Placement blogs

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

Tagged: Psychology

Submitting Ethics

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📥  2016-17, Psychology

Hello all!

With March having just rolled in, signs of spring are everywhere. We have rain that never seems to end and rows of pretty daffodils covering just about every patch of soil and grass you can see.

bath uni daffodils

But, the beginning of spring marks the beginning of your official preparation for your dissertation. At the Psychology Placement Conference they suggested you should try to have your ethics submitted in March or April. Some people even had their ethics accepted before the Placement Conference! But DON'T WORRY if this isn't you, they were definitely in the minority. You should aim to try and start thinking about your dissertation before your Dissertation Topic Choice Form (late November) is due, having a general idea is really helpful when your department try to pair you up with a useful and relevant supervisor. I got my idea through a five minute brainstorm with colleagues when I was helping them with their research. It then developed by talking with my Placement Supervisor in our weekly supervision settings. Thinking ahead can help ease any anxiety of leaving things last minute - such as when your friends who didn't go on a placement are already talking about collecting data and ask you what you are planning.

Once you have your supervisor, try and book an appointment straight away. Most Dissertation Supervisors are really busy and so will not be able to see you if you drop in for a chat unannounced. Supervisors do have to put aside time on the day of the placements conference to see you, don't let this time go to waste! You have to be on campus anyway so put aside half an hour, it is a great way for you to start getting the dissertation ball rolling and to ask any questions you may have from the dissertation talks at the placement conference.

If you can, try to go into that meeting with a more concrete idea of what you would like to do and an idea of what literature exists in your research area. I found my meeting to be the perfect time to run through what I had planned and talk about some questions I had about the ethics form. We came up with some ideas for improvement, such as performing a power analysis to find out how many participants you need (this sounds scary but with help from MASH it was easy -they can even do online Skype support for placement students) and the possibility of doing a mixed methods study. You can find out more about maths and stats help at uni here: http://www.bath.ac.uk/study/mash/

mash-talks-logo

If you have a Dissertation Supervisor who isn't known for communicating well with students it might be a good idea to send them an outline of your ideas and how you want to test it before you meet, this way they are more likely to help you out as they will have already had a look at your idea and thought about what can be done to improve it. It also makes you look super organised and avoids any awkward silences where you might say 'ummm I have no idea how to test it, I just thought it was interesting' 'umm I hope it hasn't been done before as that would suck'. If this sounds like too much, go in with a brief list of what you want to talk about and with any questions you might have. This gives you something to work from as opposed to going in blind.

Anyway, I came away from my first dissertation meeting feeling a lot more positive than I thought I would feel because I had made that effort before hand. It is difficult but worth it.

ethics

After finalising details of my study with my placement and dissertation supervisor, I started my ethics application in the second week of Feb. This wasn't too hard as I had already gone through most of the information with my supervisors. The hardest part is writing the short background section on why this is an important area to research - which is where looking at articles before your first dissertation meeting comes in handy. But the most fiddly part is designing your information, consent and debrief forms which take a lot of time and tweaking before they are ready to send off. It took me a good two weeks to get everything in a good enough state to submit. It was a frustrating process as the tiniest of details were changed - such as saying psychological wellbeing instead of just wellbeing.

Some tips for writing the debrief, information and consent sheets -look at other studies, like questionnaires online, what have they done? What have they covered? Should I provide helplines for people if my study is about wellbeing or a similar topic? You can then use those ones as a basic template for what you need to talk about. Different Universities can also provide a really easy checklist and examples of what to include in these -I used Nottingham University and The University of Kent.

The next key part of the Ethics form is getting your dissertation supervisor to sign it. Give them plenty of time to do this, especially if you haven't been keeping in touch with them. It is better that they have the time to read it thoroughly and give you feedback on what to improve then just send it back to you in a rush and you have your application rejected. Try and send it to them two weeks before the ethics deadline. If you change anything whilst you are waiting for a reply, send them the updated version of the application immediately!

My dissertation supervisor didn't give mine back until two days before the deadline, even though I had been talking to him about my ideas for a long time, had been keeping him informed of how my planning etc was going and had sent it two weeks before. So, your department are really not joking when they say you need those two weeks.

