Humanities & Social Sciences placements

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

Tagged: Bristol

Settling into the role (and Bristol)

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📥  Psychology

It's November! As of today, it has been exactly two months since I've started my placement. It is expected by now that I've got some idea of what my role within the team is. Safe to say, I think I've got a good sense of what a research assistant is all about. It is partly due to the number of times I've been asked: "So what do you do exactly?" when I told them what I'm doing on placement. I think I got tired of repeating "Oh, I assist someone with their research" that I started to really think about what my job is. So, here I am, attempting to coherently explain what I actually do as a research assistant.

First of all, the project that I am part of is looking at physical activity as a culture, in a primary school context. It is applying social practice theory and seeing how physical activity as a practice (day-to-day routine, in simple terms) can help shape/change children's behaviour and ultimately, their physical and mental well-being. It is more of a sociological take on physical activity and children. Now, as a psychology undergraduate, you might think that this really doesn't apply any psychology-related theories. Well, *puts one hand on the hip and points knowingly with another*, part of the project is looking at body image and children; specifically, positive body image. So, I've been given the task of reading through previous literature related to (positive) body image, children and physical activity. As it is a relatively new construct, I'm currently reading different strands in the body image research and also looking at just physical activity and children. I feel like I'm playing connect-the-dots with the journal articles and hopefully be able to end up with a whole picture. It is definitely a challenge; excited to see where it goes!

In short, my role as a research assistant on this placement is to be in a way, a body image 'expert', i.e. knowing what the literature has found and what is missing from it. I feel like I've given a tool to plough through a fresh piece of land. So that's my job, as for now. Oh, I also get to process fresh data which is always fun. I'm sort of a fan of SPSS, or stats in general because I like numbers. My mum used to say that I should've taken a Maths degree but after struggling with (read: failing) Advanced Maths (I) in high school, I know I'm better off relying on software programmes to do the calculation and I stick to the interpretation of the results. Also, this project will get me involved with a lot of qualitative data, which means learning how to use NVivo, which was fun. Always good to learn new things.

So that's all on the work side of things. I think I'm finally finding my feet here in Bristol. I've stopped being scared of the city and have made it a point to embrace what Bristol has to offer, which is a lot! Secret bars, screenings of Blue Planet II, interesting restaurants and stunning views like this:

Clifton suspension bridge at night.

This stunning piece of architecture was taken last night when my friend, Camilla and I went to the Clifton Observatory to see the fireworks. Unfortunately, my phone camera wasn't good enough to capture the fireworks on display so might have to leave that to the imagination. We also stopped by the Cori Tap before to try their famous Exhibition cider, which only comes in half pint glasses because it is too strong (8.5% alcohol content!). It was a good drink to sip when enjoying the pyrotechnics in 4°C.

The Coronation Tap in Clifton.

Doing more exploring soon! A perk of being on placement, we get weekends off, which gives me the flexibility to see and do more things.

 

Thanks for reading!

Liza x

 

Roller-coaster Start

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📥  Psychology

Hello everyone!

Just thought I'd kick things off with an introduction about myself and what my placement is all about.

I'm Liza, a psychology undergraduate and I'm from Malaysia. I came to the UK to further my studies in 2014 and worked very hard to secure my spot in this university. The placement degree caught my attention because I thought a year working in the field would help me get a good idea of what career I'd want to have. In addition, it is a good break from all the studies.

So here I am. I'm currently a research intern/assistant at the Bristol Business School in University of West England (UWE). My placement supervisor is Dr. Fiona Spotswood and we're currently working on a project to understand how physical activity affects body image in primary-aged children. It is still in the early stages of research so there's plenty of exciting things to explore!

As I'm settling well in the new Business and Law school on the Frenchay campus (just like 10W!), I struggled a little bit with adjusting to the busy city life in Bristol. I've decided to live in the city center because I'd figured it'll be easier for me to explore this vibrant place. It caught me off guard at how overwhelmed I was with all the hustle and bustle of Bristol. Despite being 20km away from Bath, it is a very stark contrast between these two cities. For the first few weeks, I felt a little bit lost. It was hard getting used to seeing the city still very much alive after 11pm. As I grew up in a fairly small town back in Malaysia, having lived in Bath for the past two years, Bristol is my first big city that I've actually lived in. I guess the shock was natural.

Some graffiti work around Bristol.

I am beyond thankful to have made a group of friends here who are mostly from Malaysia. They've welcomed me into their squad and made me feel at home. I think I can finally say that I'm slowly getting used to the pace here in Bristol thanks to them.

New friends in Bristol with a famous Malaysian dish, Nasi Kerabu.

I'm excited to share my journey here with you and thank you for reading my blog!

Here's to more,

Liza.

 

Saying Adieu to a Year of Placement

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

"Saying Goodbye doesn't mean anything. It's the time we spent together that matters, not how we left it."
Trey Parker

Saying goodbye to the city of Bristol

Saying goodbye to the city of Bristol

It's hard to find the perfect words in order to summarise the things I've learned and experienced over a whole year. So much so, that I can't even begin to write about how I'm trying to say goodbye to BSDAS. I could see it in crystal clear view as I emptied out my Bristol apartment, I'd hoarded tonnes of paperwork, books and notes... or as I liked to call it 'valuable knowledge'. Obviously, the year long learning experience was a success.

