Susan a highly successful doctoral student with anxiety and self-doubt has thrived, academically. Bright and industrious, she is self-aware and psychologically-minded. She has a boyfriend and many friends. Also, she enjoys going to museums, seeing plays and reading. Yet despite her achievements and interests, she lives with chronic anxiety and depression. No amount of reassurance from her boyfriend, her dissertation chair, or her friends calms her. Rather, she constantly worries about calamity.
Although she received accolades and national awards for her masters research, as she anticipates her future she feels apprehensive, fearing that her dissertation will be substandard and she will never obtain a coveted faculty position. She ruminates about her perceived shortcomings and worries about impending disaster.
In recognizing her anxiety, depression and chronic insecurity both her boyfriend and her dissertation chair, encouraged her to seek psychoanalysis. This is a long-term, four or five day a week treatment in which she can plumb the depths of her difficulties. Her dissertation chair asserted, “I don’t think you will be satisfied with the results of a less intensive treatment”. He adds that he himself benefited from psychoanalysis when he was a graduate student.
“It helped me overcome the most pernicious sort of writer’s block and to address my anxieties around competition.” He notes that over the years he has referred other graduate students for this sort of treatment; some suffered from anxiety and depression, others had trouble with relationships and authority. He adds, “your achievements are wonderful but I’m concerned that you are unable to enjoy them. Psychoanalysis may help you with that.”
At first, Susan finds the thought of an intensive treatment spanning several years, daunting. However, as she reflects she agrees. In consultation with a psychoanalyst, she says, “I’ve had therapy before, it’s been helpful but it hasn’t really gotten to the core of my difficulties. I’m seeking a more comprehensive approach
The vignette, above, about a doctoral student with anxiety and self-doubt, is fictional. Mental health difficulties in graduate students has reached epidemic proportions.