An exploration of the reasons for becoming a psychologist

Year: 2016

Author: Stewart, Sandra E., Reupert, Andrea, Furlonger, Brett, Round, Penny, Subban, Pearl

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The motivation for becoming a psychologist have long been discussed in terms of the “wounded healer paradigm”, which asserts that the unconscious motivation for those who have experienced earlier difficulties becoming mental health practitioners is heal their own wounds, often at the expense of vulnerable clients. Training to become a psychologist is competitive and demanding, and the factors that sustain trainee engagement are important but under investigated. The aim of this research was to examine the reasons for becoming a psychologist amongst those entering our postgraduate psychology programs. This study reports preliminary qualitative interview findings from a larger, ongoing, longitudinal study examining relationships between motivation for entering counselling and psychology programs and later professional outcomes using a mixed methods design. Students enrolled in our fourth year and fifth year professional psychology programs were invited by email to participate. Eight in-depth 30-minute interviews were undertaken. Audio files were transcribed, and analysed using thematic analysis, alongside member checks and inter-rater reliability. Five themes were identified: (i) childhood experiences, (ii) personal suitability, (iii) wanting to help people, (iv) curiosity about human behaviour and (v) wanting a meaningful and satisfying career. Findings are largely consistent with existing literature, and highlight the perceived influence of early childhood experience on later choice to become a psychologist. Future research drawing on established theoretical frameworks that account for early life influences (e.g., family values), as well as key variables associated with motivation and performance (e.g., self–efficacy) and their relationships with later professional outcomes, could advance understanding beyond the wounded healer paradigm.