Upfront

Psychologists, it appears, don't always get the mental health care they need, according to a new study published online in February in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. In an analysis of 260 APA members who had been surveyed about their experiences with psychotherapy, researchers at George Fox University found that although 86 percent reported they'd had psychotherapy at some point in their lives, 59 percent said there were times when they could have benefited from therapy but didn't seek it.

"That was the discouraging part," says Jennifer Bearse, a PsyD candidate at George Fox University who led the study.

Overall, however, the results of the study are encouraging, say Bearse and her mentor, Mark McMinn, PhD, who was a co-author. Psychologists, they found, are very willing to engage in therapy, and no barriers to their doing so appear particularly high — none were rated above the midpoint on a five-point scale.

The team also found that, unlike the general population, psychologists don't appear to be inhibited much by stigma when it comes to seeking mental health care.

Yet the study found that psychologists still face many of the same barriers to seeking mental health care the general population faces: not enough time, not enough money and trouble admitting distress. The biggest barrier to seeking therapy, according to the study, was the selection process — finding a therapist who's neither a colleague nor a mentor, who works nearby and who provides care that lives up to psychologists' own high expectations.

"As psychologists, we know both intuitively and scientifically that some psychotherapists are simply better than others," says McMinn, a professor of psychology at George Fox University. "We also know the literature on negative outcomes — that some psychotherapy experiences can actually make people worse. Our knowledge makes us cautious."

Working to remove such barriers is important since the quality of psychologists' clinical work is "significantly and uniquely sensitive to the mental health of the practitioner," says Glen Martin, PhD, co-chair of APA's Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance.

Bearse and her team also found that burnout, countertransferrence and vicarious traumatization were all rated by study participants as top stressors that affect their therapeutic effectiveness. Moreover, 61 percent of those surveyed listed additional stressors that interfere with their jobs, including personal losses, problems with insurance companies and conflicts with co-workers.

"We are charged with an important task of caring for the mental health needs of our clients, but if we're not in a place where we can do that effectively, it makes it difficult to do that job," Bearse says. "Taking care of our own struggles should be on our own priority list."

—Anna Miller