From the blues to CBT

Ian Florence talks to Linda Berkeley

It’s obvious on the phone that Linda Berkeley was born in the USA. ‘I originally came to England for a year and stayed.’ She’s now a trainee counselling psychologist and her route to psychology takes in singing jazz and blues.

What attracted you to psychology?

I wanted to be a therapist/psychologist from a very early age. Aged 10 I made up a psychometric test about the attraction between brown-eyed boys and blue-eyed girls.

So, why didn’t you study it initially?

I took psychology classes at university but a forced choice between Skinner and Freud didn’t exactly set my pulses running. Those were the two options in those days. So

I took an English degree then started getting work as a singer. I’d always sung jazz and blues and I had one of the hardest-working bands in London called Linda’s Box of Tricks. I worked with a lot of great people. Then I had a son and was a stay-at-home mum for 11 years. For a number of reasons I then had to plan for my future.

And you returned to your early interest.

When my son was 10 he asked me, ‘What did you want to be at my age?’ That set me off. I studied for my degree at Surrey – a great course. The depth, breadth and options within psychology had changed hugely since I first encountered it. Like other students, I found the statistics challenging, to say the least, but I finally ‘got it’.

I enjoy research, but my aim was always to deliver therapy and to work with people and, in particular, to work with addictions.

I think that some therapists and psychologists would like to avoid addicts.

Does your interest in the area stem from experiences in the music business?

To some extent: that and growing up in the 60s.

Obviously if I wanted to work in any area I needed experience. I also needed work. So I did a lot of jobs. I helped on a research project with autistic adults at the Disabilities Trust. As an Independent Living Officer working with substance misuse clients I had to develop negotiation skills to get local councils to provide houses for people who were struggling desperately. I worked in probation with ex-offenders. One of the most interesting jobs was as an Arrest Referral Officer at Lambeth where prisoners had to be tested for Class A drugs and I then had to talk to them about treatment.

You come across as very frank and no-nonsense. Does this help you working with this client group?

You bring yourself to your client in therapy. Addicts are used to being lied to a lot. They’re pretty sensitive to it. Honesty is essential, in my experience.

How did you finally get to be a trainee?

I applied to a PsycD programme at London Metropolitan University. After a year I decided to go the independent route. This means you have to convince a coordinator of training (COT) to take you on and you can then plan your training on an à la carte basis, paying as you go. It can work out a bit less expensive and also allows you to be more flexible in what you study. You sit down with your COT to look at what you’ve done then plan each stage. To do this you have to be really organised – keeping a good diary is a must – since no one’s going to chase you or give you wake-up calls. Providing you fill the requirements you also have some leeway to follow your interests – I have my eyes on a counselling in addiction course, additional CBT training and training in metacognition therapy. I’m also learning a huge amount from being a counselling psychology trainee in an IAPT service which deals with a very wide range of problems. My first placement was in a focused drug and alcohol service.

My first submission date is in January 2013; if you pass the coursework you have a viva later in the year. My aim is then to get to chartership status by late 2013 and then get a job. I may consider a doctorate top-up but I have to dig myself out of debt!

Apart from honesty, what else is critical in working with addiction problems?

Addicts are people who have psychological issues which are causing them distress, like any other clients that psychologists work with. If your reaction to addiction is disgust or moral judgement, you won’t be able to help them.

Do you use a particular approach?

The general CBT framework makes real sense. Of course I’ll use other approaches – gestalt and systemic for instance – but I’m basically a CBT therapist. I’m also one of Albert Bandura’s biggest fans.

I sometimes get grief from person-centred therapists for using tests, but I take a social-cognitive view of testing.

This has been a big career and life change.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m American, but I don’t look forward to a quiet old age and retirement. A lot of psychologists produce their best work late in life. As long as I’m compos mentis and doing what I love I want to keep working. 

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