When it comes to actually submitting your forms, triple check you have attached all of the questionnaires, information sheets and anything else you may need. Make sure your ethics form is as detailed as possible. Most importantly, make sure you have signed two copies and have had your supervisor sign both too! Give yourself at least two hours (if you are submitting it in person) to find the submission box, check through, print and change things if needed. If you are not doing this in person then aim to send it to the appropriate member of staff the day before after checking it through, this gives the person who is printing off your form plenty of time to receive your email and print the form off. If you send it on the day, you might just end up waiting another month to submit as the staff member might be off sick or too busy to make time for the application- a huge pain if you are eager to start collecting data.

And finally, do not be put off if, after all this work, your ethics form comes back to you asking you to make changes before they can accept it. This is really common, my friend said she doesn't know one person who got theirs accepted straight away. If you make these changes quickly, you might not have to wait for the next ethics deadline either. So, please don't feel disheartened as it is completely normal to be asked to make changes with your first application. Don't forget, this is the first time you have ever filled out an ethics application!

Best of luck!

 

One Month In of a Lifetime.

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📥  2016-17, Psychology

This week marked one month since I started working at the Lifetime Service at the Royal United Hospital in Bath. The Lifetime Service aims to support children and their families with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions through an amazing team of Clinical Psychologists and Nursing staff.

 

In my first month here I have learnt so much. I have learnt how to conduct an audit and have since analysed the psychology referrals to Lifetime. I have also started to carry out an audit from scratch, looking into how many complex cases the staff manage through designing a questionnaire to see what types of complex cases are most common in the service and also the use of mobile tablets to enter patient records. This has taught me really valuable research skills which are great for providing experience for my Clinical Psychologist application in future.

 

I am also helping to run a research project by the Lifetime Clinical Psychologists which is looking into the psychological impact of having a child with a life-threatening condition on parents and how that impact is influenced by having a care package in place. I have created drafts of the consent, debrief and risk assessment, giving me a solid grounding for when I start organising my dissertation.

 

I have also learnt that working with children promotes a whole different range of therapeutic techniques than you would see in an adult. Instead of trying to work it all out in their heads the team use apps on tablets and diagrams to help the child make a picture of their thoughts that they can then explain and be treated. In children you would also be more likely to use a family focused technique, such as systemic therapy. Here you do not see the individual person experiencing difficulty as the only one who needs 'fixing', instead you look at how the family functions as a whole and how they might exacerbate or worsen the individual’s issue. Together they work towards creating a better environment and well-being for the whole family. Creating long lasting change and addressing issues that might have arisen in other family members as a result of the individual's behaviour or concerns. An amazing alternative to person focused therapy.

 

In addition to this I have learnt more about the variety of ways Psychology is used in the health service, it is not just used for treating mental illnesses! Did you know that Clinical Psychologists are also involved in the diabetes service to encourage children and adolescents to take their medication, even though they are terrified of needles? Did you know that Clinical Psychologists help to support families as they come to terms with the loss of a child? Or when they find out that they will likely bury their child?

 

I have discovered that Clinical Psychology is so much broader than I thought possible, with endless applications. I am finding out about areas of psychology that are less in the public eye but just as important to the well-being of their patients. It has made me so pleased that I decided to choose a placement that was not directly in the area I felt most interested in, if I had I would probably have never discovered the wide range of things Clinical Psychology has to offer.

 

But perhaps the best experience this has given me so far is the time away from constantly studying, so I can see who I am as a person and enjoy some of my early years before continuing the long slog to being a Clinical Psychologist. The most memorable event: Taking part in RAG's Zombie Apocalypse for the first time in three years. Update.... I probably would survive a zombie apocalypse (it must be all The Walking Dead training).

And this is why placements in Bath should never be underrated!

 

Here comes the work!

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📥  2016-17, Psychology

I have now been at my placement with the Lifetime Service, supporting children and families with life limiting illnesses for three weeks.

