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