Though I've accomplished and contributed so much already (with the support of my dedicated supervisors), I can't help feeling that I could still learn that little bit more... but my turbulent and exciting time at placement has finally reached it's conclusion.

If there is one thing I can definitely say is that I feel empowered by my vast improvement, feeling fully transformed into an overall more mature, confident and knowledgeable person/ Psychology student than the amateur that I felt like stepping into the Bristol Drugs and Alcohol Service for the first time. Back then I was fumbling around awkwardly, eager to dive in, whereas now I have a deep understanding of how things function, how psychology plays into the real world, how to do my role professionally and where I fit in the grand scheme of things.

And if you can accomplish that in your placement year, then big supreme pat on the back, you've gone over and beyond the threshold of a valuable learning experience too.

Psychology isn't about 'the man and the therapy sofa'

With my naivety, that was probably the first thing I learnt when I started working. Considering the variety of roles and tasks I was heavily involved with during placement, I was able to realise the 'big picture' about the world of Clinical Psychology. It isn't about the client feeling so 'oh mon Dieu' sprawled across the coach and the therapist telling them what to do with their lives. It's about the therapist making a connection with the client, building a trusting relationship, validating their feelings and experiences, and helping the client to realise the solution to their own problems rather than forcing it down on them like the lightning of Zeus. As a client described so well, "Therapy is a helping hand up, not a hand holding experience'.

Therapy requires skill, subtlety and practice... and even being given the chance to learn this, as well as gaining the responsibility to lead my own individual and group therapy sessions over my placement, is more than any psychology student can dream of achieving a such an early stage of their education. I am one lucky girl.

And also, it isn't just about the therapy. It's about creating research to contribute to the body of Psychological studies and developing meaningful resources to educate others on basic Psychology, such as on how to tackle their own or their close others issues. I have been ever-thankful to be involved in administering measures to new clients in order to evaluate the existence of personality disorders, creating a detox information workbook which will be published and used across NHS detox services in the UK, and generating a piece of qualitative research on Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. No amount could describe the gratitude I have for BSDAS for giving me these outstanding opportunities to learn and to grow. With a fresh and clear mind, I can only hope to continue this level of success for my final year of University.

Change? What change?

If you feel like you haven't changed (even that teeny bit) over the duration of the year... then something must have gone wrong. Unless you were already the best person in the universe... which is highly unlikely. There is always room to improve.

Placement year really gives you the scope to develop yourself both as a person and a professional. You'll most likely feel like you've really begun to fill into your shoes and, hopefully, gained the proper practice to play into the remainder of your degree. What you've learned now isn't just about what you've read or seen in textbooks or in articles, it's also about what you've personally observed and actively practiced in whatever field you were involved in, and linking everything together... you'll definitely feel like those abstract theories and concepts have found their place in the real world and understand how they really contribute to it.

Personally, my experiences have allowed me to notice a drastic change in my sense of empathy - particularly in the way that I communicate with people. I have also, thankfully, developed a force-field of confidence in my abilities and a pleasant assertiveness in order to negotiate my demands with others... which has helped me a lot in my professional and personal life. See what changes can occur for you?

What did I do most of on placement? Read.

What did I do most of on placement? Read.

Something to take away

Overall, it feels like I've done everything and everything throughout this year. I've studied, slaved, become a budding therapist, created research, deprived myself of sleep, become a professional urban explorer... but if there is one thing that I'll never forget from my experience, it's the gratitude I unexpectedly received from my clients.

When you're so keen on learning and improving, sometimes you have to just take a step back and see what you've been able to accomplish. At the end of my placement, I received an unexpected visit from my clients who came to thank me for my work with them throughout the year. 'You have a fresh optimism,' they said, 'relentless dedication to improve our lives'. What greater indication of success did I need than this? Not only was I moved, but if I feel down, I remember the positive feedback I was told and that if I was able to motivate people to live their life to the fullest and to stay clean from substances... than I was surely capable of motivating myself to great things too.

So, in writing this all down I am in fact saying a proper goodbye to BSDAS and I can truly say that learning about the possibilities of what I could achieve through my clients... thatwas the biggest and the best thing I am taking away from this experience.

 

Bristol Festivals: Love Saves The Day

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

“I’m covered in mud.”
Valerie Alunan

Main Stage, from Official Website

Main Stage, from their Official Website

Love Saves the What? Love Saves the Day.
Pioneering Bristol music festival. Party in the park extravaganza. Mountains of cast away Red Stripe cans. Hipsters' day to show off their un-mainstream fashion. Metres and metres of mud.

Now I’m not a big fan or all that knowledgeable on the goings-on and whats-happenings of electronic and house music... but Love Saves the Day is BIG, and it’s famous, and it was literally in the park 10 metres away from my front doorstep. As my fellow Bristolian placement students had so rightly put it at the very beginning of the year (when we are all but little lost Bath students in the big, wide, colourful world of Bristol), “If there is ONE thing we do this year, we HAVE to go to this festival.” So, we bought our tickets then and there.