I have accomplished so many tasks that I scarcely know where to begin. However, what I soon learnt from this placement was that there was not always another task to move onto once one finished and I would need to take initiative to find something else to do with my time. This is common during the first weeks where your supervisor and the team are learning whether they can trust you and how good a worker you are. So keep trying your best and try to think of how a task could be done even better than how they suggested it.

For the large part, occupying my time after tasks has meant reading chapters from books to learn more about palliative care in children. A sad topic but one that is really important to understand  for this role. Palliative care occurs when there is no cure for the illness and it is life limiting (whether that be a few weeks or months), the aim is to give the person the best quality of life possible during their remaining days. This might be through discussions about whether they would like to continue treatments or psychological therapy to help them come to terms with their own death, which is where Lifetime comes in! Although reading doesn't seem like the most interesting thing to be doing on placement, it is really important to understand how everything works and the theory behind what the staff do.

Onto the more exciting tasks!

Despite the slow beginnings, things have really begun to pick up over this last week. The tasks they gave me when I arrived at the placement have started to be completed, such as setting up weekly Mindfulness workshops for staff members with a fellow clinical psychologist. I have also been designing 'take ten' meditation cards that have now been distributed grateful staff.

I have also carried out my first clinical audit on the type of psychology referrals Lifetime receives, preparing me for a much more thorough audit of the transition services (moving from child to adult services) which they hope I will carry out in the coming months. I found this really intimidating at first as I was worried that I would mess up such an important task, but that wasn't the case! The audit I carried out went really well, it took time and a lot of research into how to use excel (I am technologically challenged) but I was pleased with the first result and hope to keep developing these skills.

I have also been meeting with a clinical psychologist in the diabetes department, who offers support to families and young people who are struggling with a diagnosis of Type One diabetes or other issues, such as needle phobia or treatment aversion. For example, your typical teenager will want to rebel and one of the ways some teens do this is by not administering their insulin or eating correctly, risking their health. Part of the role I have been playing in this is helping the clinical psychologist to create a list of online resources and apps that might help the family or individual improve their well being. This was so well received that the Lifetime Service also asked for a copy and asked me to expand my current list of resources to include ones specifically aimed at supporting families with an Autistic child. Finding apps that clinicians could use to asses an individual's emotion awareness and websites for parents to turn to for reliable information about Autism and treatments. I felt so pleased that something I had done was so useful to the organisation that they asked for more things designed in that way.

So far on placement, I have learnt that there is always something to be done. Sometimes you just have to look for it using your own initiative.

 

Training Commences: Placement is Real

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📥  2016-17, Psychology, Uncategorized

Ever since I was 11 years old I can remember being dead set on becoming a Clinical Psychologist, someone who helps those with mental health problems. For the past few years I have been collecting as much experience as possible, volunteering with Suicide Awareness For Everyone - raising awareness of mental health in secondary schools and at university volunteering with Student Minds to help run a support group for students with low mood and depression. All of it leading up to my placement.

SO I am living the dream, or at least I hope to be.

This year I am working as an Honorary Assistant Psychologist with the Lifetime Service at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, helping to support children and their families with life limiting illnesses. I hope it will give me the opportunity to learn if I am suited for such an intense and emotionally demanding job as a Clinical Psychologist.

I have just finished my first week! Yay! I thought it would never arrive after having problems with checks and induction training dates. But here I am!

Most of this week has been taken up by training courses. There is so much to learn about the company and how I can help support others. I have learnt about Dementia and how people with the condition are eventually robbed of their latest memories, often becoming trapped in a past time so that they no longer recognise their loved ones. We watched a harrowing video entitled 'Darkness in the Afternoon' where a beautiful 20 year old woman in a red dress strolls down a street and ends up being chased and harassed by an old man. In reality this woman is actually 80 and is wondering around the town in her nightie, the old man is her husband who is trying (poorly) to get her home. For me this was shocking, especially as two of my family members have now been diagnosed. It taught me that you should try to live with their 'mental time' and not assume they remember what actual time period it is. With the lady in the film clearly believing she was 20 and not 80 years old.

