem to be particularly unsolvable. (I guess this is where I knock on wood..)

    I think due to my unique circumstances I'd be able to advance the field in a significant way. While I'm relatively interested in therapy, I would be lying if I didn't say research is what motivates me. So perhaps something along that vein?

    I'm not adverse to more schooling. My relatively low gpa is more a reflection of me being disappointed in how academia is structured. Instead of concentrating on classes I may or may not have been interested in taking, I'd be self teaching myself calculus until two or three in the morning. I guess my way of rebelling, though if my rebellion consists of self study, I'm not too sure that's a bad thing. I realize how destructive that might have been, but I think it was something I needed to get through.

    I'm guessing grad school would be more to my liking. In any case, I look forward to finding that out firsthand.

    My new question would be this:

    Where would a person with significant psychological trauma be most needed in the societal effort to help others deal with psychological trauma? Perhaps a position dealing, partially at least, with research? A position where my experiences will count for more than nothing?

    (As a side note, there seems to be an underlying assumption that I don't consider myself "cured". I think many who have gone through significant psyche abuse will recognize the feeling of never being cured. It's always something I have to be aware of, for the sake of myself, and for those around me. Think of it as a condition that needs constant monitoring...like diabetes..)

    (Also, the medical school->broken bone analogy is just laughably absurd.)

    Thanks for the insight so far.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  29. Veit

    Veit

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    In my experience, it actually did make a bit of difference, at certain places. I've struggled with mental illness, and have worked at a few places with kids who are now fighting with some of the same stuff that I did, back in the day. Like some others have mentioned, it was really important to maintain appropriate boundaries, and it would not have been possible at all if I wasn't in a place where I'm certain that my personal history with my disorders will not come up. I was and am able to talk freely about my experiences (but ONLY when and where appropriate), and have found that it really helps some of the kids I've worked with. Others, I get the sense that it wouldn't, so I don't discuss it with them.

    When I was applying to PsyD programs this year, I brought up my history in my personal statement, and the idea of the "wounded healer" (not in the Jungian sense). I got interviews everywhere, and I can tell you it wasn't on the strength of my GPA, though the rest of my application was strong. There were certain places that were interested in hearing about how I applied my own experiences to clinical work, and some that weren't. Those places that were interested seemed VERY interested, though, and wanted to hear about how and where I maintained boundaries, and what it looked like when I shared with the people I worked with. It made a difference, there.

    That said, I can't emphasize enough how amazingly important it is to separate the personal from the professional, and be exceptionally careful when you share your own struggles with mental illnesses. I've used it as a tool very effectively, but not every tool works for every job--and if you're not careful, you have the potential to do harm without meaning to.
  30. erg923

    erg923 Psychologist-Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

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    What was the discussion? Until now, you hadn't asked any other questions. Further, no one ever argued that people who have trauma histories, mental illness, etc. shouldn't be psychologists.

    1, The almost unanimous agreement is that a personal history of trauma, mental illness/struggles is NOT a factor weighed by admission committees. If you disagree, that fine. But we are the ones in grad school and who sit/have sat on admissions committees, not you.

    2. People HAVE argued that individuals do not meet objective criteria (your GPA is a 3.1) and who are endorsing current psychiatric instability (see your first post for details) are NOT appropriate for Ph.D programs.


    I would advise you to get as involved as you want in whatever you want so long as you keep in mind your own psychological health and how its status has the potential to impact others, whether they be patients, research subjects, or customers buying umbrellas from you. Thus far, you have demonstrated little insight into this issue.

    Because? Its still structured. Its still academia (which can be pretty snobby). There's still class. You still have to do and read what others tell you to. Thus far, you haven't demonstrated the ability to do this very well. Admissions committees admit people who have the demonstrable track record. Potential. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. That kind of thing. We dont admit people to ph.d programs hoping they will change their ways/preferences. That would be silly. Most of the time, it would waste money and waste people's time.

    As an aside, I think your view of trauma recovery is grossly misinformed. I suggest reading some Edna Foa.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  31. aagman01

    aagman01

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    Honestly...please do not apply. And if you do, please avoid clinical work with folks with a trauma background (not that you would get into any legitimate program with a 3.1 GPA). WAY too many stories in my very short experience of mental health/psych folks (masters level and phd) trying to "fix" traumatized children. The sad truth is that these professionals are the ones that really need the fixing ...
  32. Psychadelic2012

    Psychadelic2012 PhD Student

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    You need to be absolutely sure. Not only that, prove it by having the grades, coursework, and research experience to back it up. Desire isn't enough.

    In therapy. Or perhaps a support group.
  33. roubs

    roubs Ph.D. Student

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    It's going to be your career, filled with your own ups and downs and frustrations--so I think it's best to figure out what you most want to do and then make a plan to do it.