Absent-mindedly, I forgot that I had even bought that ticket until a month before the festival. You know, when they started putting up their vintage-style posters and splashing their advertisement graffiti all over the city. I saw giant kissing couples everywhere (which by the way… is their logo). It was a silent but vivid reminder of what was to come.

So, instead of rambling in giant wads of text of what exactly I did that day… I’ll break it down. You should all know by now that I love bullet points, pros and cons, and any nonchalant way to split up my pages to make it easier on the vulnerable, naked eye. I’ll carry on that hearty tradition now.

Stage one: The Night Before
You know that feeling that you have before you even start doing anything, that whatever you do will turn into a gigantic masterpiece of mess? Well the night before the festival, I had that very feeling. Boo, eerie. And guess what? I should have just stayed at home and prepared myself vigilantly for the day after. I should have wrapped myself in bubble wrap in the corner of my room and just not had variable social contact with humans. I, and I know I will be somewhat judged by whoever will soon be reading this, I should just not touch alcohol ever. And anyway, who’s to judge? This is a student blog and if I say that students, including myself, don’t drink alcohol that would be one big lie on my part. And alcohol will most likely find me again. But hey, it was my close friend’s leaving party in Bath and I will surely miss him with all my heart as he goes all the way 4688 miles away from us – and yes, I Googled how many miles we are apart. Touching.

To steer away from an avid storytelling of how my night went and eventually ended, I will conclude this section with a running list: I went to happy hour, I got banned from The Nest for defending someone from some unnecessarily aggressive bouncers, I was told incessantly that I should just try to stop helping people, I cried outside the Abbey, I trudged home. Or alternatively, I struggled home. Thankfully, I avoided my arch-enemy... McDonalds.

Stage two: The Morning After
The morning after began like a disaster: a headache, a dire thirst for water, a crippling hunger for junk food, the need to shower, a general feeling of rancidness. It was a like a scene from the Hangover movie – only that I wasn’t missing any teeth. I got a text from my friend who was downstairs in the kitchen sternly telling me to get out of bed and stop feeling like the putrid being I was feeling. The festival was starting in an hour. I texted back, “Boil the kettle, please.”

Before we hopped on the bus to Bristol, in order to kick-start some “fun in the sun” festivities*. I had to scramble like a wet dog to a nearby internet café and pay a hideous price to print my entrance ticket (well since you ask, a total of £3.15) considering I forgot I had bought a ticket to this little shindig… again. Lacking food, water (not counting the monsoon), proper sleep and utilisable energy, I tried to sneak a power nap en route to the grand city.

*insert sarcasm here. There was no sun. Only pure, evil rain.

Stage three: We Should Have Left Earlier, Man
Once we got to Bristol it was straight to the checkpoint, the group rendezvous point – my flat. An estimated 10 steps from the entrance of the festival. By this time, the festival had been going on for an hour. The music was as clear as Brita filtered water from my door. But who turns up that early to anything anyway? We made a collective group decision to hide an hour indoors to have a drink in preparation for 10 hours of outdoor partying.

Soon we were in full swing, restored with able to waste energy. Our quaint group of Bath University students were having an afternoon cider (or for some others, leftover wine) and discussing colloquially about Ukraine, the European Elections, Ukip and various politics. When my flatmates' friends tried to join in, they swiftly waved their white flags and decided to drink in the bedroom next door. We felt a little nerdy. We didn't change topic.

When we finally emerged from the safe embrace of my apartment, we found our choice to arrive 'mode fin' crushed with an overwhelming sense of regret. At this point the line to get in had stretched from my front doorstep all the way across the High Street of Bristol - worse than a queue in Thorpe Park. After some brutal hours in line playing with balloons, shivering from the downpour, making silly conversations and taking turns waiting in line as we took turns to go the bathroom in the nearby McDonalds – it was finally our turn to enter the ring. Only 5 hours late into the park. Well, only 6 more hours of Love Saves the Day left.

Stage four: Love Saves the Day
What more can I say about the festival than it was an array of fun and entertainment. So much fun, in fact, that the rain didn’t even come to matter in the slightest. With a plethora of geometric-style stages, food on offer from the best but underrated places around Bristol (well, even though I got my delicious burger knocked out of my hand), circus tent bars, stream-covered forest areas and giant playground things - I spent most of my time happily exploring. Nobody cared if they were drenched, or covered in mud, or slipped over no less than 10 times. I can’t say much without sounding like I’m trying to bore you, all we did was laughed and danced like fools to some pretty good artists. I give them credit, perhaps electronic music shouldn't be so off my radar in future. This judging little gnome was sold good. Bristol got it right again.

Some highlights include:

We all got facepaint!

We all got facepaint!

Along our adventures we found a fringed tent hidden by a stage where a tonne of people were getting facepaint... or well, glitter paint. Most people were getting the standard 'unicorn head-butted you in the face' festival glow. Others, like my friend, went with a spectacular ginger glitter beard. The psychologist in me thought he was suffering from a deep masculinity complex, where he was feeling supremely undermined by the fact he could not grow facial hair at this prime age. I sure hope he never reads this. I pitied the girls drawing the same endless designs on festival-goers faces, I thought perhaps they were bored by lack of variety. I encouraged with gusto for the painter to show off her skills and to go free with the power of artistic license. Though I was pleased to have relieved the suffering of a repressed arty soul and with the outcome (see in the above photo), I realised shortly afterwards that she had just copied the design on my shirt. So much for the creative flow.

