Category Archives: Teaching

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

I did it!

Over the last few weeks I’ve been¬†waiting to start running my study, anticipating what it would be like to step into the role of a tutor¬†and preparing to give a presentation about my research. Happily, I can now say that within the space of one week, all that waiting, anticipating and preparing is over.

On the other side of the classroom…

I am now officially a tutor. I was nervous as I waited for my first class to file in but once I started it was a lot of fun, the time flew by and, I grew in confidence. Surprisingly,¬†the most difficult aspect of tutoring proved to be remembering which tutorial I had told what, because I ran them all back to back. Next time I have a content heavy rather than discussion focussed tutorial I plan to keep a check list of what I have covered to avoid repeating myself. No doubt each tutorial will keep me on my toes in one way or another, but I’m enjoying it.

Data collection begins

I’ve also started running my study. To my pleasant surprise it’s quite popular; the sessions I advertised were snapped up almost immediately. I was even able to administer the psychological tests with reasonable fluency. ¬†Running my study is going to be great practice for psychological testing. However, as with any study, I’m now identifying all the tiny aspects that you never anticipate causing problems but that inevitably do. This has caused me a few headaches in the last week but having checked in with my supervisor for some advice I think things are now under control.

A problem shared…

This week also saw me share my research problem with the faculty in the form of a presentation. I like public speaking but the hour beforehand I was definitely nervous. Once I got up there though I felt ¬†fine and managed to field a few responses to the questions that followed with my supervisor’s help. These questions will be helpful in terms of shaping the lens through which I present my argument.

All in all, what a week!

My tired kitty.

My tired kitty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Filed under A day in the life, Clinical Phd, communication, running a study, tutoring

Coming full circle: It’s raining Wizz Fizz

Wizz Fizz bought in Perth, Western Australia.

Wizz Fizz bought in Perth, Western Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember my first psychology tutorial, it was raining Wizz Fizz and it was all my fault. We were re-enacting Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiment, substituting¬†sherbet for meat powder and humans for dogs. I was in charge of feeding Wizz Fizz to my group’s volunteer. We successfully conditioned her to salivate when someone said “Pavlov” ¬†but between my shocking hand eye co-ordination and those pitiful Wizz Fizz spoons, she ended up wearing more sherbet than she ate! She was very kind about it despite having every right not to be, and is now one of my closest friends.

Why this trip down memory lane? Well, next week the shoe will be on the other foot because I will be running my first psychology tutorial. It feels bizarre just typing that. As an undergraduate, the PhD students who ran my tutorials seemed all-knowing, self-assured and oh-so-much-more grown up than I. My tutors were enthusiastic, kind, approachable and helped me to understand psychology and the way it was studied and communicated. As an undergraduate I approached some of these tutors to gain some insight into their postgraduate journeys. Their generosity with their time and stories back then helped me to realise that one day I too might be able to do what I am doing now.

Needless to say, I have a lot to live up to, though the tutor’s induction I had earlier today was definitely reassuring. It was good¬†to hear from someone passionate about tutoring, about tutors’ experiences, expectations and supports and to get some suggestions about handling various scenarios, including not knowing the answer to a student’s question! ¬†In summary,¬†I’m both nervous and excited at the chance tutoring will give me in some small way to¬†attempt¬†to pay-it-forward, to get my feet wet and to take some of my first steps towards something I’ve always wanted to do: be involved in academia. Wish me luck!

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Filed under A day in the life, Clinical Phd, Reflections, Teaching, tutoring