    There's currently a glut of professionals at all levels so I'm not sure there is a need that's just waiting to be filled.

    As far as research interests the only way to figure out where you fit in/want to work is to become a voracious reader of that literature. The leaders of the field will point to where they think the field is going and it's up to you to integrate these various sources with your own conclusions and go out and plant your flag. Then if you do the best dang research around you can get funded and have a career*.


    * = vastly oversimplified
  34. Mufa

    Mufa

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    I'm not going to respond to those who are harping on the same points continuously. Point taken, moving on...

    In addition to the above concerns, I wonder if having trauma in my past would hurt more than help?

    Opinions seem varied...from yes, to no, to it depends..
  35. madtofu

    madtofu

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    Opinions go from "yes" to "no" to "it depends" because those are all true. There are ways in which a personal history of trauma could serve a clinician well and there are ways it could interfere with his/her ability to effectively and ethically treat trauma (or any other) clients. Likewise with research - a researcher with that history might well be an excellent, innovative scientist who expands the body of knowledge on trauma to the benefit of the entire field or he/she might be too biased to be capable of doing good science.

    You'll find clinicians and researchers (and plumbers and architects and everyone) who have a history of trauma. A few will be fantastic, a few will be terrible, and most will be somewhere in between. Presence or absence of trauma isn't the sole factor that determines success in any field or sphere of your life. So that's why there's no definitive answer to what you seem to be asking now.
  36. 4410

    4410

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    I did not say anything that would identify this person, since there are a good number of psychologists who have Bipolar Disorder and they are very successful with medication compliance and psychotherapy. This person probably would enjoy reading this thread as she has her own Blog on the internet and frequently discusses her own struggles. She actually is a empirical case study of the efficacy of psychiatry and psychology treatment in the management of mental disorders. Many successful individuals have struggled with mental disorders and have endorsed mental health treatment openly in books or interviews. Having a major mental disorder does not rule out success in any field and most therapist have had numerous case studies of successful people dealing with having mental disorders.
  37. Pragma

    Pragma

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    Having a mental illness is not generally going to be viewed as bad. The important part is your management of it. Having a personal background, understanding how it may strengthen some skills but also create some limitations, and proactively seeking supervision on the topic would be a step in the right direction.

    That said, any "baggage" might be viewed as bad if it could affect your work. People hide marriage, children, divorce, epilepsy, etc because of similar fears that you have about being perceived negatively.
  38. Iwillheal

    Iwillheal

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    The OP's posts continues to bother me. I think certain views expressed speak to a part of me that hates all the rules and regulations, the deadlines, the paperwork, the various ways we try to structure and shape our contact with others who come to us for help. It speaks to the Rogerian or humanist in me who wants to sit with a patient/client for hours, and not think of them as a patient or client and not me as a psych grad student or therapist, but as two people, imperfect, each with his own set of problems and shortcomings, coming together in care and compassion.

    I think there must have been a time, very long ago, where in a small village, a physician, a healer, would go to someone's home to treat a broken leg and in return he'd be given a loaf of bread, a pitcher of milk, and spend a few hours with the person and her family. And maybe one day the lady, with her leg healed, would come to physician's home and bring a hot cup of soup when the healer is ill himself. So the patient and the doctor would know each other in a much more intimate level. And I think we've lost some of that genuineness. Think about it. What does it all mean, to have a high GPA or GRE or having a paper published in Nature...when you're face to face with someone grieving over a child's death?

    No, I have not gone back and changed what I said in my earlier post. I do agree with most of what others have said. But I think what I said was not compassionate enough. I was using present reality as the ultimate criteria to judge this person's views. But the present reality is imperfect itself. I wish it were different and the society could somehow offer this person and others who have been through major trauma, a little more.

    But this is the reality. Therapy does work, therapist training does work, it's far from perfect, but if you do want to offer therapy as a psychologist, this is the path. It's not easy at all. Perhaps you can offer friendship, help and support, to people who survived similar difficulties. But psychology is a profession and that's important to remember. And as a profession it is facing challenges from outside, from other fields. It has tried to gain credibility by becoming very research oriented and evidence based. This is where field is. That you may not be able to become a psychologist is not to say anything about you as a person. It's a mismatch, that's all.
  39. sabaijae

    sabaijae

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    I'll throw in my .02 FWIW. I come from a background in anthropology where life experience is looked upon rather positively when applying to programs; in fact, some persons/departments encourage potential applicants to take a few years off between BA and MA/PhD to become more familiar with the area/region they'll specialize in. Also, theories would 'make more sense'/you'll have something to relate those theories to, you'll mature, etc, etc.