Here, our lovely ginger beard friend is given prime attention.

Other highlights include, getting ripped off for drinks, finding some quirky animal costumes adorn by some people in the audience and causing an uproar of chanting and gladiator-like cheering as me and my friends slipped on our backsides trying to carefully scale the steepest and muddiest hill in the park. We all threw out our demolished shoes the next day. I parted tearfully with my favourite boots. All in all, it was a good day.

Well, hopefully you enjoyed that post which wasn't so work related and actually, which wasn't what I'd promised, was longer than I expected. On your placement year really try to make some time to enjoy the place you live in, try out what they have to offer and get involved in some of the entertainment/music/arts in your spare time from work. As much as the learning you get from working on placement is vital to your University life and your career thereafter, the enjoyable experiences you grasp outside of work can really shape it up too.

 

 

 

 

The Pros and Cons of having a desk to call your own

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

"It's a wonderful world. You can't go backwards. You're always moving forward."
Harvey Fierstein

marlborough hill (800x450)

Apologies, and many more apologies for my absence in the world of blogging. I have had, let’s say, a very busy period of my life. ‘But where have you been Valerie?’, I hear you ask. And even if you aren’t asking, I’m going to tell you anyway.

It’s nearly the end of the (academic) year and I have been busy with writing my end of year report and also, writing a research paper for the Bristol Specialist Drugs and Alcohol Service (BSDAS). These past few weeks, I have been running around (well, more like spending hours of my life on buses) to different bases and people’s houses to conduct interviews with women on their experiences of mental illness and therapy. Sounds like a rainbow of interest and easy sailing, right? Well, it is a gold mine of interest, especially for Psychology research, but to my disdain, it is far from easy. Not only do I have to conduct hour long interviews, but I have to spend a day or two transcribing the interview into Word-format… That’s a story for another day.

Other than that, our previous base at the Blackberry Centre in Bristol has officially been cleared out. Yes, we basically got ‘kicked out’ of our office. This is because of the entire NHS restructuring, BSDAS has been changed to Bristol ROADS (Recovery Orientated Alcohol and Drugs Service) and the entire organisation has been reformed and transformed. This means bases have moved, the structure of the service we provide has changed… and well, for me, I just have to find a new place to sit and do my work.

Our team has spent the last month clearing out the building to move to a variety of places scattered around Bristol. It was like we were leaving the coup. By the end of the entire process, the building was but a drab of empty filing folders, tea mugs and the ghosts of a hustling-bustling team. Well, we didn’t die – it was just a big change from when I first starting working at the office.

Luckily for me, while everyone had the tedious job of packing years’ worth of belongings and files into multiple boxes for porters to shift to new places… I left with a pen, a stapler, a notebook and one textbook, and found it to be an easy, stress-free move to the Colston Fort base.

Alas, I shall bore you no more about the boring details of structure and reform and work politics. Let’s look at a more jovial side and the pros/cons of me shifting my little self (and my shortage of belongings) to working in a new place.

The PROS (yo):

  • In the new base… I can sleep an extra hour in the morning.
    The beauty of sleep, oh how I missed thee. The best part of my new office is that it’s only 15 minutes’ walk from my humble abode. Well, uphill. But still, I’d take this walk any day than having the hour and a half long journey that I previously had to work. I can stroll, I can be more relaxed, I don’t have to take the bus anymore. Everything was working out sweetly.
  • In the new base… I actually have people to talk to.
    Numbers were slowly starting to dwindle in the old centre. Until the point where I was eating lunch alone, I was sitting in an office for 7 people ALONE and sometimes I went home without any social interaction with a human being (apart from maybe talking to myself on the odd occasion)… it was really starting to get silly. Here, I actually get to see people again, and talk to people again, and have lunch with people again. I better stop rambling before I sound too much like a Gollum.
  • In the new base… I actually get to see some sunlight.
    Located at the heights of Bristol, we get a lot of sunlight in the office and a lovely view of the rest of the city. Something which is a big plus for me. The office also has a décor of one thing that is at the topic of my most appreciated things – big windows, which go from floor to ceiling. The offices and the kitchen all have these windows, making it a lot more relaxed and pleasant for me when I’m doing my work in the warmth of the sunlight.

The CONS:

  • In the new base… I don’t have to use my ‘swipey’ card to get through doors.
    In the last building, I felt majorly 007 getting through each door with my touch card. I used to even experiment with different ways to open doors with showy hand gestures with the card in my hand – I’m a nerd, I know. Anyway, at the new place there are no more touch cards. Instead we have a code for EACH DOOR. Tedious. At least, I learnt 5 numerical codes when I was desperate for the bathroom and had to hurry through each door in order to arrive at my final destination. (Even the toilet had a code, so that wasn’t fun).
  • In the new base… I don’t get to take my ‘favourite’ bus to work anymore.
    I’m just kidding, this one is a MASSIVE pro. You’ve heard me complaining about this bus the entire year because it never used to show up! I’m just so glad I don’t have to see the sight of that horrible creature anymore.
  • In the new base… I don’t actually have a desk.
    Awkward, that they moved me over here knowing that I wouldn’t have anywhere to sit, or read my emails, or schedule my appointments, or do my work. Turns out, a few people are in the same position as there just aren’t enough desks for the amount of staff anyway. We poor soldiers were just going to have to come in each morning and hope somebody isn’t in. Then steal their desk for a day.
  • In the new base… I don’t actually have a desk.
    Oh, yeah. I already mentioned that.

