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*TRIGGER WARNING* Personal Essay Question


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*TRIGGER WARNING- this is about trauma including suicide* It's intense. Don't read it if that will be upsetting for you.

Hi guys. I am considering my persona statement/ essay. The work I want to do is increasing provider training/ patient accessibility to evidence based practices for trauma/ PTSD. Specifically focused on the military, but really everyone. And this is what I've wanted to do for years/ ever. I'm also interested in the meaning people make from trauma and how some people thrive while others struggle for years.

A month ago, I was driving on the highway late at night with my family in the car (they were fortunately asleep) and a man ran into the highway from a rest stop and literally jumped in front of my car, committing suicide. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could have done. I was going 65 mph (the speed limit), it was raining, and very dark. Despite braking and swerving, I was unable to do anything to save this man's life. He wanted to die, and made sure that would be the outcome. Fortunately, I was able to save my family (my young child was in the car), and I am the only one in my family who actually witnessed it. I developed Acute Stress and subsequently, as I've passed the one month mark, PTSD. I have a wonderful trauma therapist and have made a lot of progress. The meaning I have made from this had truly reinforced my desire to do the work that I described above. I was lucky. Lucky to live, and lucky to find a trauma specialist who is able to provide me with evidence based therapy. But not everyone is so lucky. I am at the point where I can talk about it without becoming overly emotional, and imagine I will be more so by interview time. I was not a religious person, but truly feel that it is my calling or purpose to do this work. To help other people survive their traumas, and to increase research around trauma related EBP, and increase provider training.

I am a social worker who previously worked inpatient psychiatry and in and emergency department... with trauma and helping people to NOT kill themselves (or others). I'm also a military spouse who understands deployment stress and trauma stemming from service on many levels. And now I'm a trauma survivor (hopefully, thriver) who in my core understands trauma and the value of EBP. What I'm wondering is if you guys think I can share any of that info in my essay. It's a bit outside my comfort zone. I'm not a general oversharer. But I guess there's a part of me that is like this crazy thing happened. It has shaken me to my core, yes, but also underscored and strengthened my desire to do this research in hopes of making a difference for even one trauma survivor. I feel that in my soul. I had actually been accepted to a PsyD program for Fall 2020, and I was all set to go... despite some reservations about my ability to do the research I wanted. But after this, I feel like I NEED to do reapply to PhD programs, and become a researcher. 

So what do you guys think? Is there a way to discuss this without being too overshare-y? Too intense? Please be honest. 

Thanks! 

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25 minutes ago, PsychedOutHopeful said:

*TRIGGER WARNING- this is about trauma including suicide* It's intense. Don't read it if that will be upsetting for you.

Hi guys. I am considering my persona statement/ essay. The work I want to do is increasing provider training/ patient accessibility to evidence based practices for trauma/ PTSD. Specifically focused on the military, but really everyone. And this is what I've wanted to do for years/ ever. I'm also interested in the meaning people make from trauma and how some people thrive while others struggle for years.

A month ago, I was driving on the highway late at night with my family in the car (they were fortunately asleep) and a man ran into the highway from a rest stop and literally jumped in front of my car, committing suicide. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could have done. I was going 65 mph (the speed limit), it was raining, and very dark. Despite braking and swerving, I was unable to do anything to save this man's life. He wanted to die, and made sure that would be the outcome. Fortunately, I was able to save my family (my young child was in the car), and I am the only one in my family who actually witnessed it. I developed Acute Stress and subsequently, as I've passed the one month mark, PTSD. I have a wonderful trauma therapist and have made a lot of progress. The meaning I have made from this had truly reinforced my desire to do the work that I described above. I was lucky. Lucky to live, and lucky to find a trauma specialist who is able to provide me with evidence based therapy. But not everyone is so lucky. I am at the point where I can talk about it without becoming overly emotional, and imagine I will be more so by interview time. I was not a religious person, but truly feel that it is my calling or purpose to do this work. To help other people survive their traumas, and to increase research around trauma related EBP, and increase provider training.

