students would scream and bang on drums, but Greenberg says
the instructor wouldn’t let him know when these sessions might
occur so he could plan to avoid the noise. “She just said, ‘I’ll do
it whenever I feel like it.’” This put Greenberg in the awkward
position of suddenly having to bolt from class.
Greenberg would like to see schools work more
cooperatively with students who have challenges by educating
the classroom “to help make known the ways in which students
need to be accommodated without shaming the student.”
What can students do
First and foremost, students need to tell someone in their
program that something is wrong.
“[Students shouldn’t] wait until things get terrible and
then throw yourself on the mercy of the professors,” says John
C. Norcross, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of
Scranton and author of the 2007 book “Leaving It at the Office:
A Guide to Psychotherapist Self-Care.” “Having a mentor to
turn to in a crisis can be especially helpful.”
This may not necessarily be the student’s assigned academic
advisor, says Barnett. “It might be a faculty member [he or she]
had a class with and made a connection with, someone who
seemed supportive, approachable, warm or nice,” he says.
Faculty mentors can advise students and help mediate
situations with other faculty during a crisis. Some programs
also assign upper-level student mentors to help. But to be most
effective, these relationships need to be established before
something goes wrong.
With or without a mentor’s help, students should be able
to work with faculty to make accommodations once they have
communicated their emergency.
The steps to follow will vary by academic institution, says
Louise Douce, PhD, special assistant to the vice president of
student life and former chair of Ohio State University’s crisis
support team. But there are common options many can offer to
students who are facing emergencies, such as:
• Extending the deadlines for papers or tests.
• Dropping courses to ease workload.
• Taking a temporary incomplete from a course, rather than
dropping it altogether. Norcross says this can give a student a
delay (typically no more than two months) that allows him or
her to finish the course, rather than having to drop it and then
“In many programs, some sections of courses are only
offered once a year, so if you miss them, you are a year behind,”
says Norcross. Another year of schooling can mean $30,000 or
more in debt.
“Having some sensitivity to this can save students time and
money,” says Norcross, admitting that it can be difficult for
faculty. “But we should still be offering it when we think it’s
• Contacting the graduate school dean’s office. This may
be needed, especially if you are getting assistance for revising
• Taking a leave of absence from school, which could last
a semester, a full academic year or longer (though in most
settings a leave can’t be indefinite, says Erica H. Wise, PhD,
clinical professor and director of the psychology training
program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).
• Suspending or discontinuing practicums, teaching
assistantships, research jobs and similar duties. This should
be done in close consultation with advisors and supervisors,
says Wise, especially if changes may affect clients or patients.
Students should not simply disappear or abandon training
obligations without notice; if at all possible, they need to
communicate with the appropriate faculty members or their
advisor about the problem.
“Self-awareness and communication are critical professional
competencies for graduate students in professional psychology
programs, especially when they are experiencing a decrement in
their ability to adequately complete essential tasks,” Wise says.
Psychology graduate programs need to “set the climate
and tone that says seeking help is a strength and that it’s
an ethical thing to do to recognize when you need help
and to seek it.”
Louise Douce, PhD
The Ohio State University