Tag Archives: Psychologist

You’re not in Kansas anymore…

As a psychologist in training you learn from other psychologists who deliver your coursework, assess you and/or supervise your placements. Most of the psychologists who trained me worked in the private sector or in clinical research settings. And most of my placement experiences were alongside other psychologists in the private sector. This meant I learned a lot of valuable things about how to be a psychologist, what we do, and why we do it. What I didn’t learn so much about was how we do all of this within the broader system…

There’s nothing quite like stepping out from the environment of a psychologist in training and into the broader mental health system for the first time.  It’s a Dorothy and Toto moment – you are definitely not in Kansas anymore! There are a dizzying array of professions, services, settings and interventions to work with. You begin to truly appreciate what is unique about the way psychology teaches you to think about and approach things. And, you have to figure out how to navigate all the policies, procedures and systems both as representative of your profession and of your clients. It’s hard work!

Reflecting back now on my training – all those times the various ethical guidelines were hammered home, how every situation became an exercise in critical thinking and how I began to suspect I’d be talking about collaborative evidence-based practice in my sleep, I finally get it. It may have seemed dry, repetitive and even unnecessary at times, but all that groundwork was crucial. Why? Well psychology training can be a bit of an echo chamber. It has to be, without that immersion in your profession you can’t get a strong sense of what it is we do and why. But, once you get Out There and realise how different things are it can be a bit of a shock. You may well find yourself in situations where the way you have always operated and your perspectives doesn’t fit with the broader system or other disciplines.  And that’s okay. You just have to try to figure out where to adapt and when to hold your ground and be able to argue your case either way. And it’s because of all that ground work you did as a student, that you can do this.

Keeping it real…learning to make those calls in the bigger system can be terrifying. You will make mistakes, step on toes, and sometimes it just won’t work. At the same time though, that messiness is how you learn and bring about change if you’re willing.  You might even surprise yourself in the process, I certainly have. Only this week I put forward an alternate formulation to a senior clinician, backing my own clinical reasoning and evidence.  Later, another clinician took me to the side to tell me I’d made a good call and that this ability to assert my case and trust my judgement, even when it differed from my seniors, was a real strength of mine. It was bemusing to realise this skill that I was being recognised for was not one I’d possessed at the start of this year and was probably something I would not have predicted I’d have developed by now. So believe me when I say, anything is possible!

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Filed under Early career, Practice, Reflections

So you’re a psychologist, now what?

While my postgraduate psychology training has equipped me with many skills, much less time was spent on the nuts and bolts of setting myself up as a psychologist. Suddenly I have to get my head round registration, indemnity insurance, Medicare numbers, award levels and figure out whether work opportunities are suited to a very early career psych.

Here’s what I’ve learned  in case its of use to anyone else starting out.

Registration

It varies on where in the world you are, but chances are that there is a lot of paperwork between you and being able to call yourself a psychologist.

Tip: Presume nothing and ring the registration board about anything on the form you are unsure about. Generally presume it will take at least a few weeks to get processed.

Indemnity insurance

What is it? Legal protection for you as a professional. In Australia its mandatory. Some work places will cover it for you but you’ll generally need your own if you are working in private practice.

Tip: If you are a member of your local psychology organisation, you may be eligible for a discount on professional indemnity insurance. But do shop around.

Medicare numbers

If you want to provide services under Medicare you need a Medicare Provider number. To get a Medicare Provider number you need to be registered and have a place of work. This can leave you in a bit of a Catch-22 when you are applying for registration, on your first job hunt and therefore without a place of work!

Tip: You need a Medicare Provider number for each place of work. It can take up to six weeks.

Award levels

PUBLIC SECTOR

If you are going into the public sector in Australia and have a postgraduate degree, the entry level positions in the public sector open to you are at AHP2.

PRIVATE SECTOR

There are many different arrangements in the private sector from independent contractor through to salaried staff member. Private practices  often (but not always) advertise positions for people who have previously worked in the field for a couple of years and/or who hold an endorsement in a specialty area.

Tip: Read the fine print. Not all AHP2 jobs are entry level and some private sector jobs are aimed at new grads.

Where to start?

That seems to be the million dollar question, everyone has an opinion and these opinions often conflict. I suspect the only clear answer is “start somewhere.” Having said that, here are some questions that might help you out:

  • Is your CV up to date? Do you have three professional referees? What clearances do you have that allow you to work with specific populations?
  • Do you want to pursue endorsement in a specialty area? How might that work?
  •  Is supervision provided? How might you obtain it?
  • Do you have any preferences? Rural vs metro; public vs private sector; child vs adult; assessment vs therapy; part-time vs full-time; a specific population you particularly enjoy working with?
  • Where are your competencies? Do you have skills in particular techniques, therapy formats (individual vs group) or environments (team vs solo practitioner)?
  • And of course, what opportunities are available?

Best of luck, any hints and suggestions welcome!

 

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Filed under Clinical Phd

So, what do you do?

You’re making small talk with a stranger and then it happens, they ask the dreaded question: “what do you do?” Most people aren’t fazed to be told that you’re a PhD student, as they shouldn’t be. However, while I’ve had mostly positive reactions, there have been some unpleasant exceptions and I’m sure I’m not alone. Have you ever had someone assume you have no practical skills, were a ‘professional student’  or completely unapproachable?

Sometimes your field of research can make things ‘worse’ when explaining what you do. Imagine for example how conversation might screech to a halt when you tell someone you’re doing a PhD and training to become a psychologist. Cue the panicked looks and chirping crickets if the person you’re talking to has a very stereotypical view!!

I wonder whether negative reactions we sometimes encounter about our careers might be our fault. In academia, we tend to promote our ideas but not so much the profession. Like many undergraduates, I’d thought that the role of an academic was to impart knowledge through lectures. It wasn’t until my honours year that I truly appreciated that for many academics, in addition to teaching, research was a huge part of their workload; not to mention supervising postgraduate students, managerial roles, committees  and general admin.

Equally, psychology is sometimes misunderstood – despite what pop culture tells us, I’ve never psycho-analysed anybody, read minds or interpreted dreams! I suppose that for both psychology and academia what we actually do and what people think we do, may not align.

What can we do then to bust the myths? There are various professionals and researchers blogging about what they do and breaking down the mystery and stereotypes. I also wonder whether it might be better to say what we actually do from the outset, rather than labelling ourselves PhD students or psychologists in training. For example, I might say that I work with people, trying to get a better understanding of their challenges, how we can work together to develop skills to overcome them and that throughout this process I’m guided by current understanding which I use to devise and test out new ideas, sharing what I’ve found with others. This explanation seems more informative than “I’m a PhD student and a psychologist in training” and more accurate than some of the stereotypes.

I’d be interested to hear your perspective. Have you ever had a negative reaction from others about your field, being a PhD student or an academic? What do you do about it? How have you seen ‘myth busting’ in practice?

~ Honourable Mentions ~

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Filed under Clinical Phd

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!

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thread (Photo credit: *Sally M*)

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Filed under Clinical Phd, placement, Practice