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Tara Kuther, Ph.D.

Should I Ask My Therapist for a Recommendation Letter?

By November 14, 2013

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A reader asks:

I am about 3 years out of school and am applying to Clinical Psychology PhD programs. I'm not asking any of my old professors because it's been too long and I don't think they can write helpful letters. Instead I'm asking an employer and a colleague. My question is whether I should get a recommendation letter from my therapist. She would be able to speak very favorably of me. What should I do?

A letter from a therapist is not a good idea. It will not help your application. Recommendation letters speak to the student's academic competence. Helpful letters are written by professionals who have worked with you in an academic capacity. They  discuss specific experiences and competencies that support an applicant's preparation for the academic and professional tasks entailed in graduate study. The graduate admissions committee will deem a letter from your therapist as inappropriate as it's based on a therapeutic relationship rather than an academic relationship. I can't stress enough the importance of helpful recommendation letters for admission to any graduate program. Clinical psychology, however, is one of the most competitive fields for graduate admissions, so the bar is set higher.

So what do you do? An effective referee can talk about your skills. A letter from your employer and colleague may be appropriate if they detail your capacities for academic work (and include concrete examples as support). You may think that your professors don't remember you (and they might not), but profs are used to hearing from graduates with requests for recommendation letters. Try.


May 18, 2010 at 11:56 pm
(1) Tom says:

I disagree to some degree with this. While it is important that one obtains a letter from an old professor, also having a letter from one’s therapist would be an ideal letter attesting to someone’s ability and unique character (this is a psychology program, after all).

November 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm
(2) Terri says:

I have known several people who were seeing therapists for various reasons such as help with grief, help after being involved in something terrible, childhood abuse, sexual problems, substance abuse and decided that they wanted to help people too and become therapists.It is a seriously bad idea to tell the college or university that you have even had a therapist, let alone have the therapist write a recommendation. For grad school, they want recommendations that show your academic qualifications for graduate work. Each of these different people live in different parts of the country, each had near 4.0 college grade point averages and a lot of activities in college, all had great academic references, all included a therapist reference, and all applied to several grad schools and ALL were denied entry including to the school they got their undergraduate degrees.

There is a stigma attached to seeing a therapist. There is a view that something is wrong with you and that even if you seem normal, you’ll be the next school shooter who goes berserk. The universities have plenty of highly qualified applicants and anyone who raises a red flag will get tossed aside. Three years is NOT too long to get a real reference from an old professor. Call your old school and make an appointment. Go in person to make the request and spend a little time talking about the courses you took from the professor.

I did this in my early 50′s recently using a teacher who had not seen me since 1979! And yes, he remembered me.

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