Category Archives: milestone

Therapy as a learning experience for both client and therapist

Every psychology placement teaches you something. While you expect to build your therapy and assessment skills, you might not anticipate the things you’ll learn about yourself. My first placement taught me that I love working with kids, that a 50+ hour work week is just not my calling, and that I’m a practical therapist; no one leaves my sessions without something concrete to use or work on. My second placement hasn’t stinted on personal insights either. For the first time, I’ve had the chance to work with adults and in the public sector. Along the way I’ve met many brave, kind and wise people; clients and practitioners alike, I’ve also learned about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (love it!), and visited hospitals, hostels and everywhere in between. But what have I learned about myself?:

1) I like freedom and autonomy – the ability to tailor therapy and assessment techniques to the client.

The individualised approach can be tricky to provide whether you are a psychologist in the private sector and limited by time and resources, or a psychologist in the public sector and expected to follow a particular assessment protocol. Regardless, I now recognise that I like the idea of individualised therapy and assessment, within my means. Why? One size does not fit all. That, and I like efficiency ūüėÄ

2) Sometimes psychologists get concerned, and that’s okay.¬†

At this point I may have thrown you.. Why is that okay? Aren’t psychologists supposed to be non-judgemental and accepting? How can you expect someone to talk to them about the tough stuff if they are worried or uneasy?¬† Well, bear with me because I agree. Psychologists should be open and non-judgemental so they can objectively understand and support their clients’ journeys. They also need to make sure that the biases and feelings that come along with being human don’t interfere with their work. BUT, at the same time they need to respect that some feelings, such as a sense of unease, might be an important signal that something is not as it should be; that the client, someone they know or even the psychologist themselves, may be at risk. This information can then be used to prompt further assessment to understand what is going on and to develop a plan to keep everyone safe. So in a nutshell, I learned that objectivity as a psychologist isn’t so black and white, it’s a balancing act of being accepting and non-judgemental while not entirely dismissing your own reactions insofar as they are helpful to therapy.

3) I’m a specialist, not a generalist.

The fact that I’m doing a PhD and therefore learning a lot about a teeny tiny area should have made this revelation a no-brainer, but it was still a bit of a surprise. Having had the opportunity to try lots of different things has shown me that while I could work in other areas – I get the most enjoyment working in my specialty area. This certainly helps with narrowing down what I’d like to be doing next!

So it’s true what they say about therapy being collaborative because client and therapist are teachers and students alike. The therapist may bring a raft of tools to share, but the client also brings lived experience to the table which adds to and shapes this toolkit. And in the process of learning how best to use these techniques to address the issue at hand, the strengths, weaknesses and preferences of both client and therapist can be highlighted.

Who knows what lessons my next placement will lead me to!




















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Filed under Clinical Phd, milestone, Reflections, Teaching

An adventure

Late last year I set a goal to attend a conference in 2013. I was aiming for a local conference but my supervisor suggested I try for an international one, the biggest in my field, with an abstract submission date a little over a week away! ¬†That was one frantic week as I learned how to ¬†squeeze my 11,967 word thesis (who’s counting?), ¬†into a 500 word correctly formatted abstract.

The next hurdle was working out how I would get to the conference if I was accepted. No one else in my cohort had been to an international conference, so I took to asking a few kind students further on in their PhD about what they knew and who might be ‘in the know.’ Eventually, I was granted permission to be absent from placement and coursework, should my poster be accepted and sorted out my funding.

Months passed. I honestly thought I had Buckley’s chance of being accepted (over 200 people weren’t because so many had applied). To my surprise I turned out to be one of the lucky ones who was accepted to present a poster at the conference. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to a conference, an international conference, and I was even going to be able to squeeze in a short visit to relatives overseas. I barely had time to process any of this though because the lead up to the conference was horrendous!¬†I was juggling placement, work as a research assistant, coursework, an assignment, conference prep and packing. This chaos as I tried to ‘land a few planes’ before I left as the Thesis Whisperer¬†would say,¬†was the inspiration for the fire-fighting duck¬†post from a few months ago.¬†The trip was well worth the chaotic lead up though and full of new experiences: my first time travelling by myself (though I was occasionally able to share the journey), in Europe and at a conference.

Being all alone in a non-English speaking country did not faze me. Aside from almost professing my love for a particular food instead of ordering it (do not trust Google Translate!!), I did quite well. My proudest achievement was ordering double-sided photocopying.  The only problem was that when I started picking a few useful phrases and colloquialisms and had learned how to say them without completely mangling them, people thought I was fluent! Whoops!! Far from it.

My limited knowledge of the language only got me so far though. For example, I had nothing to work with to tell a salesperson that I wasn’t interested in her hand creams, though my ignorance resulted in a free sample so all’s well that ended well.¬†I also realised that while my travel prep had involved making sure I knew the name of common landmarks, numbers and how to ask for directions I had overlooked ‘excuse me’ and ‘sorry.’ ¬†I felt horribly rude not being able to apologise and so had to resort to facial expressions and mime. I’ve always admired people living in a country that does not speak their first language but I’ve even more respect for them now.










The town I stayed in was beautiful. I loved the mix of the old and the new, wandering down cobbled streets with a cathedral on one corner and Zara on the other! Trying the local fare was also an adventure, you were just as likely to be handed four beers and not the four plates you asked for!!¬†I’d love to go back one day, armed with a deeper understanding of the language.

The conference itself was awesome, in the literal sense; there were almost 2000 attendees from all over the world! It was fantastic to meet some really famous and  lovely researchers and PhD students who shared my research interests. People were genuinely interested in my research too taking hand-outs or requesting them when I soon ran out of them. It can be easy to forget that people other than yourself and your supervisor might be interested in your research too!

Meeting other PhD students was interesting too. They came from universities from the exotic to the well-known and from small research groups to large research groups with seemingly unlimited funding and samples. There were also cultural differences too, in the way people networked and ¬†in their lives back home. It opened my eyes to the competition but also to the opportunities, shared interests and collegiality within the global research network. Maybe I will consider at least applying for an international post-doc, who knows? I do know that I very much like my university ¬†though, and ideally, ¬†it’s where I’d like to end up.

My conference adventure left me with several gifts. First, a greater sense of confidence; if I can fend for myself in a foreign country and muddle through in a foreign language, I can do anything! Second, hope; academia is incredibly competitive but there are some amazing opportunities out there, including international conferences, if you can combine hard work with enough serendipity to secure them. Third, my adventure left me with a stronger sense of belonging; at the local level, I got to know our little research team better and at a broader level,  I feel more part of the research community and that I do have a role to play in it, however tiny.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained!


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Filed under academic culture, Clinical Phd, communication, conferences, Goals, milestone, PhD, Reflections

Hiding behind cushions and writing letters

A haunted castle

A haunted castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I detest scary movies. I just can’t cope with the suspense, in fact I hide behind the nearest cushion when I watch them. Still, scary movies are a perfect metaphor for what it is like to be on the cusp of something big. When the protagonist walks into the basement (why is it always the basement, don’t these people watch scary movies?!)¬†you,¬†the viewer,¬†unlike the protagonist,¬†know that something big (and in this case, bad) is about to happen. Sometimes in life we are the naive protagonist, unaware of imminent events and their likely impact. At other times we are the viewers who realise that something big is happening.

Currently, I’m identifying with the viewers from my scary movie scenario. I get the feeling that I’m on the cusp of something big. Maybe many big things. It probably has a lot to do with starting my Clinical PhD and being a 20-something. ¬†In the past when I’ve felt I was on the cusp, I’ve written letters to my future self about my current experiences and hopes for the future.¬†While I will be writing a letter to Dr Honourable Mentions in her final year, I was inspired by this post¬†by Shara Yurkiewicz¬†to blog about my goals too.

Dear Honourable Mentions,

In 2012, one month into your Clinical PhD studies you had some hopes and dreams for your future self, the student about to graduate with a PhD in Clinical Psychology in 2015/2016.  You hoped that:

  • You would be as excited now as you were back then about it all: life, uni, your career, the future…
  • You would have been successful in managing the balance between research and practice, recognising the importance and enjoyment you get from each and having become what you always wanted to be: an academic and a psychologist.
  • You have been sharing this journey with great people and that you have regularly taken time out to have fun and seize the day

Moving on from these ‘big three’ over-arching goals to some that are more specific, you also hoped that:

  • You would have had the chance to publish some of your research
  • You seized the opportunity to travel overseas, meeting some of the people whose work you have read and cited
  • You have had the chance to present at a conference and hold your own
  • You have given a lecture and/or run a tutorial
  • You were able to master counselling, therapy and assessment skills – by¬†master, you mean being able to conduct a session with a client without feeling like you are learning to drive a manual for the first time. You haven’t actually seen any clients yet, but from all reports and from practising with your peers it’s obvious it’s going to take a little while before you can monitor all the things you need to be doing and¬†actively listen and respond to clients without feeling like this.
  • You have helped clients realise their own abilities and resources, in other words embraced non-directive/client-centred therapy
  • You feel that you are competent with a range of clients, e.g. people of varying ages with differing concerns
  • You have developed your own style as a clinician, based on all that you have learnt and with the flexibility to adapt to each client
And finally, my miscellaneous goals:
  • To finally have learned to play ALL of “The Heart Asks Pleasure First”
  • To have figured out how your acoustic guitar works – It’s one thing being able to read music, and quite another understanding the system underpinning which string corresponds to which note
  • To have had a snowball fight
  • To have been involved with some sort of social group e.g. sports, dance, performance etc.
  • To have participated in a flash mob – ¬†I did say these were miscellany

Best of luck with it all Honourable Mentions circa 2015/16. I know you can do it.¬†And remember, I’ll be back here to remind you that you can if you forget.


Filed under Clinical Phd, Goals, milestone, PhD, Reflections