Science Monday: Character fitness evaluations for counselors?

Brad Johnson and Clark Campbell published an article in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice on the problem of (not) evaluating the character of mental health professionals. They detail the practices of the bar associations evaluations of law students trying to pass the bar. For more than 50 years, students trying to become lawyers were evaluated for character fitness. Professors and other lawyers are required to report possible character problems for those trying to pass the bar. However, the authors admit that a mere 0.2% of those trying to pass the bar are excluded for character reasons. The system probably needs a bit of tweaking.

However, it is interesting that mental health licensing bodies only pay cursory attention to this issue. Their article points out this problem and encourages state boards, schools, and mental health associations to work together to define character problems (type, extent, etc.) and to provide objective data. For example, how much depression hinders competent provision of treatment? Can you have a personality disorder and be effective in your work as a counselor?

Where do we begin? I believe we begin in our grad programs. We must show that we are attempting to evaluate our student’s character–not merely to weed out certain students but to give them opportunity for growth. It behooves us to work very hard with our students to give them honest feedback, even if it comes at the expense of lost tuition dollars. At Biblical, we make a valiant effort. Whether it works or not, we have yet to see. Our first cohort of students will graduate in May.

Note: My colleague, Dr. Penny Freeman, at Philadelphia Biblical University, just got her doctoral degree minted this week from Argosy U. Her dissertation explored the issues of impaired students in grad counseling programs. Can’t wait to see what she found. Congratulations Dr. Freeman.

Bibliographic note:

Johnson, W.B. & Campbell, C.D. (2002). Character and fitness requirements for professional psychologists: Are there any? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33:1, 46-53.


Filed under counseling science

4 responses to “Science Monday: Character fitness evaluations for counselors?

  1. Fortunately the rigors of grad school do their own filtering. It takes a good amount of character just to finish grad school without cheating, or at least getting caught for cheating. Then adding in to that the whole evaluation process that occurs regularly by practicum and internship sites, as well as having to avoid doing anything unethical during that time. So I’d say that just because there sometimes is no formal character fitness evaluations doesn’t mean that the unethical students aren’t being filtered out.

  2. Yes, the rigors of grad school do eliminate the grossly unethical students. I probably uncover 1-2 individuals a year engaging in intentional plagiarism. However, not all character problems are that easy to uncover. There are those who are inclined to form unhealthy relationships with others which are not easily spotted. Programs have to hope that practicum supervisors will honestly evaluate their charges. I have found that too frequently site supervisors need help to do this. They are too busy to evaluate as carefully as they should and too much not wanting to create more conflict. I have seen this not only on the master’s level but also on the doctoral level. Competent supervisors are a necessity but more rare than I would like.

  3. I definitely agree. Certain problems such as sex addiction, co-dependency, etc. can cause huge problems that go under the radar. I think that is why it is important to point students to resources where they can turn for help: therapy, 12 step groups, etc. Sometimes students recognize the problem and just need a push to do something about it.

  4. Very true. Part of my goal as director and professor is to make it okay for folks to admit problems. We can’t require them to do so, but we certainly make it more likely by the self-reflection projects, the teacher’s transparency, and required counseling for all.

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