I also learnt about delivering first aid, such as choking, to individuals with learning difficulties. For this group they often do not understand that if they are choking their carer is trying to help them by delivering back blows, all they think is that it hurts. So it was really interesting to learn strategies that will help me to apply my knowledge to this group, taking into account their disability.

I have only had two full days at the Lifetime Service so far! In my first I learnt about delivering Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which aims to help improve an individual's well-being by mindfulness and making small actions that aim to help the individual reach their main value in life, i.e. to be social or healthy. This was fascinating as so many other types of therapy may overlook the need to personalise therapy, for example one individual might feel their main value is to get a good education, not necessarily to recover from depression -the doctor's value. ACT is all about working towards this value through small actions, which here would include addressing the depression so the person can go to school or university. By taking the individual's main value into account the therapy seems so much more engaging to the patient.

I was then told about a research opportunity I can take part in, which aims to investigate the impact of having a child with a life limiting illness on the parents mental health and how the support provided by Lifetime and other care packages impacts the parents well being. I am so excited to be a part of research that hasn't been investigated before, I can't wait to get fully stuck in.

As cliche as it will sound I have found myself feeling truly grateful for all the opportunities I have been given to take part in so far at placement. Although a lot of it has been training, meetings or organising work, it has all been so eye opening and informative. In the coming weeks I am sure it will become more challenging and hands-on.

Here's to another good week!

 

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.

 

Being a University Student for a day: The Placements Conference

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

I have missed the (somewhat) stress-free life of being a student. Oh, Bath you beauty. Oh, uni how I’ve missed you dearly.

Take two days off work to relive the life of a University student - who would say no to that? Those two days were a requirement from the University for students on placement to attend talks about the coming final year (wow, how my heart stopped at the thought of sightings of the end of my degree), to present at the Psychology Placements Conference, and to attend meetings with personal/dissertation tutors about work, life and dissertations galore. Without as much as a whim, I was definitely going to attend. Working strenuously at a 9-5 placement by no means meant that I was going to miss out on reverting to my 'go-with-the-flow' life as a University student… even if it just was for two blissful days.

The Morning

The University was untarnished, and as were the habits that I had learned to live and breathe whilst I was here - upon arrival in Bath, it was like I was barely gone. Hurrying along for the first of our talks from our Director of Studies at 10am, I had mechanically reverted to the old efficient-student way of being. By 10am I had caught the chugging, centipede-like 18 bus to campus, grabbed a coffee at the Student's Union and had called up various course-mates for a meet up on Parade (all so we could avoid filtering into the lecture hall and dawdle for seats like lone rangers) it was like these actions were so automatic, they were still part of my second nature.

Another thing, which I am ashamed to admit, that is also a part of my second nature and even after all this time playing the part of an independent, mature working lady… was the attention span that I still seemed to have when listening to lectures. Maybe I’m not as grown-up, or working-woman as I thought? Maybe it’s just these air-conditioned lecture halls? Maybe I just have a really short attention span? But once someone has been talking at me in university conditions for more than 40 minutes (without me moving, or without any need of my reciprocation), and no matter how interesting the topic, I tend to enter (what I call) the ‘half-doze state of mind’. This involves listening to what is going on, but not actually listening, and disillusioning yourself with the idea that actually this itchy-fabric seat is just as comfortable as your bed. This was really an issue considering the various talks from lecturers and students lasted two hours – by which at the end, I dashed out at sonic speed to shovel myself with coffee.

It was only then, when I was fueled with caffeine, that I was able to physically process the information that was thrown at me during the morning talks: (1) I really need to think about what modules I want to do next year (2) My dissertation is sure going to be hard-work (3) I’m really behind in the work I need to do for my dissertation (4) I think I have a concentration problem.

The Afternoon

Lunch was exactly like the good ol' days, and it was hugs all around for the first 20 minutes or so considering I had course-mates to catch up with whom I hadn’t seen in months, including a close friend who was back from the US of A for the day of the Conference. Lunchtime social interaction was more than just nice, it was missed, it was greatly appreciated - lunchtimes at work consisted of people eating lunch at their desks to carry on and concentrate on work, which though understandable, made eating lunch a little lonely. It was a welcomed and nice change to be able to chat to people whilst tucking into some (relatively) healthy campus grub.

