National Academy of Medicine

Promoting Well-being in Psychology Graduate Students at the Individual and Systems Levels

By Catherine L. Grus, Kimberly Bodner, Justine Kallaugher, Suzanne H. Lease, Rebecca Schwartz-Mette, Dave Shen-Miller, and Nadine Kaslow
March 24, 2017 | Commentary

TW: suicide

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More than 70 percent of psychology doctoral students report experiencing stressors that can affect their ability to fully function. Common stressors include academic responsibilities, debt, anxiety, and poor work–life balance. Lack of support from faculty, poor relationships with faculty, and cohort tension are sources of stress and negatively affect both personal and professional functioning while serving as barriers to effective coping. This can result in trainees who have difficulty developing and exhibiting the proper degree of professional competence (termed as problems with professional competence.)  These problems with professional competence can be manifested in difficulties attaining identity as a psychologist, self-awareness, and reliable clinical judgment and reflection skills, as well as developing the ability to have effective interpersonal interactions. Once competency problems emerge, they demand immediate attention in order to ensure patient safety and effective care. A proactive and preventive strategy involves implementing both individual- and systems-level approaches designed to increase self-care.

The importance of practicing self-care is clear. At the individual level, graduate students who engage in self-care activities (e.g., seek social support, exercise, practice mindfulness, and use adaptive emotional regulation strategies) experience more benefits than those who do not engage in self-care. Positive benefits include decreased psychological distress and increased life satisfaction. Unfortunately, regular self-care is easier said than done, especially for students.


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Suggested Citation

Grus, C. L., K. Bodner, J. Kallaugher, S. H. Lease, R. Schwartz-Mette, D. Shen-Miller, and N. Kaslow. 2017. Promoting Well-Being in Psychology Graduate Students at the Individual and Systems Levels. NAM Perspectives. Commentary, National Academy of Medicine, Washington, DC. doi: 10.31478/201703h


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not necessarily of the authors’ organizations, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies). The paper is intended to help inform and stimulate discussion. It is not a report of the NAM or the National Academies. Copyright by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.