Semester 1, Year 2, 17 months in…
If I could sum up this semester in one word, it would be contradictory. When this semester started I’d a work-study-life balance but towards the end I found myself working most weekends just to wade through placement, assignment and research related jobs. In between this feast and famine, I discovered I really enjoyed placement, despite having little prior experience working with children and that I’m often more capable than I think, though well aware I’ve a long way to go! I also learned that despite loving what I do, 50 hour weeks are not my thing, at least not over a sustained period. There’s definitely something to be said for having time to recharge your batteries. Finally, from interacting with other researchers and realising how much I’ve learned relative to last year, I’ve begun to appreciate that even though I’m just a second year PhD student, I do have something to bring to the research table. I’ve a feeling that I’m going to look back on this semester in the future, remember all the amazing experiences and lessons learned but wonder how on earth I did all that I’ve done.
Placement related musings
Last year one of our lecturers told us that there shouldn’t be too much of a difference between who we are as a person and who we are as a therapist. The idea is that though your sessions should obviously be evidence-based and professional, they also need to reflect your style, not the style of someone you’ve decided to mimic or a persona you think you need to put on. When I was first introduced to this idea, finding my therapeutic style was the least of my worries, I just wanted to get a handle on the nuts and bolts of therapy! However, having since watched other therapists, gotten a feel for the way I like to conduct therapy and feedback from my supervisor about my approach, I can see what our lecturer meant. We do all have our own styles. I can’t really speak to other professions having only worked in hospitality or community/mental health services previously, but there is a lot of scope for having your own stamp in the profession for psychology. My own brand, from all reports, is practical, task orientated and flexible. I find this pretty funny, task orientated just about sums me up.
Placement was an incredibly positive experience. I learned a lot, about myself, people, how to help and how far I have to go. I don’t feel like I’m playing at being a trainee psychologist now. I am a trainee psychologist. Placement was also a fantastic opportunity to really get to know the other students I was working with. There’s nothing like being stuck in the office long after 5pm writing reports; the nerves of first clients, first assessments, first case presentations etc. and sharing the challenging, rewarding and hilarious (kids say the cutest things!!) to really bond with people.
Next placement I’d like to seek out some experience working with adults using traditional CBT approaches so I’ve got that grounding. I mainly worked with younger children and so the emphasis was more on the behavioural than cognitive aspects of CBT. Given I’ll spend almost all of next year on placement, ideally I’d also like one closer to home and with more of a 9-5 structure rather than the intense schedule I chose to cut-down on travel.
Research related musings
In a funny way, placement also taught me how much I loved research. As much as I loved placement, I still craved the short exchanges about the PhD journey with my fellow placement colleagues and the PhD students I bumped into on campus. Having a whole day to spend on my thesis was heaven. I think I got through three days worth of work in one on one of my ‘thesis days’, given that was all I had to spend on it between coursework, work and placement some weeks! Some people who do a Clinical PhD want a more clinical/practice than research orientated focus to their careers, some want the reverse and others want a balance. I’m definitely between the latter two categories, I would feel like a big part of me was missing if I was doing clinical work only, but at the same time I’m grateful my research area is clinically orientated.
Now that I’ve finished up my first study of my PhD and my second is finally in the ethics pipeline I’m looking towards other research outputs: getting my head more clearly round stats, presenting a poster at another conference, co-authoring a paper, potentially dipping my toe into writing a paper and chipping away at those 90,000 words. In the short-term though I’m just trying to get back into a research routine. I’ve gone from overwhelming time pressure to the other extreme!
Someone other than my markers, supervisor, parents, one of my closest friends and two of the people whose measures I used in my study has read my Honours thesis. Yes, really. I was shocked, even more so when the student in question said she wanted to chat about it! I felt like the world was spinning the wrong way round its axis.
Who know what the coming semester will bring?