Our Students Need Support: Gaps in Graduate Student Mental Health Options
Alexandra B. Klein, M.A. (1), Ana Rabasco, M.A. (2), Ellen H. Steele, M.A. (3), Nora Barnes-Horowitz, B.A. (4), & Ivy Tran, M.A. (5)
Case Western Reserve University (1); Fordham University(2); Mississippi State University (3); University of California, Los Angeles (4); Hofstra University (5)
As many as 70% of graduate students in clinical psychology will experience stressors that impact their functioning, including those related to academic pressures, financial stress, anxiety, and poor work/life balance (El-Ghoroury et al., 2012). Recent literature has highlighted the importance of self-care strategies in helping graduate students effectively cope with both present and future stress. In particular, professional support systems and awareness of one’s needs and reactions to stressors have emerged as two important aspects of self-care among a sample (N = 358) of clinical psychology graduate students (Zahniser et al., 2017). However, student perspectives on self-care initiatives in their programs suggest that a systematic effort to educate about, encourage, and model self-care strategies is lacking (Zahniser et al., 2017). Further, one study found that 38 to 75% of clinical psychology graduate students are likely to seek treatment for a range of issues including psychopathology and career-related stressors (Holzman et al., 1996).
Taken together, this small body of research suggests that graduate students in clinical psychology have a need for mental health treatment and that systematic, top-down initiatives focused on implementing clear pathways for students to obtain support and engage in self-care are lacking. Further complicating this issue is the fact that graduate student stipends may not cover the relatively high cost of psychotherapy, though this assumption is anecdotal and requires empirical testing. Additionally, providers in the community may serve as supervisors and lecturers within clinical psychology programs, limiting the number of providers with whom students can initiate care. Therefore, the SSCP Student Committee conducted a survey to better understand the resources currently available to assist graduate students in SSCP with accessing mental health treatment. Findings from this survey and initiatives being implemented to address this issue are discussed below.
A total of 73 students completed the anonymous survey, which was administered via the SSCP student listserv. The results suggest that over half of students (52.1%; n = 38) do not have a clear way within their graduate program to obtain information about mental health treatment that may be available to them. The majority (54.8%, n = 40) reported that if they were to seek care, they would look for resources on their own rather than through their advisor, DCT, program, or university. Of the programs where a DCT does keep a list of available resources, the majority of students reported that the lists were either not up to date (21.3%; n = 13) or they were unsure if the resource list was up to date (65.6%, n = 40).
Further, while the majority of students reported that the resource lists included clinicians providing empirically supported treatments (56.4%, n = 31), over a third reported that the treatment options are not affordable (35.2%, n = 19). Taken together, findings from this survey reflect a clear need for clinical psychology programs to develop resource lists of affordable, empirically supported treatment options for their graduate students, or when such resources are not available in the local community, options that are accessible via telehealth. Additionally, students need a clear avenue for obtaining these resources and seeking treatment.
In an effort to assist graduate students and programs with obtaining and advertising mental health resources, the SSCP Student Committee will be engaging in three ongoing initiatives. First, the committee plans to publish findings from this brief survey in a peer reviewed publication in order to bring awareness to this issue and encourage future research. Secondly, we will develop a high-level list of resources to help students navigate finding mental health resources that will be effective for them. Finally, we plan to form partnerships with other professional organizations in order to: 1) assist DCTs with compiling resources, and 2) engage providers in offering services to graduate students at a reduced rate. As graduate students are the future of scientific research and practice in clinical psychology, opportunities for treatment and care will prove a valuable initiative for the future.
El-Ghoroury, N. H., Galper, D. I., Sawaqdeh, A., & Bufka, L. F. (2012). Stress, coping, and barriers to wellness among psychology graduate students. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 6(2), 122.
Holzman, L. A., Searight, H. R., & Hughes, H. M. (1996). Clinical psychology graduate students and personal psychotherapy: Results of an exploratory survey. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 27(1), 98.
Zahniser, E., Rupert, P. A., & Dorociak, K. E. (2017). Self-care in clinical psychology graduate training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 11(4), 283.