By Amy Howes
As soon as I saw that the School of Psychology was offering clinical placement years I knew that it was something I would be interested in. Despite having to hand in assignments most weeks during term two I managed to find the time to write a personal statement and apply for the placements that appealed to me. Throughout this process I really doubted that I would succeed in gaining a placement, due to expected competition and concerns about whether I had enough experience or sufficient grades. I very nearly gave up at the last hurdle when I found out that one of my interviews was on the morning of one of my summer exams. Ironically, this was the placement I ended up being offered.
Since starting my placement I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I am working for the West Sussex Eating Disorders Service, but we are based in Brighton. I am very fortunate to be with a lovely team who have made me feel welcome and valued as a colleague. I primarily work in an office, and my daily routine can involve anything from dealing with referrals into the service, collating outcome measures from patients, inputting blood results and weight data into our system, to attending team meetings and carrying out audits. In addition, I have learnt a lot about the treatment of eating disorders and their many comorbidities, not only through being placed in the heart of a busy specialist service, but through comprehensive reading of clinical guidelines and self-help books used by the service. Doing this has demonstrated to me that the world of psychiatry is a vast one, where often the more you learn, the more you realise there is to learn.
Thankfully, I have also been able to get out and about a lot. I have shadowed assessments, psychological therapy sessions and had meals out with patients. I have recently moved into co-facilitating group therapy, which means I am trusted to run part of the sessions. This is something I feel really privileged to be involved in and is increasing my confidence in working face to face with patients.
It is a downside, of course, that the placement is unpaid. However, I have found this beneficial in some ways because that in itself offers a lot of flexibility. Firstly, it means that my year hasn’t been too stressful because my workload isn’t that of my paid colleagues. Secondly, if I ask my supervisor if I can spend a day shadowing an early intervention for psychosis team, a liaison psychiatrist in A & E, or a mental health triage assessment service (all of which I have done) she is really supportive because the year is viewed as my year to gain as much clinical experience as I can. The placement is mutually beneficial; I help the service out and they offer me a year of experiencing as many elements in the life of a psychologist as possible.
Throughout the rest of the year I am hoping to visit the eating disorder inpatient units that our team are linked to. I also hope to learn more in-depth about therapies that are suitable for eating disorders, which will hopefully lead to me working one-to-one with low-risk patients; doing work around eating out, preparing food, and the anxiety associated with this.
During my placement so far I have met many clinicians in several branches of the mental health services and they have all assured me that this year will put me in a great position when applying for jobs after my undergraduate degree. It will also give me valuable experience that I can report on my CV and discuss in interviews when applying for chartered psychologist training.
For me, applying for a placement was the best decision I could have made. As well as managing to escape the craziness of university life (and all those assignments!) it has allowed me to spend a year experiencing an authentic working routine. I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to gain first-hand experience in the types of services I have always imagined working for, and so far it’s certainly exceeded my expectations.
If you are interested in doing a placement, you can also read about Lauren Maddock’s experience working for GSK.
The Career & Employability Centre has a placement preparation programme. For more information go to the placements’ webpage