Counseling Students' Mental Health Status and Attitudes toward Counseling

Article excerpt

Existing studies have often expressed concern that impaired counseling students are destined to become impaired counseling professionals and as such are apt to do great harm if the issue of admitting and graduating impaired students is not addressed. This study examined mental health and attitudes toward counseling among counseling graduate students at a Southern university. Participants completed the Personal Orientation Inventory, the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, and the Attitude toward Seeking Professional Psychological Help Scale. In analyses of outlier/extreme scores, 5.8% to 22.1% of participants' scores on various scales were within a range outside of "normal" so as to be considered as possibly being impaired or having negative attitudes towards counseling. Limitations of the study are noted and recommendations regarding counselor preparation are offered.

Counseling Students' Mental Health Status and Attitudes toward Counseling

Existing studies have often expressed concern that impaired counseling students are destined to become impaired counseling professionals and as such are apt to do great harm if the issue of admitting and graduating impaired students is not addressed (Witmer & Young, 1996). Impairment can best be described as "interference in professional functioning due to chemical dependency, mental illness, or personal conflict" (Laliotis & Grayson, 1985, p. 84). The present study examined mental health and attitudes toward counseling of counseling graduate students at a Southern university. Mental health, for the purpose of this study, is understood as "a state of mind characterized by emotional well-being, relative freedom from anxiety and disabling symptoms, and a capacity to establish constructive relationships and cope with the ordinary demands and stress of life" (Goldenson, 1984, p. 151). Previous research found that some students entering a counseling program were impaired and pursued a graduate degree as a socially acceptable substitution for treatment (Wakefield, 1995, as cited in Lumadue & Duffey, 1999).

While the concept of the wounded healer is often romanticized with wounded healers throughout history often thought of as having magical powers (Goldberg, 1986), it is the recovery that creates the healing power - not the wound (Guy, 1987). In order for individuals to become healers, they must acknowledge their woundedness and seek healing. It is not possible to help others heal if the wounded are not healed. (Remen, May, Young, & Breland, 1985). Untreated psychological wounds in counseling students could become liabilities to universities because of the potential for lawsuits based on graduating incompetent therapists (Custer, 1994).

The mid 1990s saw a wave of interest and concern regarding counselors' as well as graduate students' mental health and fitness to practice. In 1996, The Journal of Humanistic Education and Development released a special issue dedicated to this topic (McGowan, Hazier, & Kottler, 1996). This intense and sudden focus on mental health or lack thereof may have been due to the American Psychological Association (APA) issuing press releases about the shortcomings (professional and personal) of their professional members. This in turn coincided with remarkable media coverage of failing mental health professionals (Schoener, 1999).

Previous research noted that counselors-in-training displayed a higher level of psychopathology than the general population (White & Franzoni, 1990). It also has been observed that research pertaining to mental health issues of mental health professionals and graduate students, often done as dissertation research, does not make it into the readily available literature (Schoener, 1999). Best evidence suggests that no serious effort to address the issue of counselor and counselor trainee impairment has been made in recent years. On the contrary, since the mid 1990s, voices asking for reform and monitoring have grown sparse (Olesheski & Leech, 1996), and the lack of information and investigations in reference to graduate students with personality disorders or psychological impairments has been noted (Bradley & Post, 1991). …