Category Archives: psychology

The Transition from PhD Student to Psychologist

Ever wondered what it’s like for to make the transition from PhD student to psychologist? Read on!

What’s it like adjusting to full-time work?

It’s a walk in the park. Across the years of completing my PhD I was regularly clocking in a lot more than a 40 hour work week. Now, I have weekends. My evenings are free from administrative tasks, assignments, emails and extra work. I physically can’t bring my work home with me. It’s amazing! I have so much more time and brain space now. I’m even learning to play the guitar, something I’ve wanted to do for almost a decade but just could never fit in with all the other things I was juggling.

What’s it like getting back into doing therapy?

The gap between the final placement and first job plays on the minds of many a psychologist in training. Why? Well in any post-grad psych degree you juggle coursework, placement and a thesis. Once they’re all passed, you can register as a psychologist and look for a job. However, for many Clinical PhD students there can be a gap of around a year between finishing placements and seeking registration because completing the thesis takes up a lot of time. Many students therefore worry that their therapy skills may become rusty from lack of use and/or that they will be less marketable to potential employers.

From my perspective, I had a gap of about a year between placement and my job search and it did not deter potential employers in the slightest. The transition into getting back into doing therapy again was also so anticlimactic that it was ridiculous. It was just like riding a bike again. Well, what I assume that would be like if I’d ever properly mastered bike riding to being with ;).

What’s it like no longer being a student?

I’m finding that this last aspect of transition takes the most getting used to, and perhaps not for the reasons that you would expect. On a trivial level, I can now officially identify as ‘psychologist’ rather than ‘trainee psychologist.’ It saves time when writing case notes and is a much more readily understandable job! If I had a dollar for every time I had to clarify what being a trainee psychologist meant…

On a less trivial note, the hierarchy I operate in now is different. I have more peers than superiors and my colleagues regularly look to me for insights due to my training or specialty. This stands at odds to the distinct hierarchy of academic research within which I’ve spent the bulk of the last decade! I’m also far less likely to be surrounded by other psychologists now than in the clinics I’ve worked in on placements.

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Filed under A day in the life, Clinical Phd, Early career, psychology, Reflections

The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog

Now that I’ve some time on my hands, I’m reviving the Psychology Book Club and trying to make a dent in my to-read pile.

This week’s selection is “The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog” by Bruce Perry and Maria Szalavitz.

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The Whistle-Stop Tour

  • Intended audience: Health professionals, people interested in psychology or trauma.
  • Content: 275 pages of case studies about psychiatrist Bruce Perry’s experiences working with young people affected by trauma.
  • Readability: Easy to understand. Nb. some case studies may be distressing/triggering.
  • Practicality: There are layers here, probably one to re-read to get the most out of it.
  • Cost: Kindle $AUD 9.67; paperback copy from the Book Depository $AUD 13.70
  • Publication details: Basic Books 2006
  • Overall rating: ★★★★★

The Extended Review

I first heard about this book being described as a ‘must read’ for those interested in working with childhood trauma when I was beginning my postgraduate training. It was recommended to me again more recently in the context of trauma more generally. Now that I’ve finally gotten round to reading it, I can say that it does not disappoint.

Perry describes his experiences working with a range of children and their families affected by trauma. These are real people in very challenging circumstances and so this book is not a light read. However, the resilience of the people behind each story really shines through.

The frank and reflective style of the authors provides some great insights into what worked, what didn’t and why. Perry also touches on the evidence base for various approaches and the links between brain and behaviour without presuming any prior knowledge. Really there’s something for everyone in here whatever your therapeutic orientation or stage of career.

Personally, I’ve walked away with some more nuanced ideas about supporting young people through trauma disclosure, a greater awareness of the impact of the timing of trauma and an interest in the neurosequential model.

In sum, the insights in this book translate beyond working with children or people affected by trauma, so if you’re a health professional, it’s really worth a read.

If you’ve read ‘The Boy Who Was Raised as Dog,’ what stood out for you?

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Filed under Book Club, psychology

I’m still here

It’s been a tumultuous year. I’ve discussed some of this before, but 10 months out I’ve some more perspective. Here goes nothing.

In January, I took an intermission from my PhD to travel overseas with a family member with a chronic health condition to assist them in helping another sick family member. I spent three months there. In those three months I did not work on or even think about my PhD. I didn’t have the time!

It took those three months just focusing on the day to day, removed from the world of academia to finally process what I had begun to realise in the the third year of my PhD; I wanted out of academia. It was a scary and a liberating realisation. It was liberating to decide that I wanted out because I could get off the merry-go-round of publish or perish and extra-curricula commitments designed to make me a competitive candidate for academia. Instead, I could focus on finishing my Clinical PhD and pursuing clinical work both therapy and assessments full-time rather than predominantly assessment work part-time as I had previously intended.

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I took some more time off when I returned home to recuperate from all the care-taking I had been doing. Then I began to consider how equipped I was for my new game plan. I had some concerns. Across the placements I’d completed and my research, I’d gained considerable experience with diagnostic and assessment work and good grounding in therapy for supporting children and their families. However, I had relatively less experience providing therapy to adults.  I felt that I had not yet had enough experience with adult therapy to rule this sort of work in or out, and that I could do with more exposure working with this population in an in-patient clinic setting to complement my previous experience in  community based psycho-social rehab work.

I voiced my concerns to someone in the department and was offered an extra placement that would give me the chance to support people with some of the most complex difficulties you can encounter as a psychologist and give me a greater breadth and depth of experience. The catch? The placement would clearly be very challenging, involved a very long commute and would finish just three months before my thesis was due. The placement was exactly what I needed, but the timing was awful. What did I do? I took the opportunity anyway.

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I’ve since started the placement and it was a good move. The challenges the clients who attend the clinic present with are complex but the supervision is excellent and I’m learning so much. Thankfully the commute is a little quicker than anticipated too. The work is also less difficult than I anticipated too.

As for the impact on my research, I can’t deny that there has been an effect. I’ve not written a thing towards my thesis, but data collection is getting there, slowly. So I just remind myself to do what I can and be kind to myself. It’s bittersweet watching my cohort enter the final weeks before they submit, knowing they will soon be gone and I will still be here. But next year, that will be me too: thesis submitted, job applications in, freedom awaiting.

This past year and my clinical work has reminded me of a favourite maxim of mine that I would like to share with you:

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

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Filed under academic culture, career, Clinical Phd, PhD, placement, psychology, Reflections