Practicum and Ethics Monday: Deficient Trainees

Since both of these classes are in progress here at Biblical, I thought I’d bring up a rather touchy subject: impaired students. Ruth Palmer, Gwen White, and Walter Chung (a Biblical grad!) all of Eastern University have recently published an article in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity(2007, 27:1, 30-40) entitled, “Deficient Trainees: Gatekeeping in Christian Practitioner Programs.”

Palmer et al surveyed profs in master’s level counseling related departments at Christian colleges and universities to find out, 1. what percentages of students were perceived by the profs to be professionally deficient, to have received help or dismissal. 2. Whether or not the schools have formal gatekeeping procedures. 3. Whether senior level faculty and junior level faculty perceive the pressures of dealing with impaired students differently, and in part, 4. Whether views on grace, calling, and gifting have any effect on how faculty respond to deficient students.  Their study replicates one done on secular campuses.

Before I mention the results, it would be good to consider why this is important.

1. Because faculty are obligated to protect the public. The authors quote from the ACA code of ethics, “Counselor educators, throughout on-going evaluation and appraisal, are aware of and address the inability of some students to achieve counseling competencies” (ACA, 2005, Section F.9.b) (p. 31). This is a relatively new topic amongst programs. Previously, we merely taught our students but it was up to licensing boards to weed out incompetency. Not so any longer. And rightly so is this change. We have an obligation to remediate problems before sending folks to their fieldwork sites. When we bless a student with an internship, we are saying they are ready to work at an entry level. When we find students with significant relational, behavioral, motivational problems prior to graduation, the authors remind us that the data are “strongly linked to subsequent poor performance in clinical work. (p. 31)

2. Counseling programs tend to attract people who are working out their problems. In fact, the authors point to a study that reported first year counseling students showing more severity of problems on MMPI scales. (This may be partially explained away by the common tendency of students to think they have all the disorders of the DSM). While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (could mean that students are more likely to be cognizant and empathetic to the trials of life), it becomes a problem when said students are either unaware of the extent of the problems, unwilling to work on these problems, or so overwhelmed in the moment as to not have the capacities to deal properly with the problem. I find most students very committed to personal growth and change. There are those, however, who are so desirous of the prestige of the position or of looking good that they cannot bear to admit their flaws. The authors point out the crux of the problem. “…there is a tendency of impaired students to resist submitting to ‘the very therapeutic process through which they wish to lead others,’… (p. 31)

3. Finally, turning a blind eye to student problems and/or mismatch in skill/profession/calling is akin to walking around the man and left to die on the side of the Jericho road (Luke 10).

Results of the study? The authors got responses only from 1/3 of the surveyed professors (the surveyees should be ashamed at their lack of cooperation with this important study! They ought to know better having all been through programs that value the research question). But from respondents they found,

  • Faculty of CCCU estimate an avg. of 10.9% of impaired students in their program (SD=9.89; I would have liked to see the modal response since the range was from 0% to 50%!! reported). This fits with the prior secular program survey.
  • Interventions with these impaired students only happens about 50% of the time (again a big SD with response rates ranging from 0% – 100% (yeah, right!)). 38% of faculty reported interventions less than 20% of the time.
  • What are some of the bigger reasons for not addressing these matters formally? Fears of lawsuits, institutional pressures (we need students to survive!), fear of poor teaching evals by junior faculty, and inadequate administrative support.
  • They suggest the need to have departments talk regularly about policies, students, and the need to follow-up with potential or actual problems.

Do we ever have impaired students at Biblical? Of course. But I am determined at dept chair to help those in need find help. I remember being a student at another seminary and seeing those that EVERYBODY knew should never be a pastor or a counselor and yet NOBODY (student or teacher) said a word. So, we have 6, 12, and 18 month evals collecting data from the student, profs of each class, peers, mentors, and supervisors to help catch a remediate problems when they exist and to encourage on-going personal growth even when they don’t exist. It still surprises me when I find counseling students balking about getting some of their own counseling. We really do want to be the one who has it together, don’t we. Me included.


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling science, counseling skills, Psychology, teaching counseling, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Practicum and Ethics Monday: Deficient Trainees

  1. Ron

    I suppose it is appropriate here to mention the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” (

    In certain fields, the ability to do something well is also the ability to discern good performance from bad performance, and even to tell how to move from one to the other. (A field where this applies: joke-telling, apparently; where it does not: basketball, where a great coach and trainer may not himself be a great player.) In several of these fields, those less (or least) skilled in the art rate themselves above average; those very skilled tend to rate themselves lower than they should.

    This probably has a place in the counseling field as well.

  2. Scott Knapp, MS

    I relied heavily on the opinions of my family and associates, and what I thought the Spirit was saying to me, when I chose to apply to graduate school to go into the field of counseling. I was already in the mental health field, and seemed to be showing some promise, and I’d had a personal interest in counseling since my undergrad days in the 80’s. I had a lot of self-doubt going through the program at PBU. The program requires a good deal of self-reflection and examination, and I relied heavily then upon the opinions of my lab leaders and professors, as they reflected back to me what they were seeing (it wasn’t always pretty, but I think it was nearly always accurate). Now I’m in the field, working with a very tough population, and self-doubt is natural anyhow for a neophyte. Egos seem to also be ubiquitously over-inflated amongst colleagues in my particular field (thankfully this is not true of my co-therapists at my site), and professional self-doubt is reinforced regularly by more experienced, but less self-confident and mature, colleagues who meet their own emotional needs by diminishing others’ credibility. From the perspective of a newly “former student” and new counselor in the field, is there a day that eventually comes along when you DON’T wonder why they let you into graduate school and accepted the liability of putting you out with a diploma to practice? I have sufficient positive re-inforcers to keep me confident that I’m doing a good job and am in my niche, but I hope some of those nagging doubts go away at some point.

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