I am currently a college student taking a few psychology courses. I was thinking about entering therapy for a while due to issues with anxiety and depression. One of my college professors is a clinical psychologist in private practice in addition to teaching. Would it be unethical to see her for therapy after having been her student? I wouldn’t start the therapy until the semester/class was over as I could see how being her student at the time of treatment would certainly blur some lines. But what about after the class is done and over? Would that be a problem? She happens to specialize in anxiety disorders and depression and I happen to like her. She is very empathic and seems to be everything I would look for in a therapist. Any ideas on if this would be allowed/a good idea?

A. Your admiration and respect for your teacher increases the chances that therapy with her would be successful. It is a strong foundation to build a therapeutic relationship upon. I believe likability (i.e. whether the client likes his or her therapist) is a major factor in whether or not therapy is successful. Other influential factors include:

  • how comfortable a client feels with his or her therapist;
  • how competent the therapist is; and
  • whether the therapist has the ability to empathize with his or her clients.

Those are some of the factors associated with successful therapy. Many other factors exist as well.

I do not believe there is any specific ethical rule that prohibits her from seeing you as a client once the class has ended, though perhaps some mental health professionals may frown upon it. She may be open to it. It’s also possible that she has a personal policy regarding whether she would agree to see a former student as a client. I can only speculate about what she’d say.

My advice is to ask her. This is the best way to know what she thinks about the matter. If the answer is no, then she may be able to help you find another qualified therapist. While this may not be ideal for you, it may help you access treatment for your anxiety and depression so you can go on with your life and career. I wish you well.