After two hours cosying up at the Campus restaurant, protected from the turbulent rainstorm, and exchanging casual 'So how are you finding placement?' 'Are you enjoying what you're doing?' and 'You bought a snake?' (Yes, talk of a course-mates pet snake was hot topic), it was time to venture off and get a little lost looking for a building, though it is my third year as a University Student. I just don't think I'm very good with the names of buildings.

The Poster Conference, I have to say, was situated in the hottest room known to all of mankind - though I was quite proud with the look of my poster. However, this heat, and the fact that I had about 10 students simultaneously appear to listen about my placement, made me look flustered and super awkward with a bright pink face and sweat on my brow. Whilst I had no qualms chatting away about what I do on placement, how much I enjoyed it and answering any questions, I certainly was daydreaming about chucking cold water on my face to withstand the heating in this building - which, I have to curiously add, was blasting some estranged, minimalistic opera music from speakers in the corridors.

The poster I made for the Placement Conference

The poster I created about my Placement for the Conference

The Evening

Well I'm not saying that Psychologists love alcohol, but students and lecturers alike left the Conference pretty swiftly for the drinks reception, considering free wine and finger foods were at stake. I was undoubtedly going up for seconds with my little food plate, adhering to the saying 'If there's free food... I'll be there.' Our Director of Studies gave humorous speech and banter (wine in hand) pretending jovially to be a little tipsy before announcing the best posters from the Conference - though I didn't win, I did eye the top prize of a bottle of Champagne and chocolates... you could say I was a little envious. I did remember asking the course-mate who won to describe her poster to me as I hadn't got around to seeing it, to which she replied, 'It was the one with the giant brain in the middle.' Suffice to say, fair dues. I did think that my generic picture of pills from stock images may have put the judges off.  There was more time to catch up with old friends with the topic of the moment being 'the plan', meaning where would we continue drinking post-free wine session. I opted for going home to have a nap and meeting everyone at the desired location later on.

After a recharging nap, I went off on my mission to find a close friend/course-mate of mine in a bar in town, where she was determined to order her favourite cocktail instead of attending the rendezvous with all the psychologists in another bar on the opposite end of town. Knowing that I didn't share the same taste for cheesy, club music as her and for keeping her company I was rewarded with my favourite drink of Whiskey. At this point, I developed an inner conflict - though I wanted to stay with my friend as she only was in Bath for one night before going back to placement in America, I knew deep in my heart that the club she would soon be entering was one where I would rather have not entered even if it was a matter of life and death. I got in the queue to contemplate my decision, but as if a calling from the skies, the thumping bass of generic club music whistled out between the small doors between the bouncers, and the overly dressed clubbers towered tottering in their heels shouted over me to talk to each other... I apologized profusely to my friend and hopped out of the line before you could say 'Second Bridge'.

photo

Luck of all luck, by the time I reached the Psychology 'do' there were but a few dwindlers left as a majority had called it an early night and gone home. Maybe placement makes us old? Maybe it was the free wine? Or maybe, just maybe, waking up at 7 every morning makes us clock out by midnight dying for the comfort of a bed? I reckon it was my ingenious idea to have a nap. Though my night ended quite soon after a chat with the dwindlers before everyone headed home. At least, I was in top form to be able to meet my tutors the next day and get up to speed with my whole dissertation work process, getting a giant weight lifted off my shoulders. I left with ethics, ethics, ethics on the brain, drilling into myself that I really needed to make a move on, do I need to say? Ethics forms for dissertation.

Wrapping up the story that was reliving the University life was a little, to my disdain, mediocre. I bigged it up so much in my head, when in fact, we're all just people in the same position carrying on. I wasn't missing out on University, I was still technically a part of it. Only, I wasn't lazying around in the Student's Union or surrounded by piles of books in the library... I am now living, and practically doing Psychology on Placement, which I am more than grateful for when I get back to University in September to continue the fun.