I’m quite proud to say that a few months ago, I finished my last ever psychology placement. This means that I’ve now completed over 1500 hours worth of assessments, therapy sessions and everything else that makes up the day to day activities of a trainee psychologist. What is particularly special about reaching this milestone, is that the last time I thought I had,* I wasn’t able to celebrate or reflect on it because I had to rush overseas for a family emergency.
I think it’s really important to acknowledge milestones no matter their size and particularly PhD related ones because they are so few and far between. So presented with the opportunity, my placement buddy and I celebrated with party poppers, plastic winner medals and party horns! The photo we took of the two of us after we’d walked out of the clinic for the last time, grinning from ear to ear, is one that I will always love. It reminds me of all the steps that got me there, the people I met along the way, and all the ways in which I grew as a person and a therapist.
It’s hard to even begin to articulate how pivotal that final placement was for me. At the time I knew that it was changing how I wanted to operate as a person and as a therapist, and it continues to do so even now. I learned so much about how to be a therapist, not just the nuts and bolts of therapy, but clinical decision making, my strengths and weaknesses and how to craft my own style. I had the privilege of walking beside clients on their journeys and learning from them, my supervisor and colleagues how best to assist. I learned the value of process work and self-reflection, and most importantly, I learned that I could be a therapist. It remains the highlight of my degree and among one of my life’s experiences that I am most grateful for.
One of the main consequences of the whole experience is that my ideal career path now looks very different. I began an Honours degree in psychology thinking that I wanted to do a Clinical PhD. Ultimately though, I saw myself focusing on diagnostic assessments in the area of autism. Early on in my Clinical PhD I figured I’d split my career between research and clinical practice in autism assessment with perhaps a bit of therapy work with typically developing children thrown in the mix. Now, thanks to this last placement, I want to work as a psychologist in adult mental health while also doing autism assessments. It’s a funny turn of events for someone who had a very clear idea of what they wanted to do and why from a young age! I don’t have any regrets though.
What I wished I could have told myself at the start of my placement journey/found useful:
- Read ‘The Making of a Therapist’
- No placement is too far away
- Ask students about which placements they have liked / disliked and why
- If you feel you’ve missed out on developing core skills, approach the university with your concerns, it will be worth it.
- Stay on top of your log-book
- Do not feel obliged to make work for yourself at the start of a placement to meet your weekly hours. You will more than make up for them as your case load builds.
- It will be hard. You will feel incompetent. This is a good thing, it means you’re learning and self-reflecting. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
- If anyone says they are 100% confident / perfect as a therapist, they are lying! It’s that lack of complacency and self-review that makes a good therapist.
- Make like a sponge and drink in whatever learning opportunities you can.
- Share, hoard and organise resources you come across as you go along
- Your supervisor is an ally – if you’re stuck, tell them why. Tell them what you’re working on. Ask for feedback. Give them feedback about what is and isn’t working.
- Celebrate the milestones, the big and the small.
- Develop a self-care routine – debriefing is a really important part of that, so is tea 🙂
*If you’re understandably confused by how you can mistakenly think you’ve finished all your placements – follow the link to ‘Looking Back on 2015.’