The way I found my first work placement in Psychology was unconventional to say the least, in fact I wasn’t even looking for it, but it found me! I think it’s safe to say it was one of the best things I’ve done in my academic career to date.
So how did I stumble upon my first work placement? It all started with a tweet….
I've always been interested in film-making and at one point I wanted to be a Writer/ Director (I still love film, but that dream is on the back burner for now). One day I saw a tweet from Film Producer Judy Goldberg about a short film project. The film was about survivors of abuse and the aim was to have it released in schools all over the country. I immediately tweeted back asking if I could get involved somehow, and to my surprise she replied to my tweet! Next thing I was emailing her my CV and cover letter and before I knew it, I was on the film set: shadowing the Director, creating release and consent forms, and liaising with Psychologists to support any vulnerable crew members due to the sensitive nature of the film.
Long story short, the film premiered at BAFTA and all cast & crew were invited. In the private bar at the end of the event I was mingling and networking with different people, one who happened to be an activist and educator who worked with various charities, clinics, hospitals etc. I told her I was a Psychology student and she asked if I was looking for a placement, and said she would be happy to put me in contact with the director of a clinic that just so happens to be the leader in research, training and the clinical treatment of anxiety in the UK. Next thing I know I receive an email from him, I send over my CV and cover letter, and was invited down for an interview. The interview went really well and I got the job. I was donned the title of Honorary Assistant Clinical Psychologist, and so my journey in the world of Clinical Psychology began...
Where did I work?
I worked in an NHS adult outpatient clinic where patients had anxiety disorders/ trauma such as:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Health Anxiety (HA)
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
- Specific Phobia of Vomit (SPOV or Emetophobia)
- Specific Phobia Disorders (e.g. spiders, flying etc.)
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Hoarding Disorder (HD)
- Social Anxiety (SAD)
- Panic Disorder (PD)
The main form of treatment at this clinic was Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I spent my first week getting familiar with the different service streams & learning about anxiety disorders. I completed an online course: Introduction to Anxiety Disorders and received a certificate. I had to read a lot of literature: journal articles, books etc. about anxiety disorders and CBT. This was equally exciting and challenging as I didn’t have experience in this area; training was provided in the form of weekly workshops, lectures and seminars.
As therapists we should be willing to do the things that we ask our clients to do…
One of these workshops was about behavioural experiments and exposure response prevention (ERP). I had the opportunity to design a behavioural experiment to tackle a personal phobia of mine. At first I felt extremely nervous and apprehensive to take part. But in the end I realised how helpful the exercise was. It provided insight into how clients might feel during therapy sessions and how brave they are to attend therapy and tackle their core fears. This helped to improve my empathic skills, an essential skill for Clinical Psychologists. It also taught me that as therapists we should be willing to do the things that we ask our clients to do (like sticking your hand down the toilet during ERP for contamination fears!). This prepared me to take part in real ERP, treating clients alongside my supervisor.
Further support came in the form of weekly meetings with my supervisor. This provided opportunities to reflect on the week, and learn new clinical skills such as formulation of disorders. This would sometimes involve role play, where I would play the therapist and my supervisor would play the client. At first I felt awkward doing this and it soon became very apparent just how difficult it can be to apply theory to practice. It was one thing learning what to say to a client, and another thing entirely to practice asking questions, whilst simultaneously drawing out a formulation, making notes, and remembering to be empathic! I also had to do a lot of administrative tasks such as making up assessment and treatment folders, writing letters to clients on behalf of therapists, writing assessment reports, updating electronic patient data systems, writing clinic meeting minutes & agenda and covering reception.
What were the best and worst bits?
- Excellent clinical experience –working first-hand with patients (under supervision)
- See how what we are learning in lectures is practised in the real world
- Meet people in the field where you would like to work
- Find out what it’s really like to be a Clinical Psychologist
- Getting involved in real research and treatment
- Travel – my placement was a good 2 hour journey form campus where I was staying so this was a bit of a pain! In hindsight I would maybe have got accommodation nearer to the clinic.
My advice to you
Make sure you think about travel and accommodation when applying for placements. Be creative whilst you're there: get involved, ask questions and make sure you keep a journal as you go along so you don't forget anything.
And most of all, network, network, network!