National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy

Graduate Students' Experiences of Advocating
for Humane Treatment in a Biomedical Education System

Noel Hunter, M.A., Kateri Berasi, M.A., Ed.M., Debra Japko, M.A.,
Karolina Pekala, M.A., and Melissa Schroeder, M.A

Five doctoral students in a clinical psychology program will be presenting a panel discussion about the relationship of mental health educational programs and advocacy for a humane, recovery-oriented approach to treating clients experiencing severe states of emotional distress. Within this topic, we will examine the ways in which the status quo, aka the medical model, of mental health care often permeates professors' ideology and is thereby transmuted into pedagogy.

In our experience, students advocating for a client-centered model of care are the minority and are rarely supported in their views by faculty, supervisors, or their peers. This isolating experience perpetrates a stigmatization of both these students as well as the clients for whom they advocate. One outcome of this occurrence may be what is known in the trauma literature as moral injury, whereby the student develops negative psychological effects from being forced to act or witness acts that go against his or her morals or values (e.g., Drescher et al., 2011). This may be especially salient for those trainees who have experienced first-hand the dehumanizing, insensitive, and, at times, traumatic "treatments" that are being taught as the best that science has to offer.  Factors that can help mediate the negative impacts of moral injury may include: peer, faculty, and supervisory support; hearing first-person accounts as part of one's training; inclusion of and attention to diversity of opinion in the training programís mission  to promote a humane model of care;  downplaying the reliance on, or increasing awareness of the biases inherent in relying on historical data of clients for the purposes of diagnosis and treatment; and finally, empowering both oneself and the client by making therapeutic determinations more transparent and collaborative, in spite of an institution's preference to the contrary. Understanding that student therapists can control many of the decisions made when they are with their clients one-on-one, the trainee may find ways to act in accordance with his or her moral base.

The objective of this presentation is to discuss the importance of these factors and how attendees can support students' advancement of the consumer movement, particularly through targeted activism aimed at graduate students who have not yet conformed to the prevailing paradigm in order to avoid stigma and moral injury.  Following the lead of the nursing profession and their duty as patient-advocates, recommendations will be made on how to promote a more client-centered education and treatment approach. The goal is to encourage diverse models of mental health care in educational settings, whereby both students and clients will have more opportunities to experience increased empowerment and dignity. 


Drescher, K. D., Foy, D. W., Kelly, C., Leshner, A., Schutz, K., & Litz, B. (2011). An exploration of the viability and usefulness of the construct of moral injury in war veterans. Traumatology, 17(1), 8-13.


Link to brief presenter bios:        

Noel Hunter, M.A.

Kateri Berasi, M.A., Ed.M.

Debra Japko, M.A.

Karolina Pekala, M.A.

Melissa Schroeder, M.A.