Tag Archives: placement

The little black cloud of research ennui has returned

The third year of a Clinical PhD is synonymous with duck feet paddling furiously under the water, juggling balls rolling out of one’s reach and the relationship between student and thesis reflecting that of passing ships in the night. Third year is the year we spend ten months on placement while also trying to juggle research, and for many of us, paid work too.

Objectively, ten months on placement while keeping your thesis inching along might not sound that complicated. Especially when you consider that part of second year required juggling placement, research and a class. So, third year has to be easier because there aren’t any classes, right? Sadly, the third year of my Clinical PhD is living up to its reputation for being exceptionally difficult. I thought it was just me initially and that I was simply “doing third year wrong”, but other people feel the same.

The most sense I can make of why third year seems so much more difficult is that our research is now more demanding. In your third year the most complex studies of a PhD are typically devised, run and analysed and then finally, written up. The stop-start approach that must be taken towards your research due to juggling placement and work  at the same time is therefore a recipe for frustration. You hear that life as an academic is much the same: time pressure and a never-ending to-do list. I hope there is still some scope to engineer your schedule to allow for solid blocks of time to concentrate on your research though (a few hours even?!) even if it is just once a week? I also sincerely hope that the 50 hour work weeks with only a couple of days off each month that I’ve faced for the past six weeks aren’t constant in academia either…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo what is the point of this post? I’m a fan of “keeping it real” when blogging about my PhD journey. So while many parts of doing a PhD are amazing, I also think it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes doing a Clinical PhD is just as difficult as it is rewarding. For the first time I’m finding myself questioning why I am doing this, whether doing a Clinical PhD is really worth the burn out I’m currently experiencing, whether I will be able to submit on time and whether I will be able to find a job that combines research and practice. In the words of the Thesis Whisperer, I’m passing through the “Valley of Shit” and if this resonates with you, I salute you.

 

This post has sat in my drafts folder for over a month. I’d hoped I’d be able to post it with the amendment that I’d gotten out of “the Valley” and things had drastically improved. To be honest, the pace hasn’t improved much and doesn’t look like it drastically will until about Mid-November. There have been a few minor improvements: my placement workload is more manageable and a work commitment will end soon, so I’ll be able to eke back a few hours. I’m also feeling slightly less jaded this week because I was able to work on my thesis properly for the first time in months, but I am still very much burnt out.  In fact, though I’m actually on placement this weekend for a couple of hours, I think I’ll go on strike and actually take the rest of the weekend off!

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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 😀

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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2013: The year in review

I’m officially on my short but much needed Christmas break (YAHOO)! Hopefully taking some time to recharge my batteries before placement begins in early January will clear away the rest of that little black cloud of research ennui that’s still hanging around. Now that I’ve finally got some time to call my own though, I thought I’d revisit my hopes and dreams for the year to see how they played out.

In terms of the clinical components of my degree, I’d wanted to soak up as much experience and knowledge as I could on my first placement  from my supervisor, clients and fellow trainees to develop my skills and confidence in practice psychology.  I definitely achieved all of the above and consequently feel much more confident about my upcoming second placement than I did with my first.

The outcomes of my coursework aspirations were a bit of a mixed bag though. In many respects, the coursework component of my degee exceeded my expectations. My final topic, which was about health psychology, proved to be my favourite and exposed me to another area of psychology that I might like to work in at some point in my career. As I had hoped, I gained the classes and assignments provided me with a deeper knowledge of psychology and reiterated that I’m more competent than I give myself credit for. However, I had wanted to apply the theory I had learned. Though case conceptualisation and our self-examination of our therapy skills proved useful on placement, I wasn’t able to put my cognitive therapy knowledge into practice as much as I would have liked. Hopefully that will change in the coming year. It still seems surreal to think that next year there won’t be any more coursework. Though I’ll miss the discussions and seeing my classmates each week (we had some great extra-curricular celebrations too 🙂 ), after 19 straight years of formal lessons, I’m more than ready to step out of the classroom!

