What to Wear: The Psychologist Edition


And now for something a bit more lighthearted.  What the heck do you wear to work as a psychologist?!

“The Rules”

There’s no straight forward answer to that question. Generally speaking, the dress code for a psychologist is ‘smart casual.’ Just how smart or casual you can be and how much personality you show varies a lot though. I’ve seen everything from child therapy conducted in stilettos, quite successfully I might add; through to jeans and sneakers, tattoos and, blue hair (though not all at the same time).

Given this diversity, ‘getting it right’ for your first placement or job can be tricky. My  plan of attack over the years has been to suss out what the general consensus of smart casual seems to be at the workplace in question and then to consider what I’ll need to be able to do comfortably in those clothes. E.g. Will I need to run or walk around a lot? Sit on the floor? Work in a prison? Visit the courts?

My ‘uniform’

One of my friends dubs my work attire “modest professional.” I think that’s a pretty accurate label. I don’t wear anything low-cut, clingy or more than a centimetre or two above the knee. As someone who looks younger than their years I also tend to err on the smarter/dressier side of things. Usually, I’ll wear a (loose-ish) pencil skirt, a patterned circle skirt or trousers paired with a nice blouse or top with sleeves. In the winter I might pair the outfit with tights and/or a cardi. My personality comes out more in the colours and patterns I wear, I am not afraid of colour! However, some accessories with more personality or that give a bit of a nod to my cultural background, I leave for weekend wear.

Sometimes having a bit more of your personality in your clothes can be an asset.  For example, it can make you seem less scary to kids if you’re sporting batman cuff-links or star wars earrings. At the same time you don’t want what you wear to detract from your work, it’s all about the client, not you after all! In my case, presenting an ever so slightly watered down version of myself at work has just become a a habit. I think because I’ve repeatedly worked in settings where a lot of clothing items or accessories posed sensory issues or a safety risk. It’ll be interesting to see if this changes at some point.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to throw together a bit of a capsule wardobe for my first job. Being on a shoe string budget and traditionally finding it quite hard to find  clothes that fit well has made the process that bit more challenging. Then add my preference for clothes that are not too clingy, short or low-cut… and I’m sure you imagine the ‘fun’ I’ve had! It’s moments like these that make me seriously contemplate learning to make my own clothes. It’s involved a fair bit of bargain hunting and creativity with what’s left of the clothes that got me through five years of post-grad and four placements! But I’m more or less set now with clothes, phew!

At the end of the day, does it really matter what you wear?

Well yes and no. Beyond meeting a basic standard of professionalism, what you wear is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. However, what you wear as psychologist can also be part of your therapeutic toolkit. Got a particularly challenging day ahead? You might choose to wear something that lifts your spirits. Doing schema therapy later on? Many psychs have a ‘healthy adult outfit’ to help put them in the right frame of mind for difficult chair work or imagery. Or perhaps you are working with a shy teen who likes Harry Potter, then why not roll out your Hedwig earrings for the day as a potential ice-breaker?

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