I recently had the pleasure of catching up with one of our recent MSc Health Psychology graduates, Joss who has started work as an Assistant Psychologist. In this article Joss tells us about her role and offers some hints and tips for students wanting to work in this field. I’d like to thank Joss for her time and her excellent advice and wish her all the best in her career.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I graduated from the MSc in Health Psychology last year. I was feeling a bit lost after graduation, as initially I wanted to get into Health Coaching. I thought my previous experience of working with people with eating disorders, along with my masters would get me into this field but I was finding that many roles were asking for a degree in nutrition. After booking a careers appointment I reflected on my long-term goals and decided I would like to become a Clinical Psychologist, so to support my chances of getting onto the Doctoral course I wanted to first work as an Assistant Psychologist within the NHS. Not only would this provide me with valuable work experience it would also give me insight into the role of a clinical psychologist in order to solidify this career path for myself.
I was initially very nervous at applying as I have heard they are competitive positions. I was very lucky and landed four interviews and was offered a job after the second one.
Despite being successful at interview, I was worried that if I accepted I might miss out on something better suited to me. The position was in learning disability services and I had my heart set on children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). However, I realised landing an AP job is an aspiration many graduate psychology students have and I considered myself lucky to land a job so quickly and accepted.
So, having accepted the role are you enjoying it?
Yes, I have to say I am loving it! It’s been a real lesson in overcoming feelings of imposter syndrome and pre-employment anxiety. I’m so glad I made the decision to try it out and see.
Can you tell me about the role you’re doing?
I am an Assistant Psychologist (AP) within the Intensive Support Service for adults with learning disabilities and complex mental health/behaviours that challenge. The AP role is very diverse in that I am involved in multiple projects and split my time across community and inpatient services. I am involved in research, presentations, patient work on a 1:1 and group basis, assessments, formulations and daily clinical meetings with different multidisciplinary teams. My team are great and I feel supported and encouraged to develop myself as a psychologist.
I also help the other AP run individual sessions with our inpatients, these can focus on healthy living, body image, relaxation, anything really! It’s all person-centred care. We are also creating a performing arts group for the inpatients joint with speech and language therapy assistants, here we will be using performing arts to help individuals develop communication and emotional regulation skills.
Within Surrey (where I am based) there is a big AP community which meet monthly with guest speakers and to discuss a piece of research, or our practice. So, as you can see, loads to get involved with!
I am now thinking I will probably apply for the doctorate this September for a September 2023 start.
Can you tell me how you got the role?
What helped me was doing my background reading and preparation around the job description. For example, in my particular role they use a ‘positive behavioural model’, so I read up on that and reflected on my past experiences and how I could demonstrate my practical application of the skills required for this model. They also asked questions about psychological models and applying them to our patient population (learning disabilities), so it is good to think about how your knowledge of theory can translate into practice with the patient population, for any roles you are applying for.
When I asked my manager why I was successful in the interview it was my warm and approachable attitude and the clear amount of time I had prepared for the interview which came across. I also asked interesting questions at the end and came across as interested in the team and their experiences.
I think it has helped that I am a bit older and have a wealth of experience within this area. I have around 3 years work experience with children with learning disabilities and am an ambassador for Beat (UK based eating disorder charity). As well as that I have experience researching autism and chronic pain. I showed that I had a diverse skillset and I was honest about my experiences, my strengths and reflected on my weaknesses.
Have you got any top tips for students wanting to secure an AP role?
• I recommend students watch this video, which goes in depth on how to prepare for an AP interview. I used this to help me prep for mine and it was so helpful.
• On the NHS website you can fill out an online application and send to multiple roles, I did a standard personal statement which I tweaked ever so slightly if the job roles required me to demonstrate certain experiences e.g working with disabilities, or working with children etc. This made it quick and easy to apply, I was invited to 5 interviews in total but took the one nearest to home. I also learnt it's ok to reject interviews and change your mind, these roles are over applied for anyway so if you know it's not the one for you there's no harm in politely declining.
• During your interview prep reflect on your work experiences thus far and apply these to different areas of the job application. For example, if it mentions multi-disciplinary teams then think about the teamwork you’ve been part of, how did you resolve conflicts? What were the issues that arose in your teamwork? How did you overcome these? If you didn’t what would you have done differently?
• Brush up on some of the models in psychology you have learnt, e.g bio-psycho-social model, cognitive, developmental… anything you think would be relevant.
• Some interviews will ask you in advance to prepare a presentation, make sure you set aside time to practice.
• Remind yourself that your interview panel are just people, with lived experiences, many of whom have been in your shoes.
• Interviews are a chance for you to get to know them just as much as they are there to get to know you. They aren’t looking for perfection, they want to know you are someone with good interpersonal skills and who will fit in well with their team.
• Thinking about work experience, it really doesn’t matter if you haven’t worked in that particular area before. But it is worthwhile getting involved with mental health charities, or landing yourself a support worker role, to show that you are actively interested in working with people and using your psychology skills.
• It is an assistant role for a reason, you’re not expected to know everything, you are there to learn and develop your skills as well as support your team.
I mentioned before about my reservations and anxiety prior to accepting the role. I remember everyone else being so excited around me and I just felt so anxious and scared. It didn’t help that I had a lot going on in my personal life too which was making me unsettled. I remember telling myself that it’s ok if it doesn’t work out, I can always leave the job if it isn’t for me. Speaking about my reservations to friends and family helped as well and they reminded me that it doesn’t have to be forever if I don’t enjoy it. Luckily, I do and I am very lucky that my role is a permanent position and not fixed term so I don’t feel I have the clock ticking until I have to move on, I can give myself time and space to learn and develop in the role.