My husband is a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology at a pretty well-respected institution. He has been there for three years now and recently completed his Master’s defense, which was very well-received. He isn’t having any trouble with the coursework or his lab. He has always been an excellent student and very dedicated to his work (in undergrad he was the sort who would track his daily hours of homework on a calendar in color-coded ink.) His research is incredibly thorough and well-conceived.
Since becoming a Ph.D. student (well actually, beginning with the applications process) he’s become deeply insecure about his abilities. He’s felt overwhelmed and particularly paranoid about his clinical work. I’m not sitting beside him every day watching him treat patients, but it seemed to me that he was just finally feeling the ‘‘little fish in a big pond’’ pressure that many academics go through. So I tried to help him by encouraging him to combat his irrational thoughts about not measuring up.
His predominant concern was that he felt he wasn’t learning as quickly as he should be in his clinical practice. His supervisor had apparently pointed out several times that she spends more time with him than any of her other students. When he told me this during the beginning of their working relationship, my first thought was, ‘‘Wow, what a right bitch.’’ Now maybe that’s just me being defensive, but I don’t think I would tell someone new to the clinical field that they were doing worse than everyone else. That just seems obnoxious.
But apparently he believed her. I guess it was the thing that really made him worry the most. After his successful Master’s defense he calmed down considerably. I thought all this had blown over until he went to wrap up his clinical work. His supervisor told him that she feels like he’s not learning at an appropriate pace for the amount of effort he’s been putting in or for his apparent level of intelligence. She thinks he has something wrong with his working memory or that some aspect of his cognitive ability is lagging far behind the others. She suggested he get tested for a learning disability.
His reaction to this was not what I expected. He seemed more relieved than anything else, because it confirmed his belief that something was wrong with his clinical practice. He obsessed about it for days. He decided not to do the practicum that he spent an entire year preparing for because he didn’t feel he was ready for it, and ever since then it’s been all about how he wants to get tested for a learning disability. I wouldn’t say he’s obsessed now, but I definitely feel like he’s putting more importance on the idea of a learning disability than is warranted. It’s almost as if he’s saying, ‘‘If it’s a learning disability than I don’t have to feel ashamed.’’ Like his self-worth as a psychologist is hinging on there being an objective reason for his difficulties.
I’m just really uncomfortable with the way this all seems to be going. Of course if he has an issue that can be treated, that would be great. But he’s also complained that the quality of supervision and training at his clinical practice was poor, that it’s highly unstructured and that in itself might be a reason for his poorer performance. He’s talked about this with other colleagues and his mentor and they basically feel like his supervisor has no idea what she’s talking about. I feel angry with this supervisor for screwing with his head from the very beginning and I’m honestly not sure if he’s getting closer to an answer or just allowing his insecurities to get the best of him. If this is much ado about nothing I’m going to be pretty upset about the fact that he gave up his dream practicum because some supervisor made him feel incompetent.
It’s hard for me to honestly assess him since I’ve known him so long and there are a lot of things about him that I assumed were just idiosyncrasies, but nothing profound. There are a few things that have always struck me as odd but I never considered they could be a learning disability.
- He conflates words a lot. Instead of ‘‘substance’’ or ‘‘sustenance’’ he’ll say ‘‘substanance.’’ He does this all the time and has no idea he’s doing it.
- He can’t remember anything off the top of his head. He has a very hard time with using estimates. For example, if I go to the grocery store, come home, and he asks me how much I spent, I will probably remember $123.48 down to the penny, but I’ll say, ‘‘About $125.’’ OTOH, if I ask him something similar, he is incapable of giving even an estimate, and has to look at the receipt. ‘‘About how much do we pay for car insurance?’’ He has to look it up. I don’t know if this is normal or not.
- He can’t remember anything unless he writes it down. He will almost never give a straight commitment for something. Even very simple requests, like ‘‘Can you take care of the dishwasher today?’’ are met with, ‘‘I’ll try to remember.’’ He writes almost everything down. He insists that he must write things down or else he will forget.
Those to me are the most unusual/jarring things, but I always just assumed they were differences between him and me, not differences between him and everyone.
OTOH, he remembers exact quotes from movies and TV shows we watched five years ago, and the specific context of those movies, and the exact issue # of his favorite comic events. So I don’t know how worried I should be. And supposing he does have a learning disability? How would that change anything? AFAIK you can’t make those go away. It’s not like he would be a different person, or his clinical work would magically be easier.
So what do you think? Typical grad school insecurity? Or something more? How can I help him deal with this?