Emotional Struggles are Common, Even for Psychologists

Oftentimes when people go through an emotionally hard time, they can feel alone in that experience.   

Yet struggling emotionally is really common.  It is almost universal to struggle emotionally, at a diagnosable level, at one point in life Aka if you’re struggling emotionally- you’re definitely not alone. 

I hope to remind you that by virtue of being human, it’s likely that you’ll struggle at some point. And that the key is to not minimize what you’re feeling, avoid what you’re feeling, or expect that you need to pull yourself up on your own.  

Psychologists are part of this majority who struggle.  One study found that 62% of psychologists reported being depressed.  Psychologists who are distressed often minimize what they’re feeling and their symptomsStudies have found psychology graduate students struggle with depression and anxiety symptoms too.  And yet, students often don’t seek therapy because of cost, faculty attitudes and lack of time (Dearing et al., 2005; Holzman, Searight, & Hughes, 1996; Farber, 1990).  

When picking a topic for my dissertation, I hoped to add to the literature on stress and seeking therapy, with the goal of decreasing any possible shame around these topics for clinicians and people in general.  I especially wanted to study this topic given that experiencing symptoms of a mental health diagnosis, tends to be a universal experience. I set out to compare levels of stress and rates of being in therapy between the general population and psych grad students. 

For my study I created an online survey with measures that gauged levels of stress and rates of seeking therapy.  My sample included 303 individuals: 204 clinical psychology graduate students and 99 individuals from the general population.  

After analyzing my data (shout-out to Feiyu for the stats help), I found that psych graduate students and the general population had comparable levels of stress.  And I found that everyone (students and people from the general population) was seeking therapy to a similar degree. About a fourth of psych grad students reported being in therapy and about a third of folks from the general population said they were in therapy.

When taking a step back and looking at the number of people in therapy, it’s important to keep in mind that women and people who have a higher level of education, have been found to go to therapy more than people who are not part of these groups.  In this study, most of the sample was female. And everyone in the study was a college grad. So that might have led to more people being in therapy. Our study didn’t collect information on individuals’ income and socioeconomic status.  Finances could play a role in whether folks seek out therapy and in their stress levels. Additionally, the racial background of the samples were not fully representative of both the general population and psychology graduate students.

And yet, I’m hoping that this study can be a reminder to psychology graduate students, psychologists, and people in general- that we are all human- and that it’s okay and understandable if at some point we struggle with depression, anxiety, stress, etc.  If you feel like you shouldn’t be experiencing these difficulties and feel shame around struggling, I hope to remind you that by virtue of being human, it’s likely that you’ll struggle at some point. And that the key is to not minimize what you’re feeling, avoid what you’re feeling, or expect that you need to pull yourself up on your own.  

As a psychologist, I hope to relay that you don’t need to always solve things on your own and that you can lean on others.  Being a human being is a journey, and it is okay and sometimes necessary to seek support outside oneself.  Seeking support can lead to empowerment, and figuring out what is getting in the way of thriving and building on your strengths.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be the path you take but, if you’re feeling stuck, are struggling and need support, therapy is one valuable option (and can be used in parallel with other forms of healing).  And if finances are getting in the way- there are often training clinics that offer therapy on a sliding scale. If you have insurance, a chunk or all of the cost can often be covered, if the provider is in your network. Calling and asking for a list of providers is a good way to start (Side note: you can also specify if you’d like to work with a specific type of therapist ex: female). 

Ultimately, by reading this I hope that if you are stressed and/or are in therapy, you feel seen and less alone.  I see you.

Featured Image: Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

About Author

Yvette Rico is a Doctor of Psychology who has studied stress, rates of seeking therapy, and attitudes towards therapy in psychology graduate students and the general population. She is currently working at a group private practice, as a postdoctoral fellow.