I just received an anonymous email and so I can only answer this question by publishing it. I hope that it helps others who may have questions like this about becoming a psychologist and the application process.
I just read your post ‘What does it take to become a psychologist‘, and I have one burning question on my mind. I know you must show self-insight during the interview process, but how much should you reveal? I have heard of someone who received feedback from a university, after being rejected, saying that she revealed too much, whereas another university told her she revealed too little. This will be my first year applying, and I’m feeling nervous and confused (very much so!). Could you please shed some light on the ‘revealing process’?
Thank you, and thank you for a very interesting blog!
Hi, thanks for your email, I appreciate your feedback
I think this is a good question but before I give my opinion I want you and everyone to know that I do not have the definitive answers for what gets you accepted or not and I know for a fact that each university is different and each member of each panel has their own ideas about who should be accepted or not. What you’re dealing with, therefore, is a combination of factors: individual tastes and values as well as each institution’s selection criteria, etc.
That being said, I will give you my opinion based on my experience and the information I have received from those who selected me.
Most importantly, I was advised that it is not so much a question of “how much” you disclose or reveal but the degree to which you are able to make meaning from and show insight into your experiences.
Having gone through shit in life doesn’t mean you’re meant to be a psychologist, it means you’ve gone through shit (just like everyone else). But if you are able to piece together your narrative in such a way that denotes a level of maturity, insight and depth then you may stand a chance.
To this end, my biggest recommendation is that you should be involved in a long-term therapeutic process yourself before applying. Having intimate knowledge about the therapeutic experience will undoubtedly be beneficial but being able to demonstrate meaningful self-reflection is the most important.
So, if you do mention something about your personal history in the interview make sure that it is done so with the intention to demonstrate your ability to make meaning from that.
For example, instead of saying “My dad died when I was 20” rather talk about how losing your father taught you about loss, encouraged you to become independent and lead to engagement with some of your issues with authority. Can you see how what’s important here (and what you’re trying to demonstrate to them) is not what happened but how you made use of it. This demonstrates your abilities in managing difficulties, understanding psychological phenomena and shows your vulnerability as an asset not a weakness.
You might also want to think about blind spots. You might not know this yet but all therapists have their blind spots. They might ask you about this in the interview and it is a good idea to be prepared for such a question. A blind spot is a subject or client that you find difficult, so difficult that you might find it hard to perform your role as a therapist when you encounter it. More than just talking about the loss of your father, it will show even more maturity and insight if you can talk honestly about how this might affect your abilities as a therapist. If you can express how you might be vulnerable to certain blind spots, you will impress them.
The point is not to appear perfect but to demonstrate awareness. “Knowing your shit” is a very important part of the training. If you know anything about “counter-transference” then you will know that what happens in a therapy room is a dance between two subjectivities, that of the client and that of the therapist. Although they would never expect you to already know all your blind spots before starting your training (that’s what you will learn on the job, believe me) it is important to demonstrate a certain degree of self-reflection so that they can see that you have the ability to do so and that you’re not entirely unconscious or defended.
The most important thing I can tell you, is that none of this will come off if it is “performed”. You can’t go in there with the intention to wow them with your insight and it’s not going to prove anything if you start rattling on about theory or try use big words to show that you understand psychological concepts. Be yourself, be honest, be open, and keep it simple.
And lastly, do not disclose your personal history or talk about yourself like this UNLESS YOU ARE ASKED. It’s definitely going to seem strange if they ask you to talk about your academic achievements and you tell them about when your dad died. Keep it professional, remember to answer the questions they ask directly and you will probably be fine. To be honest (well at least this was my experience) the interview was a lot more straight-forward than I thought it would be.