‘Immerse yourself in a psychological environment’

Hetashi Bawa on what volunteering, and serving as an Honorary Assistant Psychologist, has added to what she learnt at university.

Each visit to the Acute Adult Inpatient Ward, where I’m volunteering, is a completely different experience for me. I conduct surveys with the inpatients about their experiences. Some simply like to have someone to talk to, have a cup of tea with. There are always new faces and new stories, and I’m continually learning about what individuals are struggling and suffering with. It is a pleasure to immerse myself within the Unit and bond with individuals who may be feeling fragile, lonely and scared.

This is my first mental health experience within Clinical Psychology. Since I recently graduated with my psychology degree, I have made it my goal to develop clinical experience. As well as the volunteering, in the last five months I have started a Psychology placement within a NHS Trust as an Honorary Assistant Psychologist. Both settings have been eye-opening and full of challenges I never thought I’d be able to immerse myself in so soon after graduating!

My Honorary Assistant Psychologist post involves being part of a longitudinal research project, studying the link between Dementia and Downs Syndrome. Dementia symptoms impact not only the person themselves, but also loved ones. For individuals who suffer from Downs Syndrome, dementia can become prominent from the age of 30. I have learnt how to assess individuals suffering with Downs Syndrome at baseline, and follow-up appointments for dementia. I use a variety of measures, such as the Neuropsychological Assessment of Dementia in Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (NAID) and the Hampshire Assessment for Living with Others (HALO). Once assessments are conducted, I am able to write a report and provide a formulation explaining the outcome or diagnoses of the assessment.

When I first began my Honorary Assistant Psychologist post, I was apprehensive about conducting assessments on service users. I felt I was not as qualified as an Assistant Psychologist. Fortunately, before I got one step ahead of myself, my supervisor, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, had arranged for me to shadow a Clinical Psychologist conducting a follow-up assessment. I realised that I was becoming anxious for no reason. I knew from watching the Clinical Psychologist conduct her assessment that I would be able to replicate the assessment.

The second part to assessments is the written report. Your first report might take multiple attempts to get it right! It’s not like writing essays at university. With guidance from my supervisor, I was able to ensure that I always included the necessary information, whilst always acknowledging all aspects of individuals to correctly provide a formulation of outcomes for the assessment. From assessing a variety of individuals I have learnt how to determine how to clinically formulate diagnoses considering whether one may or may not have dementia, based on changes and concerns about the individual. Each unique assessment has enabled me to think in a clinical mind-set. It’s important to think about the larger impacts of an individual’s life, as well as comorbidity of symptoms – many individuals suffer with other diagnoses, such as anxiety and schizophrenia amongst additional physical health problems.

I have also been visiting day centres for individuals with learning disabilities around Surrey. One day centre, that my Consultant Clinical Psychologist helped create, was a particularly warming place to visit. It was remarkable how much research and thought went into the smallest details, supporting the needs of those individuals with learning disabilities who suffer with dementia. The promotion of the colours throughout the day centre, and use of visual aids, gave me insight into the importance of adapting surroundings. Everyday settings that will not affect the majority can disorientate those suffering with dementia. This day centre thought about many elements, such as 3D visual aids next to each door to signify what each room was. Furthermore, the staff at the day centre were very keen to not restrict individuals. There were many tasks for individuals to participate in, such as beauty sessions, video games, cooking and painting, amongst outdoor activities. Often we see the horrors of such situations and worry that individuals may be left bored. To see service users happy, interacting and enjoying tasks made me appreciate all the work staff do, whilst pushing me to pursue a route in clinical psychology to help individuals suffering in every way I can.

My advice? Immerse yourself in a psychological environment to learn and put into practise what you studied throughout your psychology degree. Your studies can give you knowledge, but do you really know how you will clinically enhance and apply this knowledge? Mentors and supervisors can be your essential guides on this journey.

Although I am currently working within learning disabilities, I am aiming to enhance my Psychological experience within mental health, particularly the Children and Adolescents Mental Health Service. And I’m applying for a Masters in Health Psychology. I’ve chosen it because I am very keen to encourage positive changes in people’s beliefs and behaviours around health. I hope that the experiences I’ve had, and my future Masters, will allow me to get into the Doctoral Training Course in Clinical Psychology. 

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