Should therapists be required to undergo therapy themselves? Is
there any professional gain if therapists undergo therapy? Do
therapists learn how to be therapists by undergoing their own
therapy? Do therapists become better people by undergoing therapy,
and does this make them better therapists? In short, is there any
relationship between participating in therapy and providing
I will try to answer
these questions by approaching the topic from the following
Civil rights of therapists.
Use of therapy as personal preparation for becoming a therapist.
Ethical necessity for impaired therapists to get help.
Recognition that one's emotional state is fragile and a voluntary
request for therapy.
Employer mandate that a therapist enter therapy as a disciplinary
citizens of a democracy, have the same civil rights as other
citizens. Are these fundamental rights violated if a school or
training institute requires student therapists to undergo therapy
as a part of the curriculum? Since students choose to enroll in
these schools, they have obviously consented to follow the rules
and complete the academic requirements, including any requirement
to undergo personal therapy. However, if an individual wants to
study in one of the psychoanalytic institutes, for example, but
finds the therapy requirement objectionable, there is probably no
real choice but to comply in order to obtain the other desired
educational aspects and career benefits of institute training.
What is the purpose
of the therapy requirement? Is it to improve the student's level
of mental health? Is it to make the student a better
professional? Is there any documented connection between personal
therapy and the acquisition of therapeutic skills? Is it logical
to assume that all students even need to be in therapy?
And, if they do not need therapy for an existing emotional
disorder, should not any participation in therapy for personal
growth be a free decision on the student's part?
Why not require
therapy for all professions? Why not require therapy for those
wanting to become priests, doctors, lawyers, and teachers? Given
the crimes of sexual abuse and child molestation perpetrated by a
variety of professionals, pre-licensure therapy might have a
preventive value for the community. That is, if the therapy were
somehow directed toward uncovering these tendencies and if
such individuals were denied professional licenses.
Society seems to
hold high standards for professionals and public servants, and
rightfully so. Nobody likes hypocrisy. Professionals cannot be
expected to be perfect, but their professional behavior must be
ethical and their public behavior must reflect a practice what
you preach mode. Ministers who visit prostitutes, priests
who molest boys, male doctors who sexually abuse female patients,
teachers who seduce students, or therapists who abuse alcohol:
none of these situations is to be tolerated.
Therapists who still
carry their own unresolved issues may become incapacitated when
attempting to treat patients with the same issues. Here is a
possible example. Let's say that a female therapist was raped
when she was 16 years old. She has never shared this with anyone.
She has completed graduate school, gotten her state license, and
is working at a mental health clinic. She has been assigned a
female patient who starts talking about having been raped at age
16. The therapist's discomfort over this topic could obstruct her
ability to tend to the patient's needs. The therapist could
possibly re-experience traumatization or regress to the use of
maladaptive defense mechanisms.
In instances such as
the above, required psychotherapy during the training years could
have possibly uncovered and resolved such emotional issues,
thereby enabling students to live more fully and to begin fruitful
careers. But what about students who enter training with a good
level of mental health? Could not the therapy requirement be felt
as both generic and intrusive? Should student programs, like
patient treatment plans, be individualized?
Most likely, many
people could benefit from therapy in some way, no matter what their
level of functioning. The crux here is the imposed
requirement of therapy. Perhaps schools could
recommend therapy and provide a solid rational as to the
potential benefits, and then let students decide for themselves.
If the advantages are real, responsible students will probably make
the right decision for themselves. Taking away decision-making
power in a matter as personal as therapy could create
counter-therapeutic conditions and false results.
Until we meet