I’ve finished up my bachelor’s degree in psychology and I’m applying to PhD programs in clinical psychology. All the cards are in my favor because I am an excellent student and have prepared myself well with research and clinical experience. However, I am scared that I will make a terrible therapist because of my personal problems.
I have OCD, social anxiety, and depression. It’s always manageable for school and work, but I find it nearly impossible to make friends and my personal life suffers. My work is giving assessments in a psychological clinic, so I speak with patients all the time and find that I am perfectly competent in that setting. I am a good listener when I am not anxious, and I am patient, kind, and understanding. I want to help people who are like me because I know what it’s like and I can really sympathize. When I hear other people’s troubles, I feel motivated to help, not bogged down.
But I am a confused person, still caught up in my own mental drama. My boyfriend has said that he won’t be able to stay with me if I’m always going to be like this. My worries are out of control. Cognitive therapy made it worse — it just turned thought evaluation into another obsession and now I’m stuck in my own internal battle.
How can I help people if I’m still lost? I don’t know how to fix myself, so how can I fix someone else? Am I making a huge mistake by going for a degree in clinical psychology?
A. You seem to possess many desirable qualities of a good psychologist. You’re empathetic and a good listener. As you mentioned, you’re kind, understanding and sympathetic. Hearing about other people’s troubles makes you want to help them. You’re motivated for all the right reasons to be a helping professional.
With regard to your personal problems I don’t think it’s unusual for individuals with their own issues to be attracted to the field of psychology. It’s actually pretty common. It shouldn’t drive you away from the field. You should, however, make a concerted effort to correct the problems you’re dealing with. Depression, anxiety, and OCD do not occur in a vacuum. Something is causing these disorders and you need to find out what it is and find a way to correct it. It’s not enough to just manage these disorders. You need to cure them or at least be working on curing them in your own treatment.
Carl Jung, the famous psychoanalyst, had a good comment with regard to this topic. He wrote that “the psychotherapist, however, must understand not only the patient; it is equally important that he should understand himself…The patients’ treatment begins with the doctor, so to speak. Only if the doctor knows how to cope with himself and his own problems will he be able to teach the patient to do the same. Only then.”
I believe this quote to be infinitely insightful and very accurate. If you are bogged down with your own issues you won’t be able to help another individual more than you’ve been able to help yourself. It may also be true that if you’re unable to help yourself then you’ll be ineffective in helping others.
Your experiences with depression, anxiety and OCD may provide valuable insight that perhaps another therapist, who had not experienced these issues, would not have. You should use that to your advantage. However, as a responsible adult and a therapist-in-training, who is seeking to make it their life’s work to solve the problems of others, it’s incumbent upon you to be as psychologically healthy as possible.
If you decide to stay in psychology and you’re accepted into a PhD program it will take years to complete this process. That leaves you plenty of time to work on these issues. You know what you want, you’re interested in the field and you seem to possess the characteristics of an effective counselor. From my vantage point, it seems like you’re pursuing the correct career path but first consider seeking help for yourself.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Jun 2009
Randle, K. (2009). Can I Be a Good Psychologist if I Have Mental Health Issues?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 18, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/06/22/can-i-be-a-good-psychologist-if-i-have-mental-health-issues/