I am a social worker who previously worked inpatient psychiatry and in and emergency department... with trauma and helping people to NOT kill themselves (or others). I'm also a military spouse who understands deployment stress and trauma stemming from service on many levels. And now I'm a trauma survivor (hopefully, thriver) who in my core understands trauma and the value of EBP. What I'm wondering is if you guys think I can share any of that info in my essay. It's a bit outside my comfort zone. I'm not a general oversharer. But I guess there's a part of me that is like this crazy thing happened. It has shaken me to my core, yes, but also underscored and strengthened my desire to do this research in hopes of making a difference for even one trauma survivor. I feel that in my soul. I had actually been accepted to a PsyD program for Fall 2020, and I was all set to go... despite some reservations about my ability to do the research I wanted. But after this, I feel like I NEED to do reapply to PhD programs, and become a researcher. 

So what do you guys think? Is there a way to discuss this without being too overshare-y? Too intense? Please be honest. 

Thanks! 

First, I am sorry to hear that this happened to you. This sounds like an experience that you've been able to turn into an inspiration and something positive, despite how helpless I am sure that moment felt to you. 

 

So, to clarify, you are a social worker right now and work with trauma/active SI/HI in-patients? And you want to do back to school for another 5-6+ years to become a clinical psychologist (PhD) researcher on EBTs for PTSD? 

 

I have thoughts somewhat unrelated with your question:

 

1) Can you move around easily depending on where you are admitted (if you are admitted)? If you are a military spouse are you tied to a certain area/need to move? If so, this may, frankly be incompatible with 5-6 years of PhD training, plus a potential (likely) move for internship, plus a potential (likely) move for post-doc, plus a potential (likely) move to become faculty.  

 

2) Do you have any background in research (lab work, publications, posters)? If not, you are not likely to be competitive at funded, reputable research PhD programs where prior evidence of research productivity is basically a requirement to be in the competitive applicant pool. 

 

3) Is there any way as a social worker you can get hooked into research at your current institution or neighboring institutions? I know it's not common, but I know of several MSW/LICSW folks engaged in research in some capacity, though I am unsure of being a principal investigator (maybe a co-investigator...?)

 

I am throwing all of these out to help you think through this a bit more. If you still think applying for a PhD makes sense given the above, I am wary about including this story in your personal statement for a variety of reasons. Talking about your past work with trauma/in-patient is fine, but sharing such a vivid personal trauma in a personal statement may come off at TMI for some readers. I also am wary about this because, though you feel you are on an upward trajectory, you've only just met full DSM PTSD criteria and you'd only be in treatment for ~4 months or so by the time you submit your application materials. Though you may truly be in a good place, the literature does not necessarily reflect such a fast recovery from PTSD (generally), so you may raise some flags in terms of emotional liability. PIs all understand that we all have stories and many of us have mental health issues/histories, but being a potentially active PTSD case may not be appealing to some PIs, even if it sounds inspirational to you. 

 

This is just my opinion. Others on the forum may care to differ. There may also be a way to bring this up in interviews or your SOP vaguely, such as discussing the index trauma with not such specific description and talking more about the journey you've completed and importantly, using vague language to make it sound like this is more in the past than it is. You are clearly very resilient, which is awesome, but again for reasons stated above putting some distance between you and the trauma might be a better move from the application angle. 

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2 hours ago, Clinapp2017 said:

First, I am sorry to hear that this happened to you. This sounds like an experience that you've been able to turn into an inspiration and something positive, despite how helpless I am sure that moment felt to you. 

 

So, to clarify, you are a social worker right now and work with trauma/active SI/HI in-patients? And you want to do back to school for another 5-6+ years to become a clinical psychologist (PhD) researcher on EBTs for PTSD? 

 

I have thoughts somewhat unrelated with your question:

 

1) Can you move around easily depending on where you are admitted (if you are admitted)? If you are a military spouse are you tied to a certain area/need to move? If so, this may, frankly be incompatible with 5-6 years of PhD training, plus a potential (likely) move for internship, plus a potential (likely) move for post-doc, plus a potential (likely) move to become faculty.  

 

2) Do you have any background in research (lab work, publications, posters)? If not, you are not likely to be competitive at funded, reputable research PhD programs where prior evidence of research productivity is basically a requirement to be in the competitive applicant pool. 

 

3) Is there any way as a social worker you can get hooked into research at your current institution or neighboring institutions? I know it's not common, but I know of several MSW/LICSW folks engaged in research in some capacity, though I am unsure of being a principal investigator (maybe a co-investigator...?)