 

'S' is for 'Stressitation'

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

 "If you so choose, even the unexpected setbacks can bring new and positive possibilities. If you so choose, you can find value and fulfillment in every circumstance."
Ralph Marston
Yes, I'm procrastinating by sticking post-its to my face.

Yes, I'm procrastinating by sticking post-its to my face.

There is a terrible truth I have to admit to myself at this terrible time... and it is the fact that I am terribly behind with my dissertation. I am now where I should have been, let’s say, one or two months ago, and I feel terrible. Save the tears, save the shame, save me under this Everest of paperwork, signed paper forms and intense paper cuts, I may as well just share my ‘knowledge’ so that you won’t be living in my image this time next year. And I really don't mean to make myself sound like a wisdom-bearing God - because I'm not.

As a matter of context, I have actually completed all the hardships that I needed to have gone through at this point – extensive literature reviews, planning my research, my research design, my methods… my interviewees are just about rearing to go on about their viewpoints into my Dictaphone. But as a matter of misfortune, I face the biggest enemy which I have encountered in this placement year so far. Ethics.

Before any Psychology student can start on the turbulent journey that is the ‘Stressitation’, an amalgamation of planning, wild action and exploding brain matter must go into working out what exactly it is you want to study, and how exactly you plan to study it. Once that’s over with, you write up your cute, little research procedure and sail the innocent thing off away to get mauled (or approved) by the Ethics committee. I’m actually making it sound worse than it is, ethics really isn’t that hard of a process if you just take the time to plan to the ‘tee’.

My misfortune derives from a quaint miscommunication and people changing their minds last minute. Long story short, the University of Bath Ethics purposefully required a letter of approval from my work placement before I could submit my application to them, whereby I slaved to fill in the giant tonne of paperwork I had to complete for 'NHS Ethics' and the 'NHS Research and Development' committee. After pulling out my hair to the tether and submitting my application to Research and Development, I was told that actually they required a letter of approval from the University before I could submit my application to them. Oh, tragedy of my degree! Where do I go if everyone wants someone else to go first? I couldn't be relieving a childhood moment of asking my mom if I could go to a friend's house only for her to say, "Go ask your Dad" and when trotting happily along to my dad only for him to say "Go ask your Mom." I felt like I was 10 again.

Moral of the story, make sure you:

  • Communicate
  • Know what work you need to do
  • Start early
  • Give yourself enough time to do the work that you need to do

My life with the 'Stressitation' this far may have been somewhat of a setback, but yours doesn't have to be! I pose to you, a few tips I learned along the way to help you get started on the flow of your dissertation:

  1. Think about what topic you want to do for your disseration:
    It may be something you've always been interested in studying, or it may have just creeped up on you from the crevices of your mind. Either way, start thinking about a topic that you can handle and that you know (or think) you can tolerate for the next year and a half of your University life.
  2. Have a chat with your supervisor:
    Your supervisor may have some wisdom of their own to offer you about research or your chosen topic. In my case, my supervisor and other staff were very helpful to support me by giving me some top tips for research, as well as giving me a few materials they had to start reading on my project. Depending on where you work, you may also negotiate an allocated time for you to work on your dissertation during the week.
  3. Start to read those articles:
    It's never too early to start reading around your topic. This way you can figure out where there are gaps in the literature and where you can fit your research in. It's also best to organise what you've read as you go along, as it'll be 10x easier and less stress inducing when you come around to writing up your dissertation. Make a set of cue cards with the reference on the front and the main findings of the paper on the back ('Business at the front, party at the back'), so that you have some sort of a filing system of everything you've read. Alternatively, I made a table on Word doing pretty much the same thing.

    Table of research about 'Dialectical Behaviour Therapy'

    Table of research about 'Dialectical Behaviour Therapy'

  4. Give yourself a reality check
    One big mistake I made whilst planning my dissertation - I got way too ambitious. After reading around my subject, I got so enthusiastic about studying and interviewing people with personality disorders only to fall off the tip of the cliff when I realised that if I wanted to study this particular group of people I would have to add an extra 6 months of trials and ethics hurdles to my schedule. Time which I definitely did not have. Really think about your topic in a realistic way, make sure you settle for something interesting, simple, that can more reasonably fit into the time frame you have and can show off all your research skills in your final dissertation write-up.
  5. Get in touch with your personal/ dissertation tutor
    Never, ever feel too afraid to contact your tutor. They are there to help you! The amount of emails I've sent my tutor asking even the smallest or most stupid questions that I've been fretting over, and they have literally supported my ideas, given me the knowledge I needed and have generally been there to help whenever I ask. My tutor is becoming my hero. Your tutor is a valuable resource when it comes to planning your dissertation - so get in touch and stay in touch!
  6. Start planning your method
    Once you feel like you're just about rounding up all your brilliant ideas through your reading and your feedback from professionals. It's time to descend upon a reasearch method. Really think about what would be the best and most achievable way to study what you plan to study.. some may be easier than others. For example, I'm writing a dissertation on the views and understanding of staff working with personality disorders on the topic of self-harm, so it's no question that interviews are the way to go. I've never been a fan of quantitative methods (purely because SPSS still baffles me to this day), but reading up on your method and how to execute it is also useful to do at this point.

