Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Reflections on a Circuitous Path: The Transition from Clinician to Academic

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Reflections on a Circuitous Path: The Transition from Clinician to Academic

Article excerpt

The pressure to be a hypocrite begins from the moment a student applies for graduate school ... To get into graduate school, you would have to lie and say that you wanted to do research with a clinical background. (Karon, 1995, p. 212).

It is fortunate that I did not discover Bertram Karon's article, from which I've quoted above, until toward the end of my own graduate training. A distinguished and extensively published academic had cracked the code and deciphered what I had, to that point, considered my own "dirty little secret." In addition, he had voiced these insights in an invited address to the American Psychological Association. Dr. Karon immediately became my hero. It was my sense that he had become established enough in his own career that he could afford to take the heat of telling our secrets in public. This also validated my sense that I did not merely have a warped and cynical perspective on my doctoral studies. Rather, I had discerned this inside information my fellow doctoral students refused to accept, talk about in public, or were too blinded to have noticed. This insight seemed to change everything. I was working hard to join the established academic community but resisted a primary requirement for community membership: an interest in research. An official and respected academic had validated my "research interest" hypocrisy. It turns out the Emperor might be naked after all, even if Dr. Karon and I were the only ones to have noticed.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. To qualify for my clinical counseling license I took some doctoral level coursework as a non-degree student at the local state university. This pragmatic decision, driven by my employer's tuition reimbursement policy, exposed me to a level of study which was fascinating and challenging but seemed to have little practical application for my clinical work. However, my identity gradually changed from clinician to that of a doctoral student. In spite of many obstacles, the pursuit of a doctorate became a realistic goal. A primary obstacle to this endeavor was my negative attitude about the need to become involved in serious scholarly research.

A Cynical View Scholarship

In order to qualify for what one of my dissertation committee members mercilessly (and all too frequently) reminded me was "the highest academic degree in the world," I was required to launch myself into independent research for the first time in my life. Certainly, I had written research papers, but the point of research papers was to parrot what respected members of the research community wrote in "the literature." One professor frankly said that graduate students had no original thoughts but that they should act as though they did. My graduate training reinforced an insidious message: your opinion or insight is not valid; only that which respected researchers have published in peer reviewed journals has any merit. I was now expected to develop fully formed "research interests" that were sufficient to motivate my investment of most of my waking moments for at least a year (or more!) toward independent research. Having come to doctoral study as a seasoned clinician, this seeming contradiction added fuel to my sense that research was merely a means to an end. If I wanted the degree, I would have to "act as if' I was interested in research.

My somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach thus far hides my deeper concern. The expectations we bring to doctoral level training can greatly determine our experience and the outcome of our graduate training. At the outset, I didn't realize in my doctoral program that the skills we have developed as clinicians can enhance, rather than impede, our transition to academic work at the doctoral level and beyond. I believe now that there are more similarities than differences between clinical work and research, and that failure to realize this complicates the transition from clinician to doctoral student or full time academic. …

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