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Statement of Intent - Counselling Psychology


AM22
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I had finished writing my Statement of Intent and had a friend in a Clinical Psych masters program read it over for me. In my statement I had written about how I was inspired to pursue this line of work from a childhood experience with anxiety and the previous misunderstanding of how mental health could affect children etc. I touched on how CBT helped me and so forth. In short, I was building on the fact that my own experience inspired me to create a positive and lasting impact on children (the area I hope to specialize in). This was just a small section of the statement and I connected it to how I have gone on to work with children with special needs etc. When my friend read it, she said that in clinical psychology it is not okay to disclose a mental health issue in a SOI. I looked into it and it seemed this was more in relation to using mental illness as a "justification" for grades, showing that you are currently "unstable" or not dealing with illness appropriately, or coming across as if you are pursuing this education in order to support yourself or loved ones. I was wondering if anyone had any experience with this subject matter and could steer me in the right direction. Thanks in advance. 

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  • AM22 changed the title to Statement of Intent - Counselling Psychology

I've also heard what your friend said in that applicants should be cautious when it comes to mentioning their own mental health struggles in statement letters as it could be seen as a negative, e.g., "maybe the applicant won't be able to handle the stress of graduate school due to their mental illness". At the end of the day, it's your letter so you should submit what feels right to you, but it is definitely possible for you to have a strong letter and get your point across about your career goal being to have a lasting impact on children without mentioning your personal mental health issues. Perhaps it may help to try drafting a second version that leaves out the MI and see how it reads/if you like that version also? Then you can decide which you want to submit.

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I would frame it as knowing your audience. There is still a lot of stigma within the mental health field, which is very sad. There are clinicians who are truly empathetic while there are some who are truly apathetic and skill-based in their approach to therapy. There are clinicians who struggle with mental health issues themselves while some have never had a clinically significant level of issue. It is important to remember that although some faculty continue to work in clinical settings, many chose a purely academic career (which is totally fine as many would make terrible clinicians). To the latter, inspiration may not be something appealing/sustainable, as research is more about applying the scientific method to investigate a question/hypothesis. Your examples are definitely kisses of death, but I would not say your case is in your favor as it was a childhood issue and you would be considered "being put in therapy" (even if you were the one who thought you needed CBT, your parents would have had to consent and thus they would be considered the ones dealing with your mental health condition appropriately). They also don't want your research to turn into "mesearch." As your SOI/SOP/PS is likely to be read by more than one faculty, it only takes one apathetic academic with no mental health history to kill your application. I know people who just went with it because they felt strongly that was part of them, but it is a safer bet to focus on what the faculty is looking for instead of what you want to convey. You can still be "professionally personal" even if you take that out. Good luck!

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You can also create a cover story to change the characters of who it was who struggled with the mental health problem, thereby maintaining the truth in being inspired but anonymizing yourself/whoever you talk about. For example, instead of saying it was you who struggled with anxiety and went to therapy, perhaps phrase it as a family friend, or something you saw while volunteering.

I would also make any mention of personal experience with mental health extremely brief -- e.g. no more than one sentence, and keep it within a paragraph. Although the safest bet is to not mention it, I think maintaining some truth about your own background and what brought you to the field makes sense. Spin it as a way you gained insight about psychology (or some other positive takeaway). Your statement should be focused entirely on how much you bring to the table, so do not linger on it.

I am personally deeply disappointed by the prevalence of mental health stigma by mental health professionals, the very people who should know better than to weaponize or look down upon open disclosure of one's past mental health struggles. Ideally nobody should be punished for being open about their mental health journey, but alas, we only live in 2022.

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I was also told by a program administrative that a specific program had "issues" with a few within a cohort with mental illness and that it had been "disruptive" to the program as a whole.  Since those admissions the program has responded differently to self-disclosure and have not accepted students who do so.

This is for one specific program so I do not know how it translates to other programs.

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16 hours ago, ss_swhoping said:

I was also told by a program administrative that a specific program had "issues" with a few within a cohort with mental illness and that it had been "disruptive" to the program as a whole.  Since those admissions the program has responded differently to self-disclosure and have not accepted students who do so.

This is for one specific program so I do not know how it translates to other programs.

Couldn't one argue this is discriminatory? If a program decides that they can't admit students for a physical disability, that's clearly ableist. Mental health difficulties are just as valid.

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7 hours ago, sircherie said:

Couldn't one argue this is discriminatory? If a program decides that they can't admit students for a physical disability, that's clearly ableist. Mental health difficulties are just as valid.

It is 100% discriminatory so I'm surprised a program administrator would even admit this practice 

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8 hours ago, sircherie said:

Couldn't one argue this is discriminatory? If a program decides that they can't admit students for a physical disability, that's clearly ableist. Mental health difficulties are just as valid.

Absolutely, and I agree.  Admitting to discrimination is one thing, but being able to prove discrimination is another. I had another conversation with someone else in the program that I have a more personal relationship with and they indicated multiple practices of discrimination in various areas etc.  

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