Similarly, I had mixed outcomes in achieving the goals for the research components of my degree. Some of my aspirations didn’t quite come to fruition as I had planned. For instance, I didn’t manage to write regularly, but I did almost complete the first chapter of my PhD and make a start on the second. Other things can clearly be crossed off my list of goals however, including finding better ways to let potential participants know about my studies, meeting data collection quotas and fostering friendships with fellow students. I can’t recommend using social media enough to promote your research and, I can attest that there’s nothing like exploring a foreign country to really get to know people!  Perhaps my biggest success was in developing my critical analysis skills. Thanks to my work as a research assistant, my own research and a bit of a stats boot camp by another student, I’ve developed my reading muscle, ability to critique and understand studies and I’ve been introduced to new analysis techniques.

But did I achieve my most important goal for 2013, to pull off all the above and not lose myself or my social life in the process? Well, yes and no. Work, placement and classes certainly drove me into hermitude at times. My immune system packed its bags on me several times this last semester as well, to the extent that one of my eyes decided that a conference workshop was the perfect time to begin watering so profusely that it looked like I was crying!! How embarrassing. Despite all that, I did have a lot of fun along the way too, making time to catch-up with family and friends, see Muse in concert and join a dance class. So, I think I’ll give myself a B minus on the achieving balance assignment… Onwards and upwards for next year.

I hope you had successful 2013, and that you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 🙂

Honourable Mentions

 

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Taking stock: Semester 1, Year 2.

Semester 1, Year 2, 17 months in…

If I could sum up this semester in one word, it would be contradictory. When this semester started I’d  a work-study-life balance but towards the end I found myself working most weekends just to wade through placement, assignment and research related jobs. In between this feast and famine, I discovered I really enjoyed placement, despite having little prior experience working with children and that I’m often more capable than I think, though well aware I’ve a long way to go! I also learned that despite loving what I do, 50 hour weeks are not my thing, at least not over a sustained period. There’s definitely something to be said for having time to recharge your batteries. Finally, from interacting with other researchers and realising how much I’ve learned relative to last year, I’ve begun to appreciate that even though I’m  just a second year PhD student, I do have something to bring to the research table.  I’ve  a feeling that I’m going to look back on this semester in the future, remember all the amazing experiences and lessons learned but wonder how on earth I did all that I’ve done.

Placement related musings

Last year one of our lecturers told us that there shouldn’t be too much of a difference between who we are as a person and who we are as a therapist. The idea is that though your sessions should obviously be evidence-based and professional, they also need to reflect your style, not the style of someone you’ve decided to mimic or a persona you think you need to put on. When I was first introduced to this idea, finding my therapeutic style was the least of my worries, I just wanted to get a handle on the nuts and bolts of therapy! However, having since watched other therapists, gotten a feel for the way I like to conduct therapy and feedback from my supervisor about my approach, I can see what our lecturer meant. We do all have our own styles. I can’t really speak to other professions having only worked in hospitality or community/mental health services previously, but there is a lot of scope for having your own stamp in the profession for psychology. My own brand, from all reports, is practical, task orientated and flexible. I find this pretty funny, task orientated just about sums me up.

Placement was an incredibly positive experience. I learned a lot, about myself, people, how to help and how far I have to go. I don’t feel like I’m playing at being a trainee psychologist now. I am a trainee psychologist. Placement was also a fantastic opportunity to really get to know the other students I was working with. There’s nothing like being stuck in the office long after 5pm writing reports; the nerves of first clients, first assessments, first case presentations etc. and sharing the challenging, rewarding and hilarious (kids say the cutest things!!) to really bond with people.

Next placement I’d like to seek out some experience working with adults using traditional CBT approaches so I’ve got that grounding. I mainly worked with younger children and so the emphasis was more on the behavioural than cognitive aspects of CBT. Given I’ll spend almost all of next year on placement, ideally I’d also like one closer to home and with more of a 9-5 structure rather than the intense schedule I chose to cut-down on travel.

