Laverdière, O., Kealy, D., Ogrodniczuk, J. S., & Morin, A. J. S.
(2018) Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 59(4), 315-322.
The mental health of psychotherapists represents a key determinant of their ability to deliver optimal psychological services. However, this important topic is seldom the focus of empirical investigations. The objectives of the current study were twofold. First, the study aimed to assess subjective ratings of mental health in a broad sample of Canadian psychotherapists. Second, this study aimed to identify profiles of psychotherapists according to their scores on a series of mental health indicators. A total of 240 psychotherapists participated in the survey. Results indicated that 20% of psychotherapists were emotionally exhausted and 10% were in a state of significant psychological distress. Latent profile analyses revealed 4 profiles of psychotherapists that differed on their level of mental health: highly symptomatic (12%), at risk (35%), well adapted (40%), and high functioning (12%). Characteristics of the profiles are discussed, as well as potential implications of our findings for practice, trainee selection, and future research on psychotherapists’ mental health.
Here is part of the Discussion:
Considering that 12% of the psychotherapists were highly symptomatic and that an additional 35% could be considered at risk for significant mental health problems, the present findings raise troubling questions. Were these psychotherapists adequately prepared to help clients? From the perspective of attachment theory, the psychotherapist functions as an attachment figure for the client (Mallinckrodt, 2010); clients require their psychotherapists to provide a secure attachment base that allows for the exploration of negative thoughts and feelings, as well as for the alleviation of distress (Slade, 2016). A psychotherapist who is preoccupied with his or her own personal distress may find it very difficult to play this role efficiently and may at least implicitly bring some maladaptive features to the clinical encounter, thus depriving the client of the possibility of experiencing a secure attachment in the context of the therapeutic relationship. Moreover, regardless of the potential attachment implications, clients prefer experiencing a secure relationship with an emotionally responsive psychotherapist (Swift & Callahan, 2010). More precisely, Swift and Callahan (2010) found that clients were, to some extent, willing to forego empirically supported interventions in favour of a satisfactory relationship with the therapist, empathy from the therapist, and greater level of therapist experience. The present results cast a reasonable doubt on the ability of extenuated psychotherapists, and more so psychologically ill therapists, to present themselves in a positive light to the client in order to build strong therapeutic relationships with them.