If you've gone through all these stages, hopefully learning from your experiences and perhaps having fewer hiccups than I did through the whole process, then you'll sure enough be ready for my favourite stage of them all - ethics. Trust me when I say (are these lyrics to a song?), all the organising and proper planning you do right now will make for easier sailing next year when you have to write your dreaded 'Stressitation'.

 

A Day in the Life of a Student Psychologist

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

"I think if I took therapy, the doctor would quit. He’d just pick up the couch and walk out of the room"
Don Rickles

Upon a coincidental bump-in with a friend when I was going about the town, our casual conversation, or 'smooze' took on a somewhat disheartening turn whereby (a) this friend was blissfully unaware that I was on a placement year, and (b) they asked, “What do you even do?”

As you’d have it, I graciously overlooked the minor mishap (on their behalf) of demeaning my entire existence as I became so insidiously pleased about having a ‘eureka’ moment on something to write a blog post about. Oh, the threat and the need to inform.

To start, what do Psychologists do?

If you’re thinking of a Psychologist, I’m sure no shortages of stereotypical imagery will come flooding into your brain. The electro-convulsive therapies, the horror-filmesque asylums, the Freudian couch, the ‘hmms-but how does that make you feeeel?’ – well, if you’re old fashioned. Nowadays, you may think of scientists in lab coats with Einstein hair-dos running about trying to explain the new phenomena, the manipulative’s who dabble in the reading and altering of the mind, the therapists who twiddle their fingers in the image of 'The Simpson's' Mr Burns, or maybe even Derren Brown (who, by the way, is not a Psychologist). Psychologists, these days, come in all shapes and sizes – working in Social Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Developmental Psychology… you get the jist. The fields are a’plenty. The two most known careers in Psychology either fall into the category of research (conducting experiments just like any other scientist), or treatment (where the magic of theory goes in actively helping people with problems in their lives).

I, le grand Student Psychologist, am on placement for the Bristol Drugs and Alcohol Specialist Service, which essentially helps people achieve abstinence from substances and alcohol, overcome mental health problems and build the means for a safe and socially integrated life after treatment.

The service does this through an integrated approach of three key means: (1) Medication, such as substitute prescriptions, detox and stabilisation from drugs or alcohol; (2) Social, such as social work, support groups (e.g. AA) and providing access to education or employment; and (3) Psychology, through mental health assessments, individual therapy and group therapy sessions. If you haven’t already guessed, you clever little thing, I’m based and thriving (like a parasite of knowledge) in the Psychology department. The cherry on top of the cake.

So what is it, that I actually do?

Before I go into the nitty-gritty details of my job role, I shall first entice you with the words of a common student on placement, a day in the average life of a Student Psychologist:

Schedule

Note that the word 'hardcore' is apparently not a word?

So now I have gifted you with the insight into my fun-packed life on placement, whereby my daily routine is thwarted from time to time with random mishaps on the bus journey, or having a ninja showdown with a copier machine when trying to prepare my materials for therapy sessions.

Therapy sessions, I find, would be the most interesting part of my job to give you the know-how about, as it really has given the biggest boost in learning about the Psychology world and the way it works. Despite the wealth of experience I have gained from transferring the theories and mechanisms of Psychology from textbooks, to actually meeting and treating people first-hand, there is only so much I can tell because of the dreaded 'C-word'. That's right, you guessed it, CONFIDENTIALITY. I can only hope you guessed that correctly.

Now, back to the question: What am I doing on Placement?

My role as a Student Psychologist is split three-fold: running therapy sessions for clients with Bristol Drugs and Alcohol Services, conducting and completing research on Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, and doing bits and bobs for my supervisor and the Head of the Department. So, weekly I am involved in running three therapy sessions for clients working to gain abstinence from drugs and alcohol, two of these therapies are called, 'Seeking Safety' and the other, 'Dialectical Behaviour Therapy', both of which are cognitive-behavioural orientated treatments which aim to alter the maladaptive thinking, behaviour and relationships of the client so that they can overcome mental health issues, drug or alcohol addiction and also live a socially integrated life after completing treatment. For more in-depth information on 'Seeking Safety' or 'Dialectical Behaviour Therapy', follow these links to websites and PDF articles.

Secondly, I am involved in independently conducting a research-service evaluation of the effectiveness of the 'Dialectical Behaviour Therapy' programme that is run at the Blackberry Centre. This involves the full 'shabang' of doing a proper research project and journal article, which means doing thorough literature reviews, interviewing clients, transcribing interviews, writing up a journal article (which I'll eventually finish) and my 'favourite' part of the process (well, more like the LONGEST) going through ethical approval. As frustrating and as infuriating as it can be writing your own precious piece of literature that contributes to research in the whole scale of Psychology, I can at least say that it has really given me the practical experience to know how to do a proper piece of research in future, but also to feel a touch of sympathy anytime I begin to overly criticise the poor author of a research paper.

