My Journey into the Health Psychology profession
Personal reflections and assisting others have characterised many of my experiences to date. As a postdoctoral researcher and current Health Psychologist in Training, I decided to reflect on my experiences of in order to help and inspire others. I hope that reflecting on my journey will offer some pearls of wisdom for those considering a career into Health Psychology.
My mixed white British and Indo-Caribbean ethnicity, and being the eldest and only girl among four siblings, enhanced my sensitivity to diverse attitudes and behaviours. Physical issues such as myopia and a dislocated knee took me into the world of those who see the world differently, or who have to navigate a world generally not designed with them in mind. My love of astronomy enhanced awareness of what lies beneath the surfaces of planets, just as psychologists explore hidden layers to thoughts, emotions and behaviour.
Through a highly supportive psychology teacher, I became increasingly interested in studying the subject at university. I secured a place on a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited BSc (Hons) Psychology with Clinical Psychology at the University of Kent.
I began the first stage of my health psychology training by completing a BPS-accredited MSc in Health Psychology at the University of Westminster, selected primarily because the evening part-time course also allowed me to undertake assistant psychologist and research assistant roles in two NHS mental health services. Towards the latter half of my MSc I developed increasing interests in research. Having obtained the required Merit in my MSc to progress onto the final Stage 2 qualification, I applied for and completed an ESRC-accredited MSc in Research Methods in Psychology at University College London. Shortly after I got an ESRC CASE PhD in Community Care scholarship with the University of Kent and Care Quality Commission.
Interests in diversity led me to complete a PhD thesis exploring cultural diversity sensitivity in care homes, service quality and quality-of-life outcomes encountered by minority ethnic adults with learning disabilities and minority ethnic older people. During the extension year of my PhD, I worked as a Research Assistant/Associate in Health Psychology at the BPS Centre for Outcomes Research and Effectiveness at UCL. Following extensive research roles, I conducted supportive and therapeutic roles alongside a distance learning postgraduate certificate in clinical applications in psychology at Newman University College.
After obtaining my PhD, I worked as a research fellow specialising in dementia, and also as a research assistant, interviewing clients for service evaluation of NHS primary care mental health recovery roles. I combined these roles with volunteering to support a health psychologist at a Diabetes Psychology Service, and working as a visiting lecturer.
Alongside all this experience and study, I still desperately wanted to complete Stage 2 training and am very fortunate to be correctly working as a Trainee Health Psychologist employed by the NHS. I look forward to hopefully qualifying as a Health Psychologist in the summer of 2018.
I continue my enthusiasm and commitment for the health psychology profession in my role as a postgraduate representative for one of the BPS Health Psychology divisions and my committee role with the Midlands Health Psychology Network.
My qualifications and various psychology graduate positions provided me with intellectual reward, which enabled me to pursue my interests in health psychology and research. The detailed knowledge and specialist skills acquired from my university studies provided an excellent foundation for my PhD and current professional health psychology training. I think having a range of experiences and qualifications in my interests around health psychology and mental health enables me to apply for a broader range of psychology graduate jobs specialising in either health psychology or research. Within times of austerity, budget cuts and small numbers of psychology graduate positions, I believe my experiences enhanced my employability by enabling me to stand out from the crowd, while opening doors to careers in different areas of psychology.
As my postgraduate studies included combinations of taught modules, coursework and research dissertations, these experiences allowed me to work autonomously and enhanced skills in organisation, communication, time management, and project management. I also believe completing numerous qualifications and work experiences demonstrates my determination, tenacity and the ability to develop high-level knowledge.
By working alongside most of my university qualifications enabled me to apply psychological theoretical frameworks to practice and to obtain experience within applied psychology settings alongside a wide range of people with numerous clinical presentations and Chartered Psychologists. I also learnt how success represents changeable and fluid concepts, unique to individuals’ abilities, preferences and backgrounds.
Revisiting and reflecting on my studies and work experiences may also provide me with a comforting sense of belonging, achievement and guided discovery.
Throughout my university studies, I often experienced both apprehension and excitement, which may have provided me with comforting familiarity within unpredictable times. Being able to manage self-doubt and ‘imposter syndrome’ of feeling inadequate despite my accomplishments reflects ongoing concerns, which I successfully address by thinking positively and recognising achievements.
Financing both of my MScs with support from a career development loan and part-time psychology jobs reflected considerable challenges. With increasing postgraduate fees and within times of austerity, I’m hoping more can be done to ensure the psychology profession becomes accessible to people from varied backgrounds, including people from deprived groups.
By managing multiple roles, I strive to reframe challenging events into learning prospects to reduce stressful situations. Utilising mindfulness, thinking positively, setting boundaries, obtaining regular supervision and socialising with peers has helped maintain self-care and reduce burnout. I’ve also learnt to preserve self-care and alleviate stress and anxiety, by practicing acceptance, diminishing pursuits of perfection and conducting daily enjoyable activities outside of work and study. In order to withstand multiple pressures and demands, in my spare time, I intend to continue listening to classical music, performing as a flautist and singer and hiking across hills and coastal paths to develop continued appreciation for nature, fresh air, the environment and the bigger picture
In hindsight, although I feel privileged to have encountered many exciting multi-faceted roles, my professional development could have benefited by writing an ongoing reflective diary. A reflective diary would highlight professional and personal development and assist in answering reflective questions on ‘what have you learnt’ within interviews, applications and assignments.
I look forward to working within an increasingly developing and innovative career path and contributing to illuminating unique selling points offered by health psychology.