Advocacy Corner

Amy R. Beck, PhD, RYT 200

Many psychologists shy away from advocacy for similar reasons:

  • “I don’t have enough time.”
  • “I’m not aware of the issues.”
  • “I don’t know what to say.”
  • “Legislators don’t care what I have to say.”
  • “No one asked me.”

A driving factor is the perception that advocacy can only be related to legislative work.  While legislative advocacy is a significant and incredibly important component, opportunities for advocacy go far beyond that.  Advocacy is necessary at the community, institution, and clinic levels.  Everyday advocacy is the concept that there are opportunities for speaking up and speaking out all around us, and that even small things are meaningful.  Sometimes, everyday advocacy is simply amplifying a message.  Amplifying is using a platform, privilege, or space that you have to bring attention to a message that might not otherwise be heard.  Amplifying is the form of advocacy I am choosing for this Advocacy Corner.

I have been made aware, in large part from the recent TUGSA strike, and from the recently released APA Guidelines on Equitable and Respectful Treatment of Students in Graduate Psychology Programs about challenges faced by trainees and early career psychologists who trained during the pandemic.  Transparently, I was unaware of the intensity of these challenges, and I suspect that I am not alone in that.  So, at SPPAC, I invited trainees who visited the Bravemakers Advocacy table to anonymously share experiences in their own words, for the purpose of amplifying in this space.  Seven brave individuals shared openly. 71.4% are practicum level and 28.6% are early career.  Following are the questions the respondents were asked and their anonymous responses (which have been lightly edited for clarity):


What challenges have you faced as a trainee, or are aware of other trainees facing, that you feel have not been well supported or well understood by your institutions, supervisors, professional organizations, etc.?  

  • Institutional challenges/funding
  • Burnout, financial instability, faculty getting defensive when met with constructive criticism
  • Many professors did not recognize their privilege and their financial stability and viewed the pandemic as a time for increased productivity which I felt came out in expectations and standards set in our program for research and clinical work. I noticed that faculty with access to childcare especially perpetuated this.
  • Trainee burnout
  • Supervisor burnout, trainee burnout, personal well-being (in deed, not as a didactic), institutional challenges exacerbated by the pandemic
  • Lack of diversity, representation, understanding from leadership in training settings. COVID just highlighted the inequities that already existed. Significant financial burdens that increased during COVID. Burnout related to seeing certain communities disproportionately affected by COVID and institutions not recognizing their role in this. Institutions not recognizing the pain of witnessing these inequities and just expecting trainees to move on as if nothing had happened. Gaslighting on behalf of institutions towards burn out.
  • Trainee burnout, lack of accommodations in clinical training

If there have been challenges specific to SPP/Div 54, what are those?

  • Lack of diversity in pediatric institutions and SPP and lack of advocacy on behalf of trainees

What is one thing that you wish all supervisors/faculty/psychologists understood about the current experience of being a trainee?

  • Lack of income/socioeconomic status as a grad student
  • We are exhausted. Stop telling us to engage in self-care because that isn't enough.
  • I wish supervisors knew that certain students are disproportionately affected by COVID and life factors.
  • Less connection to the community
  • Graduating during a pandemic and talk of civil war and other racially charged violent threats is not business as usual. At worst, the past 3 years have been traumatic. At best, it's been difficult to navigate training, interviews, professional transitions.
  • The world has changed and asking trainees to continue as if nothing has happened is traumatic.
  • Be compassionate with trainees. Trainees have so much on their plate and need a lot of support

If you had a magic wand that could fix the problem(s), what would you change, or how would things be different?

  • More funding
  • All trainees will be paid a living wage
  • 1) The field of psychology begin to honestly discuss the neglect, maltreatment, and exploitation of trainees. 2) The delusion of provider well-being being irrelevant to clinical work. 3) The explaining away of systemic issues/challenges as academic rigor, leading to increase of Imposter Syndrome within trainees.
  • Training directors would have honest conversations related to their leadership and training programs to see how they support trainees.
  • Supervisors and clinicians would be more open to hearing from their trainees on what they need and how they can be better supported.

Overall, how supported have you felt as a trainee during the pandemic? Scale of 1-5, with 5 as a high level of support.

  • Level 2= 42.9%
  • Level 3= 57.1%

Do you identify as a member of a historically marginalized or underrepresented group in psychology, and if yes, select all that apply?

  • BIPOC= 60%
  • English as second language= 20%
  • LGBTQIA+= 40%
  • Disability/chronic illness= 20%
  • First generation graduate student= 60%
  • Non-traditional student age and/or have child-age dependents= 40%