 

I am throwing all of these out to help you think through this a bit more. If you still think applying for a PhD makes sense given the above, I am wary about including this story in your personal statement for a variety of reasons. Talking about your past work with trauma/in-patient is fine, but sharing such a vivid personal trauma in a personal statement may come off at TMI for some readers. I also am wary about this because, though you feel you are on an upward trajectory, you've only just met full DSM PTSD criteria and you'd only be in treatment for ~4 months or so by the time you submit your application materials. Though you may truly be in a good place, the literature does not necessarily reflect such a fast recovery from PTSD (generally), so you may raise some flags in terms of emotional liability. PIs all understand that we all have stories and many of us have mental health issues/histories, but being a potentially active PTSD case may not be appealing to some PIs, even if it sounds inspirational to you. 

 

This is just my opinion. Others on the forum may care to differ. There may also be a way to bring this up in interviews or your SOP vaguely, such as discussing the index trauma with not such specific description and talking more about the journey you've completed and importantly, using vague language to make it sound like this is more in the past than it is. You are clearly very resilient, which is awesome, but again for reasons stated above putting some distance between you and the trauma might be a better move from the application angle. 

I appreciate your thoughtful answer. This is actually my third cycle so I’m pretty familiar and am working at a lab related to my area of interest. And I have had several acceptances in the past, just not to my top choices and have made conscious decisions to reject offers. And being a military spouse means I am actually v aware of timing and PCS-ing, but it’s great you’re aware of the challenges that military families face in creating and maintaining a career. 

In regards to the rest, I appreciate your perspective, and you have a lot of valid points for sure. 

And actually the literature shows a large variation in PTSD recovery time. Especially for point trauma. But I’ll keep all that in mind! Thanks! 

Edited by PsychedOutHopeful
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48 minutes ago, PsychedOutHopeful said:

I appreciate your thoughtful answer. This is actually my third cycle so I’m pretty familiar and am working at a lab related to my area of interest. And I have had several acceptances in the past, just not to my top choices and have made conscious decisions to reject offers. And being a military spouse means I am actually v aware of timing and PCS-ing, but it’s great you’re aware of the challenges that military families face in creating and maintaining a career. 

In regards to the rest, I appreciate your perspective, and you have a lot of valid points for sure. 

And actually the literature shows a large variation in PTSD recovery time. Especially for point trauma. But I’ll keep all that in mind! Thanks! 

Oh, great on all points then, and all power to you then. I was unsure about your point on acceptances because you said PsyD, which is different than what’s looked for in Phd applications (not as heavy on research training as a qualification). 

 

If you want someone cynical to read your SOP draft, I always love reading them and providing feedback. Drop me a direct message if so. 

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I would highly discourage sharing such a personal statement about what happened, as it may raise red flags about appropriate self disclosure. Again, people go both ways on this but I *personally* would refrain from sharing as much as you did here.

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  • 2 months later...

I am so sorry this happened to you. It sounds like you have been through a lot recently and have taken great steps toward making meaning of this and taking care of your health. All good signs for the path toward a Ph.D., in my opinion.

Now, despite all that, I would strongly advise you against mentioning it in your SoP. It's not necessarily that PIs think people who have psychiatric disorders and/or histories of trauma are incapable of earning Ph.D.'s or being good graduate students, but many don't want to know that about their applicants. Regardless of someone's personal history and diagnosis, their academic, research, and clinical work and training should be strong enough to earn them a spot in the program. In the process of the PI getting to know you, it's important that your persona as an academic/researcher/clinician is first and foremost. Also, it comes off to many as unprofessional to discuss diagnoses and to share information at that level. It could spark concern that a person would not be able to keep their mental health issues out of their work if they needed to state them up front in the first place. I know several PIs who have sent applications straight to the trashbin after disclosures of mental health issues... even if these were stories of resilience and current thriving. It may sound harsh, but in the clinical Ph.D. world, the best way to indicate that your work won't be substantially limited by your diagnosis is to have your diagnosis be something no one knows about or needs to know about. I personally know MANY graduate students with current or past diagnoses of almost everything, but all the successful ones have been very selective in when they share that, how much detail they share, and with whom they share that. 

I have heard it expressed that they don't care if their student has a diagnosis, they just don't want to know that much about them. 

It sounds like you might have a new angle of perspective on your research interests now. And I am sure you can use them to your advantage in thinking about research and clinical work. I think it's best to keep that out of your statement. It sounds like you will be a great applicant based on your work and training alone.

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