Research related musings

In a funny way, placement also taught me how much I loved research. As much as I loved placement, I still craved the short exchanges about the PhD journey with my fellow placement colleagues and the PhD students I bumped into on campus.  Having a whole day to spend on my thesis was heaven. I think I got through three days worth of work in one on one of my ‘thesis days’, given that was all I had to spend on it between coursework, work and placement some weeks! Some people who do a Clinical PhD want a more clinical/practice than research orientated focus to their careers, some want the reverse and others want a balance. I’m definitely between the latter two categories, I would feel like a big part of me was missing if I was doing clinical work only, but at the same time I’m grateful my research area is clinically orientated.

Now that I’ve finished up my first study of my PhD and my second is finally in the ethics pipeline I’m looking towards other research outputs: getting my head more clearly round stats, presenting a poster at another conference, co-authoring a paper, potentially dipping my toe into writing a paper and chipping away at those 90,000 words.  In the short-term though I’m just trying to get back into a research routine. I’ve gone from overwhelming time pressure to the other extreme!

Miscellaneous news

Someone other than my markers, supervisor, parents, one of my closest friends and two of the people whose measures I used in my study has read my Honours thesis. Yes, really. I was shocked, even more so when the student in question said she wanted to chat about it! I felt like the world was spinning the wrong way round its axis.

~

Who know what the coming semester will bring?

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July 5, 2013 · 12:55 am

Lessons learned on placement

I’ve now passed the half way mark of my first placement as a trainee psychologist. So, it’s time to pull together the threads of all the lessons I’m learning.

  • The unexpected is challenging. While it goes without saying that the unfamiliar is  challenging, I’ve also learned that a number of little things I never anticipated being difficult are deceptively tricky. For example, my placement’s EFTPOS machine and I are not yet friends nor is calculating ‘age at testing’ on the Wechsler Scales intuitive for me yet. 
  • Everything is heightened. My four years of undergraduate training taught me about psychological theory, writing, statistics, critical thinking and gave me an appreciation that while I know more now than before, there is always so much more to learn. My first forays into becoming a trainee psychologist have brought me right back to the beginning again as I develop another set of skills. With this return to being a complete novice  comes the heightened frustration and excitement. On the one hand, I can clearly see the gap between where my skills are now and where I would like them to be when I’m a fully fledged psychologist, but on the other hand I have the excitement of slowly watching this gap become smaller and realising that I’m now achieving the milestones in my learning that just a month ago seemed daunting.
  • You need a balanced picture. Picture for me if you will a see-saw. On one side is your sense of competence and on the other your awareness of  the things you can’t yet do, or not as well as you would like. Reviewing therapy sessions with my supervisor has helped me gain a balanced picture of areas for improvement and my current competence.
  • I’m really enjoying this. Yes, it’s challenging. Yes, it’s a lot of work. And yes, I’ve had to dive right out of my comfort zone, but I am really enjoying my placement. There are so many positives: the camaraderie with my fellow students and supervisors, working with parents and children, schools and other health professionals and those moments when I can see myself, one day not so far from now, as a registered psychologist. I’m still adamant that for me this picture will also involve research/lecturing, but I would like to incorporate practising as a psychologist too.

For anyone out there about to dive into their own placement adventures, I thought I’d finish off by sharing what a wise person said to me before I started placement: you’re going to love it!

thread

thread (Photo credit: *Sally M*)

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Placement through the eyes of a Clinical PhD student

What people think being on a psychology placement is like…

1 Oh doctor the dream is so horrible

1 Oh doctor the dream is so horrible (Photo credit: Edith Ogleby)

What I thought it would be like…

English: A man diving into Lake Michigan off o...