    I thought, to some extent, this would be true for the psych field as well. After lurking on this board for awhile and seeing posts by many persons going straight from psych BA to PhD at a very young age, it made me wonder if some of these persons were actually mature enough to do this.

    I think experience with mental illness/disorder would help in developing/maintaining relationships with clients (especially if you've dealt with a 12-step program); it can give you 'clout'.

    However, since the psych field can be strongly 'positivist', you're dealing with an outlook that often does not really appreciate personal/non-field-related experience; you're dealing with a 'positivist'/universalist/'objective'/'scientific' outlook towards phenomena. A=B, that's it. American culture/society/academia has strongly aligned itself with this outlook, and that's the lens the admissions committee might view you with. As Iwillheal above me stated, the psych field is strongly aligning/has aligned itself with this outlook (perhaps for political reasons here and there). With that said, I'd leave it off the application. I wouldnt take the risk - you can always bring such things up later.

    And as others have said, I think it's very important that you do not mix up your own problems with the problems of persons you're treating, etc. That could potentially spell disaster. But I think that's where the positivist outlook is helpful; it can help you distance yourself form those clients/patients/those you are 'helping', and you can deal with things on more of a factual/logical manner. Also, trying to 'fix' someone by relating the experience to your own experience can also lead to personal disaster (or trying to 'fix' anyone in general!). Again, FWIW from someone without much experience in the psych field ...
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2012
  40. 4410

    4410

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    Most clinical psychology programs encourage students to engage in their own therapy process. It used to be required up until the 90's but now it is optional in most programs. Therapy is encouraged as a growth process rather than a disease process of symptom management. The program where I attend has faculty who openly disclose about their process and encourage students to be in therapy. One plus for the OP is that they are aware of having some problem areas and this could be the first step related to having some insight. With a therapy process, their problems may become strengths after sometime. So, in this respect if they work through their problems and have more stable emotional health it may be viewed as a positive in their application for a PhD program. In clinical psychology, it is recommended that we go through a therapy process and to even list this as Didactic Psychotherapy Process on our CV when applying for internship. Many psychologist provide Pro Bono or reduced fee services for masters and doctoral level students in training to receive therapy.

    So for the original OP, it may be a necessary move for you to engage in a therapy process before moving on towards being a therapist or making decisions to be a therapist. There are posters at different phases of training on this message board and my guess is most of us have been through a therapy process and it had life changing influences on our lives and gives us much perspective when working with our clients/patients in practicums/internships/and professionally. There was a post recently about students or psychologists having ADHD and how they struggled during their training with suggestions on medications. One poster even indicated fear of having UA's during their acceptance and training for internship or a job. ADHD symptoms may vary in severity but there are individuals who have severe ADHD and without adequate medications they would have a very difficult time maintaining focus and attention to engage as a successful therapist. Many on this site had positive feedback for people with ADHD, even though it is considered a Brain Disorder that effects executive function with an assortment of symptoms that may need management with medications and therapy throughout a person's life. I believe the posters on this site talking about their ADHD were actually doing their postdoctoral training and had graduated with their PsyD already. So, there is hope that the OP could find strength in working through their problems and eventually become a psychologists.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2012
  41. erg923

    erg923 Psychologist-Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

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    This statement/attitude indicates that you would probably not be able to function well in a graduate school/doctoral-level clinical training environment. I would indeed suggest that you move on to other options at the moment.


    1. I think this question has also been answered, but I don't see anyone saying that the experience itself will hurt or help. You are not an experience. You are a person that attaches meaning and thoughts to your experiences, just like everyone else does. Those thoughts, feelings and views determine your behavior which then impact your ability to learn, focus, and/or interact appropriately with others.

    2. There is no research that indicates better outcomes just because the therapist has had a trauma similar to that of their patient. We also know that human beings throughout the world respond to trauma in very similar ways. PTSD is one of the few truly cross cultural psychiatric diagnoses. Thus, although your trauma reactions (and your methods of coping) may be meaningful to you, they are probably not unique at all.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2012
  42. PsyDLICSW

    PsyDLICSW

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    No, having a history of psychological trauma or therapy as a client does not give you an advantage and in many cases can be a disadvantage. Programs want mature, psychologically healthy students, so mental health history can decrease your chances. Also, going into psychology to solve your own problems (not that this is what you are doing) is also a bad idea. Students I know of who have done this have either burned out or not finished their program because of their problems.
  43. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty Moderator Emeritus

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    Is this going to be one of those threads where you keep asking the same question in different ways until you get the answer you want....while ignoring everyone else?

