Out of the fog of uncertainty
The first day of a new job as an Assistant Psychologist, working in an organisation that specialises in the assessment and treatment of developmental trauma and attachment difficulties in Looked After Children, was always going to be daunting. Feeling uncomfortable in new clothes, we both sat down at new desks, trying to hide the butterflies. There was secret comfort in seeing someone else in a similarly freshly pressed shirt, sat just as awkwardly at their new desk.
We were recruited together after enduring a challenging interview day which consisted of a nerve-wracking group activity and a timed report-writing task. Throughout the day we watched as our competitors seemingly excelled themselves as we scrutinised our own performance for our perceived inadequacy. It was almost a shock to be offered the job after so much self-doubt.
The first few weeks felt like an uphill struggle to grasp what felt like hundreds of assessment measures, acronyms, computer programs and reports. Our colleagues dedicated hours to training us on each assessment, report and program, yet despite their endless patience our exhausted heads still felt overwhelmed and confused at times. Luckily, amongst the fog of uncertainty, we were able to guide and support each other. Peer support was a way for us to ask the questions we felt uncomfortable asking of our busy colleagues.
A large part of our job is running sensory regulation groups for children prior to their therapy. Traumatised children can sometimes bring feelings of anxiety and dysregulation into the group, which when experienced for the first time alone can be terrifying. Despite all the reassurances and training from our supervisor, nothing was as comforting as ending the day with a cup of tea and a chat with each other. Our informal supervision sessions involved laughing, crying, troubleshooting and usually chocolate.
Neither of us had experienced supervision before and didn’t know what to expect. However, discussing our problems with each other gave us confidence and enabled us to open up to our supervisor, knowing we weren’t alone in struggling with the pressures of a new job and the challenging situations we were encountering. We understood that the façade of pretending to be capable could dissipate faster as we now knew that it was okay to not be perfect. That's something our colleagues already knew, but we lacked the clinical experience to recognise.
Not everybody is lucky enough to be recruited alongside another. Experiencing the uncertainties of beginning a career in psychology together has provided us with shared experiences, increased resilience and the confidence to ask the people around for help.
How to make the most of peer support:
- Remember that everyone was in your position once – talk to your colleagues and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
- Problem solve together – Peer Support is a great way to problem solve and sharing worries with others can help you feel more supported. It also allows you to draw upon the experience and knowledge of others to overcome challenges.
- Remember that being vulnerable doesn’t make you a failure - even the most experienced professionals can feel out of their depth at times.
- Talk about your worries – Peer Support allows you to express concerns in a supportive atmosphere. Talking about your concerns, no matter how big or small they feel, can give you confidence and help you to feel less alone.
- Celebrate successes – whether it’s writing your first report alone or making a breakthrough with a challenging client, remember how far you’ve come and celebrate this with your colleagues.
- If informal support is difficult to facilitate in your workplace, consider setting up a group of your own. This could be a social group, or you might choose to focus on key topics. Whichever form your group takes, remember that the main purpose is to provide support and understanding to each other.
- Don’t just take our word for it! Research suggests many benefits to peer provided support, ranging from social support and acceptance to empathy and reducing stigma (Repper & Carter, 2011).
Holly Edwards Sarah Cassidy
Repper, J., & Carter, T. (2011). A review of the literature on peer support in mental health services. Journal of Mental Health, 20(4), 392-411.
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