Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Graduate School Reference Letter from Your Therapist?

Dr. Tara Kuther, of About.Com's Graduate School site, recently addressed the question of whether or not to ask one's therapist for a reference letter for graduate school.

She said, in part:

A letter from a therapist is not a good idea. It will not help your application. Recommendation letters speak to the student's academic competence. Helpful letters are written by professionals who have worked with you in an academic capacity.

Read her full response here.

I am wondering...what do you think?  Is the answer to this question different for those applying to graduate school in the helping professions, or should it be?  What ethical issues might arise for the therapist who is asked by a client to write a graduate school reference letter?

1 comment:

  1. I would agree -- definitely not a good idea to get a letter of recommendation from a personal therapist. There are many, many reasons for this. This may signal to the admissions committee that the applicant does not have sufficient academic/professional references (e.g., professor/instructor, researcher that the student worked with, supervisor, volunteer coordinator, etc.), and the therapist is filling a gap in this area. Moreover, it is very unusual to ask a personal therapist for a letter of recommendation. The primary job of a therapist is to provide services, not to write a recommendation. At times, licensed therapists are contracted (e.g., with the courts) to perform psychological evaluations, but this is an routine work activity that is within the bounds of normal professional practice. It may also put the therapist in a difficult situation (e.g., crossing typical boundaries of professional work duties, entering into a dual relationship as a therapist and evaluator. e.g., How might this affect therapy if the candidate gets rejected from the school?). As a consequence of this decision to ask the therapist, the admissions committee may question the judgment of a candidate. While the candidate may think that submitting this letter shows them how committed they are to personal growth, reflection, etc., it could in fact leave the admissions committee wondering about the psychological stability of the applicant. Every year, a small portion of applicants either must leave or are asked to leave the program due to psychological reasons. They are certainly not permitted by law to ask applicants about their mental health status, but if the candidate volunteers information about their involvement in mental health services it may wind up giving the the committee the wrong impression. Additionally, what assessment could the therapist make about the academic caliber or professional work competency of the client? Not much. Finally, applicants typically waive their right to review the letter (this is respectful to the writer and a sign of trust). The applicant has no idea what the therapist might right. I am sure there are many additional reasons. In sum, the probable negatives far outweigh the possible benefits.