    Every person's experiences are unique and contribute to their development, though trying to gain a 'leg up' for it is not an appropriate way to approach the field. You should check out the WAMC Thread that is pinned at the top of the forum, as it contains some great information about what it takes to get into a quality program: High GPA, Solid GRE, pre-req. classes in psych, research experience, an idea about what area you want to research, a solid research match, an interest in practicing emperically-validated treatments, etc. If you do not have all of these things...you most likely won't even get an interview for a program.
  44. cara susanna

    cara susanna Predoctoral Intern

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    I know a lot of people with Masters in social work or counseling who have trauma history and now work with trauma issues and clients who have them. Maybe that would be better?
  45. erg923

    erg923 Psychologist-Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

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    In my experience, although understandable to want to "give back" to a population you feel to be a part of, it is pretty odd/unusual for survivors of serious trauma to want to do in-depth trauma treatment where they will be constantly hearing horrendous stories of trauma- some of which might be strikingly similar to their own.

    To me, this suggests that the person has limited insight into the state/functioning of their own mental health. It would also make me question who the person is trying to gratify, themselves or actual trauma survivors?

    Could this be why Lisa Najavits primarily does research rather than clinical work? Hmmm...
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2012
  46. Iwillheal

    Iwillheal

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    This is simply not true. I know a number of people who survived serious trauma and want to do exactly that. I presume you're a new student and have a lot to learn about what motivates people to do "odd" things that they do. Why do you assume it is "odd" that someone who suffered a serious trauma would want to want to help others in order to counter the helplessness experienced, gain control, find meaning, make good use of all the time/energy spent in dealing and coming to terms with the trauma experienced, doing work that is valued, process the trauma more deeply by helping others process their own trauma, feel useful, feel valued, "pay it forward" by helping others the way he was helped by his therapist, etc?

    Unless you're thinking of someone who is traumatized today. It is rare that such a person at this point in time would want to help others. She is still helpless and at the mercy of her own chaotic emotions and avoiding anything trauma related out of fear. But once some sort of mastery is achieved--and given that we're talking about serious trauma, this may take years and a great investment of time and psychic energy--this person who is undoubtedly changed as a result of this trauma, may want to help others experienced what she experienced because like the OP, she may sense that she has become an expert. Heck, it takes on average about ten years to become an expert in something like chess and so dealing with trauma, thinking about it, working through the emotions, reading books, going to therapy, all that...for 10-20 years, does make the person an expert in that trauma, in a sense.

    But, of course, as everybody has said, grad school is another beast in itself. And of course, sympathizing and truly understanding a patient's trauma vs actually being able to help them (being emotionally stable, mature, disciplined, etc) are two different matters.
  47. erg923

    erg923 Psychologist-Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

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    I dont. I said i would question their judgement and/or motivation if they were doing in-depth trauma-focused therapies (as opposed to running groups, peer support counseling, research, etc.) because I would be concerned about who's feelings of "helplessness" they were actually treating/trying to treat...
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2012
  48. Zebra F701

    Zebra F701

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    Being a client in therapy isn't a positive thing? Most all of my professors have strongly encouraged it to potential therapists...
    nevermind, I see what you're saying. It isn't a factor in admissions. I agree.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2012
  49. psychRA

    psychRA PhD Postdoc

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    To the OP: there was no need to get hostile or rude. Lots of posters have taken time to answer your question, and have been very nice about it. to be sure that I'm understanding your original question, let me paraphrase.

    1. You have a very low GPA in a relatively easy (compared to physics or engineering) major
    2. You have no psychology coursework
    3. You have no research experience
    4. You have no psychology-related work experience.
    5. Your psychological symptoms are interfering with your ability to function academically

    And you are asking if, when it comes time to apply to PhD programs, all of those admissions factors will be offset by your trauma history.

    The answer to that question is a resounding "no." You can rephrase it, or debate it, or get snippy with other posters, as often as you want. The answer will not change. I'm sorry.
  50. Mufa

    Mufa

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    I've already shown gratitude multiple times and the only times I've been "snippy" was when I was responding to specific posters.

    Perhaps my rather sarcastic way of writting is throwing you off. Be assured I appreciate the input.

    Anyway, the overall attitude of the thread, perhaps indicative of the attitude of the field in general, is that paper credentials matter more than I would have hoped. It isn't a particularly good way to set up the system, in my opinion, as it reduces it to nothing but a game. Grades mean little..this coming from a person who for the first 19 years of his life would literally cry whenever he got a B. I've changed a bit, learnt to take life a bit easier, learnt to not fall into vicious cycles where my self worth is defined externally. The sad thing is, I know my self worth is abundant, I just want to use it in a productive way.

    The path to a Pssychology PhD would be long and binding. The length of it isn't an issue, really, the commitment though, would be. My task now is to improve my position, while simultaneously not limiting it to just a psychhology PhD all the while remembering that none of that actually matters, my happiness is paramount.

    Hmm, tough task, but if I escaped my past, it should be cake. Speaking of which, I think imma go have some now..

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