Can Someone With Mental Illness Still Get A Degree In Counseling Psychology?

can someone with a mental illness get a counseling degree

Some people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness might wonder whether someone with mental illness can still get a degree in counseling psychology. Not only is the answer yes, but often, someone who has been diagnosed with and coped with a mental illness can bring a great deal of insight to this line of work.

A Deep Understanding

By both training and inclination, someone who goes into counseling psychology has insight and understanding into people. However, even the most gifted counselor who has not suffered from a mental illness lacks a visceral understanding of what patients are going through.

This is not the case for Dr. Marsha Linehan, who pioneered a form of therapy known as dialectical behavioral therapy. This is considered to be one of the best treatments for personality disorders, and in 2011, the New York Times reported that Dr. Linehan had decided to begin speaking about her own struggles as a teenager and young adult with suicide and self-harm. As someone who stymied the mental health professionals of her youth with the severity of her illness and who found her own way out of this darkness while still struggling with its effects, her background and experience in managing this illness give her a profound insight into what her patients are going through as well.

Rapport With Patients

Some people seeking help for mental health issues have been through various treatments with varying degrees of success and have grown suspicious of mental health care professionals. They may even feel resentment or anger toward the profession in general. Patients may be more likely to trust and open up to a counselor who they perceive as having experienced similar difficulties.

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Working in the field of mental health offers those who have suffered from mental illness themselves the opportunity to make something transformative out of what they have been through. Dr. Linehan has talked about the deep commitment she felt to help others who were like her, and while all good therapists are committed to their patients, for people who have been diagnosed with mental illness, the practice can be healing and provide a sense of meaning. People with mental illness who are getting a degree in counseling psychology may also have an additional drive to succeed because of a deep curiosity about their own condition.

Graduate Students and Mental Health

Students seeking to work in the field of mental health who struggle with anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses are not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, several different surveys have found that a significant number of psychology graduate students struggle with mental illnesses. Counseling services are available for students in this situation, and accommodations may also be granted.


Counselors and other mental health professionals do not have to have dealt with a mental illness in order to be effective at their jobs. Most people who work in these professions have a great deal of empathy, and empathy means being able to put oneself in others’ shoes without having had their direct experiences. However, having been diagnosed with a mental illness is no barrier to entering the profession, and someone with a mental health diagnosis can get a degree in counseling psychology and flourish in the field.

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