When I attended college it was a rare student who worried whether a “B” grade on a test indicated “failure.”
Today, many university st
udents now set such impossibly high standards and overly critical self-evaluations that they suffer from stress, anxiety,
other psychiatric illnesses, and lack of success, because of this often disabling “maladaptive” perfectionism.
CAMH scientists Natasha Radhu, Jeff Daskalakis, and York University professor Dr. Paul Ritvo screened nearly 1,000 students at an urban Canadian university finding that, surprisingly, about 25 per cent qualified as perfectionists.
Then they measured maladaptive perfectionism among students who had received an internet web-based cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) lasting 12 weeks. They were compared to a control group who were on a “wait-list” (see the American Journal of College Health
for more details). At the end of the therapy, the CBT group showed decreases in anxiety and negative thoughts versus the control group.
This study suggests that a web-based CBT intervention might help some students who are overly perfectionist—especially those who find it difficult to interact in person with a health professional. The study does need to be replicated in a larger number of participants, but web-based interventions have the advantage of being low cost and easily accessible.
It seems to me, however, that although such behavioural therapy may well be helpful, there should be just as much emphasis on trying to change the external factors responsible for the belief that anything "less than perfect is unacceptable." These include parents and college teachers having unreasonable expectations, peer pressure and competition, and the economic recession with limited employment.