In spite of these concerns, female psychologists are more
likely to engage in psychotherapy at some point in their
lives and to participate in more sessions than men. Women
are slightly more likely to seek psychotherapy than men
(Norcross & Guy, 2005) and rate the importance of personal
psychotherapy more highly than men (Bike et al., 2009).
Though there is little research comparing the effectiveness and
well-being of therapists who do and do not engage in personal
psychotherapy, the wealth of research demonstrating the positive
effects of psychotherapy in general suggests that psychologists
will benefit both personally and professionally from it.
As a result, graduate training should include discussion of
the potential obstacles to finding a psychotherapist. A class on
professional issues, for example, may encourage students to
seek psychotherapy when the need arises, as well as consider
practical matters such as how to find a psychotherapist given the
complexities of dual relationships, finances and time demands.
Likewise, self-awareness and self-care for postdoctoral fellows
and early career practitioners is important to consider in training
and policy discussions. All psychologists should be encouraged
to admit when they are distressed and seek therapy for their own
health and ability to function effectively as therapists.
Future research directions
We acknowledge that there were limitations with our study. As
with any survey study, self-reporting may not be an accurate
reflection of actual behavior. Also, sampling bias may be a
problem despite the respectable response rate of 52 percent.
In addition, the sample was drawn from the APA Membership
Directory, and it is possible that psychologists who do not belong
to APA may have different experiences from those who do.
Further, the age of the sample was older than a
representative sample would be. The age of the current sample
was 58. 2 years, whereas a recent study by Michalski and Kohout
(2011) reported the mean age of psychology health service
providers as 53. A similar study of more diverse ethnicity would
also be beneficial, as the vast majority of respondents to this
study were European-American.
Also, although the current study asked if psychologists
had decided not to seek therapy at a time when they needed
it, we did not ask when or why they did not seek therapy.
Was this choice not to seek therapy made before or after the
person became a psychologist? What developmental, personal,
professional or financial issues kept them from seeking therapy?
Ideally, longitudinal research could observe the effects of
participating in psychotherapy over time. Do psychologists who
participate in psychotherapy during training show different
levels of career satisfaction or longevity?
It would also be interesting to study readiness for conducting
or undergoing psychotherapy. Doctoral trainees who are required
to pursue personal psychotherapy sometimes complain that they
have no need for therapy. More experienced psychologists may
view this as naïve — and it may be. But it is also possible that
there are certain critical periods in developing psychotherapists
during which personal psychotherapy is maximally beneficial.
Perhaps personal psychotherapy during times of personal pain
is more useful than mandatory psychotherapy during training,
even if it means the psychologist receives psychotherapy later
in his or her career. The issue of timing and critical periods for
psychotherapy warrants further investigation.
It would also be interesting to know how diversity and
cultural variables may influence psychologists’ willingness to
seek help. Are some psychologists more reticent than others, or
might some experience more difficulty than others finding a
psychotherapist with whom they can work?
Finally, it would also be interesting to investigate the
relationship among burnout, depression and perceived
obstacles to psychotherapy. Do psychologists with high levels
of stress and burnout tend to perceive or experience more
obstacles than psychologists who are functioning at more
optimal levels? This question is worthy of further investigation.
Psychology is replete with research on why people do what
they do, how it affects them, and how we can better help them
address any dysfunction that may be impairing their lives.
We are not always so quick to turn the spotlight on ourselves.
This study is encouraging insofar as it suggests that many
psychologists seek personal psychotherapy and find it beneficial.
Still, some factors impede participation, and most clinical
psychologists report having failed to seek psychotherapy at
times when they needed it. In light of the relatively high rates of
depression and suicidal behavior among psychologists, this is
cause for some concern and a worthy topic of consideration in
research, practice and training. n
Jennifer L. Bearse, PsyD, is a postdoctoral psychology resident
at Central Washington University. Mark R. McMinn, PhD,
is professor of psychology at George Fox University. Winston
Seegobin, PsyD, is director of diversity and associate professor of
clinical psychology at George Fox University. Kurt Free, PhD, is a
clinical psychologist and an adjunct faculty member at Gerorge
This article is based on “Barriers to
psychologists seeking mental health
care,” which appeared in the June
2013 issue of Professional Psychology:
Research and Practice. Click here to read the full