Date of Award

Winter 1-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts In Clinical Psychology




Graduate trainees from mental health disciplines have been found to exhibit higher levels of distress in comparison to the general population. Emotional distress is not a disqualifying factor in keeping trainees from the field. However, to provide ethical care, trainees must learn the skills necessary to manage their emotions while providing professional services. Currently, professional programs in psychology are shifting towards a competency-based education model for trainees, in which they are expected to meet progress on specific benchmarks based on their developmental stage. Trainees in distress who are unable to engage in appropriate behaviors in academic and professional settings are identified as exhibiting problems of professional competence. This study examined Mental Health Educators’ (MHEs) experiences with trainees whose emotional distress adversely affected the development of their professional competence. This study used a social constructivist framework and a consensual qualitative methodology. Participants included 12 graduate level educators from Psychology and Counselor Education programs. Four domains emerged from the data, which included: Professional Competence, Balancing Roles, Ethical Decision-Making, and Multicultural Factors. The results indicated that the MHEs’ were acutely aware of the stressors associated with graduate education and had a sense of empathy for their trainees’ distress. However, they acted within their role as educators and upheld their professional boundaries. As educators, they described assessing their trainees iv professional competence and fostering restorative remediation practices. MHEs were sensitive to numerous factors including their trainees’ multicultural identities and the language they used that shaped the power differential. While considering their trainees’ professional competence, MHEs’ affirmed their foundational sense of ethical obligation to protect the public. After multiple attempts at remediation, MHEs’ would assert their gatekeeping role by either pausing or dismissing trainees if they were unable to meet the necessary benchmarks for practice.