Finally, pertaining to my reference of 'bits and bobs' at work. I mean that I am working mostly on creating information leaflets or booklets for clients, for example, on medications, on the process of detox, on the effects of psycho-active substances, or community resources that clients can access outside from our services (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous) etc. An example of one of the information leaflets I created for people caring for clients suffering from drug and alcohol problems is shown below.

Info sheet

An example of an information leaflet, 'Information on Medication'

Apart from creating information packages, leaflets, booklets and the like, I have also spent my hardworking sweat on producing a 60-page workbook which will be given to clients entering a majority of Drug and Alcohol Services in the UK. This workbook, working very much like a more fun version of a young person's textbook, has everything a client will need to know before, during and after their detox from drugs or alcohol - this includes, information pages on the effects of drugs, the effects of withdrawal, information on substitute medication, it even includes, stories of other people's recovery, top tips on how to handle detox from peers, and a set of mind maps which I created with my Head of Department to help client's with a means to target problem areas in their life, set goals and develop themselves personally. Some pages can be previewed below.

mindmap

An example of a mind map I created as part of my workbook for clients

Anyway, I think I've rambled enough. That is the summary into the life and the works of a Student Psychologist, I've told you the things I do, the things I see, and oh, the things which make me struggle - but none of it makes me wish for a placement better than this one. Though I work myself to a thread and am challenged by the real-life situations I battle through whilst working here, I have really picked up tonnes of experience, knowledge and learning on all breaths of working in Psychology. By throwing in with the sharks in the deep end, I will undoubtedly leave my placement in June with a brain full of information, a body teemed with spirit and the means to use my experience to (hopefully) get me through final year and all time I have left training to become a 'not-part-of-your-stereotypical-idea' of a Psychologist.

 

The Things You Get To Know About Bristol

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

Bristol_Graffiti 

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”
Freya Stark

I’ve been living in the cidade de Bristol for a good, solid six months now, and I’m beginning to notice that I’m becoming a lot less doe-eyed and wondrous about the things I see about the town, and more like a shrugging, ‘totally-used-to-it’ local. As such, I have somehow found myself replacing the ‘whoa’s’ and the ‘wow’s’ to all the delights and sights I see with a blunt, all-knowing off comment ‘hm-Bristol’ (accompanied with half-pleased Obama meme face). Since I have recently been posting a lot of deep-thought psychology/work related writings and ramblings… why not take a break that requires a lovely minimum for brain activity? Why not post something a bit more jovial on the things that make Bristol tick, the familiar occurences, the things that make it work, the shabang… the crème de la crème of this urban nucleus. Without further ado, here is a shortlist of things that you can expect to see or will come to learn from experience while living in Bristol:

  • Hipsters, hipsters everywhere
    And I’m not saying this in a bad way, but Bristol seems to have a surplus population of people who dress (in my opinion) very stylishly and also extremely alternative. As I’m walking down the street, my tired eyes are beamed with a plethora of sneakers, an army of oversized sweaters, beanie hats, baggy backpacks, parkas and completed with a cherry-on-top ‘I’m way too cool’ aura about them. Have I suddenly been trapped in a living media commericial for Urban Outfitters? Is this my punishment for having a lackluster style compared to these immortals? I'm over-exxaggerating... a little.�
    The streets, bars and cafes are teeming with children of the ‘Indie’, and they're everywhere - making me feel like ‘Thank God’ it’s finally cool to under-dress. Looks like it’s in with the charity shop gear (yes, that gigantic grandpa jumper I know you eye up), and out with the over-priced insignificants from the high-street. You won’t be seeing any Hollister or Jack Wills here.
  • So much to do, so much to see
    I can’t reiterate enough about the vast amount of activities there are to do in Bristol. Exploring-wise, the city of Bristol is adorned with small, little alleyways with quirky shops, cafes and bookstores without shelves, with crusty books piled from the floor to the ceiling, meaning you’ll never get bored if you just mill around for a walk one afternoon. One fateful night as I was fumbling around for something to entertain myself with, I happened to stumble upon a charming, alternative bar called 'the Arc' which was conducting a free film screening of a foreign comedy film 'Rockers' (1978). The entire bar was but a small, little cave with weathered slab-brick walls disguised with an amalgamation of Egyptian and Agra tapestries, but a rather warm, homely feel. I felt nothing but a sweet enjoyment watching the film whilst lounging on their overly picked-at vintage sofas, cracking open one of their bottled beers and being a little bit too overwhelmed by the thick, spicy smell of burning, herbal incense. Needless to say, I was the last of the ‘Indie’ population to have discovered 'the Arc'.
  • Artsy, antsy Bristol
    Seeing all the flyers, posters and listings, there is definitely no shortage of art exhibitions or workshops to go to either. Whether it’s just prowling around the Centre or Stoke Croft area for a sighting of graffiti by Banksy or some  of the other most famous graffiti artists from around the world, or popping into one of the many tucked away galleries that the city has to offer – you’re very likely to feel that Bristol is as artsy as Picasso's paint pallet. In fact, there is so much art to show that you have to catch the exhibition whilst it spends it's brief life out basking in the sun, or suffer the consequences of arriving at the gallery and realising with a great disappointment that a new artist has already invaded the space to showcase their work.
    If you want to do something a bit more practical, workshops and classes are a-plenty as well. Projects like 'the Lightbox' offer creative and self-developing workshops (which I’ve heard) are way beyond the ordinary. Though I haven’t yet ventured into a workshop, I’ve heard comic and endearing stories about building tinted camera lenses, or taping coloured pens to your body before rolling around on giant pieces of paper to create a messy masterpiece of body art.
  • Name the genre
    Just as much of a choice of art there is, there is also the beautiful melodic creature of music - and all the gneres available that exist under the sun. You'll find that virtually any bar will be throwing a live (and free) gig that night so that you can trot along, listen and dance (or attempt to) to whatever you so desire - there are usually about 10 gigs going on per night. And I’ve done my first-hand observation and participation here too (man, I sound like such a Psychology nerd), making sure I've had a taste of whatever canapé is offered to me in the cocktail party that is life (pfft).
    So, I've head-banged in a smash-mouth, gritty pub the 'Stag and Hound' for some Metal; I've sweatily raved all night to Drum and Bass in the 'Motion' warehouse and the underground, psychedelically painted 'Basement 45'; I've casually bopped, pout-mouthed to chilled Reggae across various bars in town; I've done hops and kick-ups by the Harbourside on beer slopped wooden floors to Ska, Folk and shimmied to Gypsy Punk in the 'Canteen' which is notorious for having a gigantic, building-sized paiting of a golden Jesus doing a handstand on a skateboard - 'hm-Bristol'.

