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.