In 1969, during my second year in a doctoral program in clinical psychology at Purdue University, I experienced what I believed to have been a huge breach in trust. At that time, a pervasive ennui had taken hold of me that had its roots in a growing dissatisfaction with my studies. In retrospect, I can attribute part of the frustration I experienced back then to student mental exhaustion. I had a deep yearning to join the workforce that would free me from the task of writing papers and taking exams.
However, my inertia at that time had other sources. As a Psychology Trainee at two Veteran Administration’s Hospitals, I had evidenced some serious shortcomings in patient treatment. My supervisor at the hospital located in Danville, Illinois had strong features of obsessive-compulsive behavior manifested in the manner by which she tested and diagnosed patients. Not thinking it wise to rebel, I followed her directives that consisted of a long set of rules and procedures in diagnosing a patient. Whatever result I got, in my mind, simply did not match the amount of time spent in performing this tedious chore. The second hospital I worked at, located in Marion, Indiana was dark, dank and a far more depressing place with fewer resources than the one in Danville. Since my Traineeship, I am happy to say inpatient clinical care of patients has shown marked improvement.
Personality Theory in Psychology was a course I remember to have found quite stimulating. However, I soon learned that the faculty member teaching this course had volatile and unstable features and, I was advised by an upper-class colleague to avoid working with this professor on any big project such as a thesis or dissertation. Wisely, I followed this advice and escaped the fate that befell a fellow student.
I never really relished learning how to do testing and assessment of clients. The graduate student, in his last year of the doctoral program, who was in charge of grading our intellectual assessments, I felt had favorites and was a bit of a nitpicker. He would find the smallest of errors on our test protocols as a means of giving us a grade. I sensed he was looking for mistakes to justify what he was doing. However, I enjoyed taking a course in the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventor (MMPI) in addition to very much resonating with the professor, I shall call Dr. James, who taught it.
Beyond the testing and assessment classes, the first two years of study involved little other clinical work. The other academic area of focus was research. Although I enjoyed designing the experiment for my master’s thesis, I lacked the motivation required to do research. As I worked on my master’s thesis, once more it appeared to me that the amount of energy spent in completing one research paper, substantially outweighed any result the experimental might yield. Moreover, I knew that a large number of studies with findings in the direction predicted were essential in establishing a meaningful trend in the data. I could not help feeling that the amount of input needed in conducting an investigation into a variable was not sufficiently rewarded by the output or results of that particular study.
Because I had a good feeling about Dr. James, the professor who taught MMPI as an assessment tool, I chose him as my major advisor on my master’s committee. He willingly accepted. Feeling lost in terms of my professional goals, I opened myself up to Dr. James, expressing the self-doubt I was having in seeing the value of my studies. This, I told him, made it difficult for me to feel very motivated. He appeared supportive in what I reported I had been experiencing. I may have met with him two or three times, seeking an answer to my confused state of mind, before I decided to request a leave of absence from the program after completing all the requirements for my master’s degree.
When I had completed the final write-up of my thesis and was ready to defend it, the last step before receiving my master’s degree, I began hearing some ugly rumors from some students in their last year. One of them, Steve, who had an in with the faculty, told me that my termination from the doctoral program had been mentioned, not for academic reasons, but rather for a lack of motivation. I remember my shock at hearing those familiar words: lack of motivation. I knew that rumors are rumors but there was no reason for him or other students to give me false news. Besides, I was well-liked and to my knowledge had no enemies.
A week or so later I successfully defended my thesis in front of Dr. James and my other committee member. Both of them congratulated me and told me that my thesis was so cleverly designed that I should consider making research a career goal. Subsequently, prior to leaving Purdue for my leave of absence that had been granted, I made an appointment to see Dr. James. When I met with him, I asked him whether the rumors I had heard of my being terminated from the program were true. He said they were but I was leaving in good standing. Although I was irate when he verified the gossip, I bit my tongue, not wanting to hurt my chances of reentering the program in the future.
After bidding my friends farewell, I got into my car, still miffed about what had transpired with Dr. James. With my departure, I carried an emotional scar coming from my sense of having been betrayed. Because I had very much-admired Dr. James, the scar cut that much deeper into my interior.
It took some time for me to understand more fully what had happened to me. When I realized what I had done, that scar, though always there, no longer burned. I had crossed a boundary in treating Dr. James, not as my major advisor and academic mentor, but rather as my personal therapist. How very foolish of me! In essence, I was telling him that what he did and what I was trying to do was a waste of time. Indeed, I had used poor judgment in telling him confidential things that I should never have revealed. Although painful, I had learned a lesson about life: If you are not careful with whom you share some of your inner most private thoughts, they may come back and haunt you.