Today's Topic



Should Therapists Be
in Therapy?
Part I

Part II
Part III

Natalia J. Garland

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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 therapy?

I will try to answer these questions by approaching the topic from the following possible scenarios:

  • 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 measure.

Therapists, as 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. (Written 03/22/04)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2004 Natalia J. Garland