It takes one to know one! That’s the basis for my belief that a large number of those studying psychology at all levels have themselves significant experience with mental illness. Certainly, as with the veterinary field or airline piloting for example, you can find that you really enjoy something, but for the stereotypical mental health counselor, what’s the attraction?
For many human services fields there is a problem with those who are attracted to the power over the lives of those who are struggling. They may not be abusing it outright, but it affects their client relationships. I’m casting political correctness aside, it’s time for frankness. If you don’t feel good about yourself, what better position to be in than one where you define reality?
I have known dozens if not hundreds of people online in mental health groups who say that when they are able to, they are going to go to college and study psychology. They are already self-made experts, as the levels of competence in the field vary widely. They have not yet learned a scienfic objectivity, though. What may happen in this case, is they will arrive as professionals with a tendency to use the scientific process to rationalize their beliefs already developed. That, too, is an attraction of the field for them.
Psychology is, on the whole, drawing conclusions from data gathered. There are only informed opinions, no matter how strongly the structure for forming those opinions is enforced. Studies are more or less valid depending on the investigator as well as the methodology. Many people with mental illness are very intelligent, and quickly adapt to systems. Stories of these people in inpatient settings, such as “Girl, Interrupted” show how they quickly understand and function in the system.
While I would much rather seek help from a psychological counselor with a personal history of mental illness than one who was attracted by money or rigid systems of definition, I think I would be deluding myself to think that like does not attract like, and that those who have traveled beyond the fringes of normalcy and returned find it a strength that they can then use for their career.