English: A man diving into Lake Michigan off of his boat, which is anchored off shore of South Haven, MI. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What it’s actually like…

Maybe you’re studying psychology, about to start your first placement or just plain curious. Regardless of how you found your way here, if you’re anything like me, you might be interested in what doing a psychology placement is like. Wonder no more because with all the authority of having five weeks of placement under my belt, I’m going to tell you a bit about the things I do…

Let’s dispel some myths. Apart from the couch in the waiting room, there isn’t another in sight. In fact you’re more likely to find a rocking chair than a therapist’s couch. And as for Rorschach blots and dream analysis, I’ve never studied or used either of them. To my knowledge, they’re not used very often if at all in my country, despite what you might see on TV.

Thankfully, placement  isn’t quite the ‘diving into the deep end’ experience that I thought it might be either. In fact I spent most of my first two weeks observing therapy and educational assessments. These were good opportunities to learn more about how therapy is structured, to familiarise and re-familiarise myself with assessment tools and to see a range of different therapeutic techniques. I’ve since spent the last few weeks administering and scoring an educational assessment and conducting therapy and initial consultations with children and parents under supervision. It’s challenging, but it’s also rewarding and a lot of fun. I’m also lucky to be in a training clinic and therefore surrounded by other people at varying stages of their placement and by supervisors from whom to learn.

Then of course there’s the glamorous side of placement: admin and prep! I’ve been taking referrals, ringing families and schools for updates,  reading about disorders and therapy techniques and putting together a therapy resources folder. For anyone starting their own resource folder, here’s a tip for you; Some people have pinned some handy therapy resources on Pinterest.

So, in sum, I’m really enjoying being on placement and can already see myself growing in confidence and competence as a psychologist in training. For those of you about to embark on your first placement, good luck and if your experiences are anything like mine, you’re going to love it!

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2013 Hopes and dreams

Though the second year of my Clinical PhD is seven weeks away, my second year placement is just around the corner. So, I thought I’d post about the coming year now while I’m not juggling research, coursework and a placement.To put it mildly, 2013 is going to be a big year.

In semester one, I’ll attend classes, complete over 300 hours of placement and continue to conduct my research. By semester two I’ll have completed my first placement, begun a new class and be continuing on with my research. Barring extenuating circumstances, these are the things that will definitely happen, but what might happen? And what would I like to happen?

Sun Drenched

Sun Drenched (Photo credit: Digimist)

My ‘clinical’ hopes and dreams for 2013:

  • I hope that my first placement will be a great opportunity: a chance to put theory into practice; to learn from my supervisor, clients and fellow trainees; to improve and grow in confidence in my clinical skills; to help my clients bring about improvements in their lives; to learn more about where I’d like clinical psychology to take me, essentially to become a better trainee psychologist.
  • In 2013, I hope that my coursework will provide me with a chance to engage: to apply what I’ve learned on placement and first year and vice versa, to learn more about CBT, other therapeutic approaches and presenting problems and the different avenues that psychology may take me, in other words, I want to consume and contribute knowledge.
  • I hope that this year I will continue to foster the friendships I have made with my fellow trainee psychologists.

My ‘research’ hopes and dreams for 2013

  • I’d like to develop my critique and analysis skills: to improve my reading muscle, learn new statistical techniques and become more confident in interpreting and appraising various statistical techniques and study designs.
  • I’d like to write: regularly, the chapter for my first study, my case studies, 30, 000 words of my thesis.
  • I’d like to finish (and in some cases start!): collecting data for my first three studies
  • I’d like to design: a better way to let potential participants know about upcoming research and the overarching study for my PhD.
  • And I hope that I will continue to foster the friendships I have made among my fellow PhD students and the faculty.
Balancing Act

Balancing Act (Photo credit: Digitalnative)

Clearly, I have a big year ahead. So my most important hope for 2013 is balance: to pull it all off and not lose myself or my social life in my to-do list!

It will be interesting to see if my hopes and dreams for 2013 come to fruition. Wish me luck!

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