One to One...with Gill Aitken

One inspiration                                                                                     Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet profoundly influenced how I have tried to live. Upon reading it in my teenage years, I had a sense of my connection with others; aimed to do no harm and to develop greater understanding of how and why we as human beings act in harmful ways, and my contribution to this. This book led me to first study psychology in the early 1980s at Bristol University.

One moment that changed the course of your career
When working as a lecturer I had met various students in distress, through racism, financial difficulties, mental health issues, etc. At that time university counselling services were minimal, and what I could offer was limited. One day a student told me they had overdosed and this prompted me to consider training as a clinical psychologist. I arranged to meet Pat Frankish – a clinical psychologist – and admired her openness and candour in our explorations about the profession. The following year, 1993, I left full time lecturing to train in clinical psychology.  

One thing that you would change about psychology

At times, I have experienced clinical and forensic psychology as dominated by tools and techniques approach to the exclusion of a relational approach and understanding ourselves and clients as human beings in contexts (historical, social, evolutionary and relational). I still believe professionally we could engage in greater reflective practices and dialogues on how our own values can enter into any context and influence relational experience and outcomes. This could support us to develop a greater awareness of what is most meaningful to enable increased and consistent sense of (human) integrity and purpose. I am curious as to how the current emergence of mindfulness approaches in the field of (clinical) psychology will further develop, and influence the profession, clinicians and clients alike.

One challenge
At present clinical and forensic psychology operates in a system in which service design and funding is organised around medicalised and legalised mental health and personality diagnostic and offence categories. A challenge is how psychology can contribute to developing greater needs-led service provision informed by useful and meaningful formulations of needs and risks.  

One book

I am currently reading Beyond Happiness: Deepening the Dialogue between Buddhism, Psychotherapy and the Mind Sciences (Gay Watson, 2008). It encourages us to integrate and synthesise mind–body approaches, drawing on Eastern contemplative approaches. As Watson argues, psychological and psychotherapy theories and models can be traced back as variants of Buddhist psychology dating back 2500 years: I find that phenomenal.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
I read that at the end of his life, Maslow stated his 1970 hierarchy of needs/motivations model should be inverted, with self-realisation to be the fundamental and baseline need. As human beings we have a responsibility to discover, develop and surrender to this need, and to have the confidence and capacity to transcend egoistic processes to better meet the needs of others. I’m still on the journey!

One proud moment

As a clinician, I feel ongoingly proud to be human (and personally humbled) when another human being allows me to bear witness to and engage with them in their human developmental struggle (including engaging with shadow sides).  Also, I was surprised to be nominated by the Psychology of Women Section for a 2005 BPS award, and felt proud to accept the award on behalf of all of us working towards a more socially just and respectful world – yet clear that as a profession and as an individual, we still have much to do.

One moment that changed the course of your career - Full answer

When working as a lecturer I had met various students in distress, through racism, financial difficulties, mental health issues, etc. At that time university counselling services were minimal and what I could offer was limited. One day a student told me they had overdosed and this prompted me to consider training as a clinical psychologist. I arranged to meet Pat Frankish – a clinical psychologist – and admired her openness and candour in our explorations about the profession. The following year, 1993, I left full-time lecturing to train in clinical psychology.  13 years later in the NHS, I experienced being in a system which increasingly prioritised short-term managerial outcomes over what I considered sustainable and meaningful strategic change in the context of the articulated Directorate vision, model and values. The decision to resign was a tough choice, given my passion for positive service change, collaborative working and wanting to contribute to developments to improve the experience of service users and workforce, particularly in secure psychiatric service pathways. Working freelance has enabled me to create a more balanced life; become a more contented and integrated human being; and, importantly I believe, still contribute as a psychologist to positive change to meaningful and useful effect.

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber