Student Therapist vs. Professional

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I recently started seeing a counselor at my university for relationship problems. I did an intake interview with a professional therapist and was then given to a graduate student for counseling. I am mainly working on relationship and trust problems, as I completely sabotage relationships when a person starts to get close to me. I also self harm, I burn myself. I was asked about this during the intake interview and I said that I did but I lied and said that I stopped. I was going to bring this up during a session but I don’t know what would happen since she is a student. Would I have to switch therapists if I told her? What is the difference between what a professional and a graduate student can do? I know I should tell but it is really hard for me to talk and this uncertainty is making it 100 times harder.

A: Your student counselor is exactly that — a student of counseling. She has had classes and practice in doing counseling but she is just starting out. All counselors begin this way. The only way for us to get experience is to be a beginner at the actual art and science of therapy.

That doesn’t mean that your counselor can’t be helpful. She is supervised by an experienced therapist who regularly goes over her cases to offer advice and guidance. Further, since they are still in school, new therapists are often on the cutting edge of what is being learned about effective treatment. They bring a vitality and eagerness to help that in many ways makes up for their inexperience.

By all means, tell your counselor about the self-harm. Therapists, however long we’ve been doing therapy, rely on the client to give us the information we need to understand you and to help you. Since it’s hard for you to talk, why don’t you just bring your letter to the next session? If the counselor feels she can’t handle what you tell her, she’ll discuss it with you. It’s unlikely that you’ll be asked to switch therapists but if you are consider this: For you to heal, it’s more important to have a counselor who is confident about her skills for working with your issues.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Nov 2013

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Student Therapist vs. Professional. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/11/14/student-therapist-vs-professional/