The Dissertation Process and Social Support

The Dissertation Process and Social Support

Micere S. Oden, M.S.

Doctoral Candidate, Walden University

Completing the dissertation involves intensive scholarship of an area of inquiry which can be both an engaging and isolating experience. The chair and committee members serve as content and methodology experts by providing evaluation and approval of the proposal and completed dissertation (Roberts, 2010). The committee provides ongoing feedback to help doctoral students successfully accomplish the stages of the dissertation. Engagement in the dissertation process can be less lonesome when students receive social support. Graduate school offers opportunities to connect with faculty and staff to support research interests and professional development. Membership in professional associations is an excellent way to build a professional network as graduate students’ transition to become Early Career Psychologists.

Colleagues in a social support network can provide and receive emotional support of encouragement and empathy when completing milestones and furthering their progress on the dissertation. Offering and receiving informational support of advice, recommendations, and suggestions of academic resources enhances student success. Sharing successes, solutions of overcoming challenges, and wisdom gained from scholarly experiences reduces the social isolation associated with completing the dissertation. The process of writing the dissertation often occurs as students complete the practicum and predoctoral internship. Clinical training provides an additional social support network for doctoral students completing their Ph.D. or Psy.D. Clinical Psychology professional practice requirements.

The student-committee relationship of the dissertation parallels the supervisee-supervisor relationship in clinical training. Collaboration enhances the development of research skills for the dissertation and clinical skills in the practicum and internship. Scholarly writing skills of analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and integration are essential for clinical writing, progress notes, and integrative report writing. The dissertation requires a theoretical framework to guide the study which is a similar approach in a clinical setting. Case conceptualization applies a theoretical viewpoint to understand the client and her or his behavior (Berman, 2015). The application of professional psychology skills and knowledge is important in research and clinical work. Mentoring and supervision from Licensed Clinical Psychologists plays a critical role in students gaining proficiency of necessary clinical skills for professional practice in psychology.

As doctoral students’ progress in completing the dissertation they further develop advanced research competencies of reviewing the literature, methodology, results, and recommendations for future research. The Integrative Developmental Model (IDM) aligns with a competency-based approach to supervision focusing on supervisee development in clinical training across various domains to achieve optimal service with clients (Falender & Shafranske, 2004; Stoltenberg, 2008). The collaborative enterprise of the dissertation student-committee relationship and clinical training supervisee-supervisor relationship prepares doctoral candidates to become scholar-practitioners in Clinical Psychology.

Completing a doctoral study along with the practicum and internship consumes mental energy connected to using higher level cognitive abilities associated with conceptualization and practice in the profession. In addition, the psychological impact of providing therapy and assessment to clients might be draining. The stress linked to clinical training is due to the time and demands of coursework and clinical placements for trainees (Butler, Carello, & Maguin, 2016). Stress can be lowered by taking the time to focus on health and wellness.

An essential component of maintaining momentum and success in writing the dissertation and field experience is self-care. Engaging in self-care is critical for the prevention of burnout and compassion fatigue. Self-care should be considered a requirement and not an option of becoming a successful Clinical Psychologist. Participating in nurturing activities such as exercise and creative expression is key for taking care of your mental and physical health. Relaxation and exercise assists with the maintenance and restoration of our physiological and psychological equilibrium (Baker, 2003). Exercise is a significant avenue to reduce stress associated with the responsibilities of graduate school. Participating in your favorite activities and hobbies offer occasions for fun and rejuvenation while pursuing your ultimate goal of a Ph.D. or Psy.D in Clinical Psychology.

Practicing mindfulness of being in the present moment of noticing your thoughts and feelings is helpful to reduce being overwhelmed by the demands of doctoral studies. Mindfulness is connected to self-compassion of being mindful of valuing kindness towards yourself. Practicing self-compassion is timely when making mistakes and learning from life experiences in academia, the practicum, and internship. Mindfulness and self-compassion are useful coping skills that can be done anytime and anywhere.

The doctoral journey stage of writing the dissertation can be a socially isolating experience. Take advantage of opportunities to meet graduate school colleagues and professionals in graduate school courses, the practicum, internship, professional organizations, conferences, trainings, and other professional development settings. Social interaction is potentially fruitful to gain diverse perspectives on varying research topics and evidence-based practice in psychology. In closing, graduate school is a challenging and rewarding experience. Engaging in self-care and developing meaningful relationships supports satisfaction and productivity in graduate school as you prepare to become a Licensed Clinical Psychologist.


Baker, E. K. (2003). The concept and value of therapist self-care. Caring for ourselves: A therapist’s guide to personal and professional well-being (pp. 13-23). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10482-001

Berman, P. (2015). Case conceptualization and treatment planning (Third ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.

Butler, L. D., Carello, J., & Maguin, E. (2016). Trauma, stress, and self-care in clinical training: Predictors of burnout, decline in health status, secondary traumatic stress symptoms, and compassion satisfaction. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, doi:10.1037/tra0000187

Falender, C. A., & Shafranske, E. P. (2004). Clinical supervision: A competency-based approach. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Roberts, C. M. (2010). The dissertation journey: A practical and comprehensive guide to planning, writing, and defending your dissertation (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Stoltenberg, C. D. (2008). Developmental approaches to supervision. In C. A. Falender & E. P.Shafranske (Eds.), Casebook for clinical supervision: A competency-based approach (pp. 39–56). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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