 Bristol_Gig

  • Student Bubble
    Basically, the greater population of Bristol appears to me to be students – which, considering that there are two universities and a multitude of colleges, is perfectly understandable. The streets by night are clad with bar-goers, club-sceners and youths in an array of bright fancy dress keeping Bristol up into the early hours of the morning. I did feel very old, however, when I met some other placement students for a lovely post-work dinner and we were all sitting there having a quaint conversation, wearing smart clothing, but seemed somewhat out of place surrounded by about 20 cowboys shouting ‘chug-chug-chug’ while downing their apple sours.
  • Drizzle in Brizzle
    Someone told me the other day, ‘Ya' know, it’s called Brizzle for a reason’ and whilst I thought it was just an off-hand slang for ‘Bristol’, deriving from the lexical genius created by the likes of Snoop Doggy-Dog, it turns out it may actually be related to the typical British weather. Be sure never to leave without a set of boots, wellies or waterproof jacket because, guess what, it’s always (ALWAYS) raining in Bristol. The fact that Bristol has a Harbour too means that umbrellas are a giant save-your-embarrassment ‘no’ – with all the turbulent winds that the South-West has been having quite recently and teamed with the open Harbourside, you’ll most likely end up being blown away down a hill inverted-Mary-Poppins style like many of commuters I saw this morning. At least you could say I arrive with the ‘windswept and interesting’ look from the Lynx advert.
  • NFB’
    Apparently, there was a recent conundrum going around in local healthcare and mental health situations whereby patients were simply being diagnosed and sent away with the mysterious abbreviation of ‘NFB’. Oh, the mystery! When investigation went underway into questioning a doctor about the true meaning of the diagnosis, he simply replied with ‘Normal for Bristol’. He was using this diagnosis for virtually any sign of illness, odd and bizarre behaviour, or anything otherwise that other regions of the country would consider as 'needing' or 'required' treatment. Are the locals of Bristol really that kooky? I imagined poeple running rampage, going insane just living in the city they lived in - Bristol makes you nuts! I'm just kidding, Bristolians just don't care about fitting in the status quo; on the contrary, my experience here has shown me that Bristolians have it good because they care less what you think, doing what they please and when they please.
    Nevertheless, I’ve become used to the ramblings, the singings and the hippy dress-sense of fellow Bristolians, and would approve of this abbreviation to be used in our everyday language.
  • Public transport is not your buddy, buddy
    The buses may come in London, but in Bristol… they hardly come at all! And unless you’re willing to go for an hour walk uphill to work (as opposed to 15 minutes’ drive), buses are pretty much your sole reliance of self-preservation from the assault of the winter weather. Hey, what can you do but pray that your bus is the next one around that corner, pray that for once the bus will come at the time the timetable lies that it should, and oh pray that it will even arrive at all. I’ve thought about investing in a jetpack far too many times at that bus stop.
  • Bristolian language is pirate language
    I never once thought that Bristolians have their own kind of language, but they do. There I was overhearing beyond incomprehensible strangers in the street yelling ‘Daps ye’ basdurd!’ (translation: run you b*stard) or hearing the drunken ramblings of groups outside pubs, and merely brushed it off the shoulder as not being able to understand an accent. As it turns out, the Bristolian dialect is as much a drunken idiom as I expected, considering its origins from one of the world’s most notorious pirates ‘Blackbeard’ who was born and raised in Bristol. No wonder men are swaggering around the Harbourside spilling ales, singing and occasionally hollering an indication of agreement with one another ‘Arrrrr’… it must be the long-lost pirate souls within them.

Well that's all for now, this is 'Adios' from the cidade de Bristol.