When I graduated from the University of Roehampton in summer 2017, I decided that I was going to take a year out for myself to get the experience I needed to be a psychologist. One of the main areas for me to develop was my clinical experience, so since July 2017 I have been immersing myself in different experiences to help me decide where in the world of psychology I would like to work. I know very well that leaving University can be daunting especially when you’re launching yourself into a field that you want to succeed in. However, seeking experience has got me further than I imagined I would just a year after graduating from my Psychology Undergraduate Degree.
If you’re looking to get into the psychology field and are unsure of where to get experience, I would recommend looking into the following roles.
An Honorary Assistant Psychologist
The role of an Honorary Assistant Psychologist (HAP) is a great way to get experience straight after university. The role of a HAP is an unpaid placement in a clinical setting. My placement was over six months in the NHS and I was working with adults who were suffering with Down Syndrome and were consequently at risk of developing dementia. Generally, placements are around one to three days per week depending on where your placement is and what work is involved. The work that each placement requires can vary depending on the division or project that you work within. However, generally you will gain experience in how to conduct clinical assessments and write clinical reports. From my experience and from speaking to others who have also completed Honorary Assistant Psychologist placements, two days is always a great amount of time to get yourself enough experience over six months. It gives you the opportunity to specialise in your placement while having time to meet others in your sector. If you’re worried about the cost of volunteering or completing a placement, it is good to keep a lookout for places offering placements that pay towards your travel. My personal advice would also be to complete your placement for two days a week and have a part-time job alongside to help with any costs you may have.
Volunteering can give you a headstart in the field of psychology whether you are still completing your degree or have already graduated. One of my favourite volunteering experiences was when I was a volunteer for the NHS collecting patient feedback from adults in an acute psychiatric ward. Being a volunteer has taught me a lot about working with different age groups, while I also learned about myself and where I would be able to work in the future. The great thing about volunteering is that you can test the waters and see where you feel comfortable. Not everyone will enjoy volunteering or working in particular environments, especially if it can be highly sensitive or does not turn out how you thought it would. It is also not always easy as you may not always have time or be able to afford to be able to help out. Taking a look at what is around you, what you can offer and what you can learn is extremely beneficial. There are many NHS Trusts and local charities, especially those specialising in mental health, that benefit from volunteers. Keep a lookout for volunteering opportunities on their websites and try to find one that works for you.
A Support Worker
A popular role among aspiring psychologists is that of support worker. The role can be in a variety of sectors, such as private practices, charities and the NHS. Becoming a support worker is a popular choice because it is patient-facing, giving the opportunity to learn a lot from the people that you work with. Responsibilities and tasks that you will do as a support worker could involve: patient personal care, day support and practical support. If you are a new graduate, this role may be perfect for you to determine areas that you would like to work in, while getting paid.
I have not yet been a support worker but as a recent graduate who is returning to do my masters, I will definitely be keeping my eye open for support worker roles to do alongside studying! I personally would love to expand the divisions that I have worked in while making a difference to someone every day.
I can honestly say that taking a year out for myself to get experience was one of my best decisions and it’s taught me a lot about where I’m heading in Psychology. To help those of you who are considering a career in psychology, my advice and top tips are below:
Networking is key! This goes for all professions but in psychology networking is particularly beneficial given the fact that there are so many different roles that people do. In my year out I have had two (HAP) posts in two different NHS Trusts. Making the effort to speak to a variety of professionals has helped further my understanding of the roles that I would like to pursue in psychology, while allowing others to see my passion for the field and to gain their support.
TIP: While you’re networking, don’t be afraid to ask questions about how people have achieved their professional status, whether there are opportunities to shadow them or whether they have some time to speak about your career progression. Most people would love to discuss your career in psychology and will have tips for you to achieve your goals.
Create a reflective log
Being ‘reflective’ is probably one of the most common things that I was told to do to succeed as an aspiring psychologist. However, I know I won’t be the first to say I had no clue where to start. Having a log/diary will aid in being reflective because you will be able to recall your experience and draw upon them in the best way. As you progress, your reflective log will become more in-depth and subsequently your reflective skills will develop.
TIP: In your reflective log it’s also beneficial to list things that you’re involved in, and to note down abbreviations and also situations you’ve been in. Sometimes when you’re in the moment you may not feel something have an impact on you, but upon reflection some events may be telling of situations and tasks you have completed. An example of this would be to expand on the multidisciplinary team meetings that you attend and make notes to show that while you may be working in one team, you are offering support and having professional conversations with staff across teams and thus learning more about the divisions.
Ask and be open to feedback
No matter what task you do, you will inevitably have a personal idea of how the task has gone. If you are working for or alongside others, it is really useful to ask for feedback on what you’ve done. Feedback is something that can often seem straightforward to ask for, but actually utilising someone’s suggestions will benefit you.
TIP: It can be daunting when you have a lot of seniors giving you advice but I’d recommend keeping mind of what they’ve said (or adding it to your log) so that when you complete a similar task, you are also thinking of the feedback you received. Completing my first clinical report was one of the areas where I really spent time with my supervisor to understand how to perfect the report so that it would be useful for clinicians and the service user. It’s important to remember that you don’t take feedback personally but you grow and learn from it.
Set yourself goals
Setting yourself small milestones to achieve is a really good way to get motivated and think about the steps you are taking to get to your ideal position. Even if you are unsure what position you are going for, the small milestones will help you realise your potential and can help you judge where you’d like to go from what you have tried. I personally believe that setting smaller milestones is more helpful when working towards a long term goal as you are able to see your progression and weaknesses.
TIP: If you use your reflective log and add your goal achievements to this, it will not only be satisifying to tick off your achievements, but it will make it easier for you to expand on your skills when you are questioned on them. It is very easy to just say ‘I have experience as an Assistant Psychologist’ but to think about all of the steps you took to become an Assistant Psychologist and the skills you have learned in the role is where your reflective skill comes through. Be sure to note your work and show this in your CV.
Believe in yourself
I cannot stress enough the importance of believing in yourself. When you are in a psychological environment and you have the mindset of where you would like to go, it can sometimes be stressful (among other feelings) when you see that there is a long journey to get to where you want to be. Alongside your psychology experience, the best thing you can do is believe in yourself and be confident that you can achieve your goals. I have been in many scenarios where people have doubted me; however the motivation I have to achieve my goals, despite disbelief, has made me want my goals more. I’m not saying at all that becoming a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist will happen overnight if you are positive, but if you set your mind to something, it will happen.
TIP: It is always great to hear other people’s experience and advice, but remember that you will always know what is best for you.
These are just some of the many things that I have learned that I think will be great to keep in mind in your journey of psychology, especially when you are starting. I hope that my experience and tips can help guide you closer to your job that you aspire to achieve.