'There is no normal journey'

Rebecca Fellows reports from the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Societies Division of Clinical Psychology Prequalification Group.

It’s that time of year again when aspiring clinical psychologists who have applied for training programmes either get the thrilling news that they have got through to the interview stage for a course, or the disappointing news that this year it’s not for them. With threats to funding for clinical training beyond this year’s intake, it is a particularly difficult and uncertain time for those without places. As aspiring clinical psychologists we face more and more competition for assistant psychologist jobs and places on clinical training courses, which can be incredibly disheartening. The Division of Clinical Psychology Pre-Qualification Groups (DCP PQG) 2018 annual conference quite aptly titled ‘Thriving in Clinical Psychology: Working Through Challenges in Different Contexts’, recognised these challenges and brought together prequalification members to focus on and discuss how we can enrich the journey and ensure that we thrive along the way to becoming clinical psychologists.

The conference kicked off with Dr Roberta Babb talking through her journey in clinical psychology and the different stops along the way – including what she described as the good, the bad and the ugly. With cutting humour she demonstrated that there is no ‘normal’ journey into a career as a clinical psychologist; there will be many twists and turns along the way. The talk highlighted that whilst many of us are aiming for the same end goal, we will all arrive at that destination from a unique path. This is what makes us authentic, and we should embrace it.

Anne Cooke’s call for using the media as a platform to speak out and raise the profile of psychology sparked interesting discussions. Anne showed some of her own blog posts, newspaper articles, podcasts and her Twitter feed, all boasting an impressive amount of hits and followers. It did raise the point however, that perhaps for many of us, the fear that we do not feel ‘expert’ enough to go on TV or reach out to the media to talk about what we know puts us off doing so. But Anne raised the important point that if we don’t, someone else will. There was a comical and light-hearted nature to the discussions around how your work may be received and encouragement to keep trying as it becomes less scary the more you do it!

The idea of thriving in clinical psychology could not be considered without thought of supervision. Dr Margo Ononaiye guided us through the peer group supervision model in action, in which we saw the six stages of the model used to answer the question of ‘how do I support a colleague with personal issues?’ Peer group supervision is a leaderless form of group supervision that uses a systematic counselling interview approach for groups to discuss professional issues with each other. Through role play we experienced the six structured phases of casting, case presentation, key questions, method choice (‘good pieces of advice’ was used), consultation and conclusions. It was a refreshing and exciting model of supervision that demonstrated within the short session that it can be extremely effective in answering supervision questions in a group setting to provide ideas and potential solutions for difficult situations.

I was particularly moved by the expert by experience representation throughout the conference and the bravery of the speakers to share their personal stories. We heard how the ways in which diagnostic labels, such as borderline personality disorder, can have devastating impacts on the lives of individuals and their relationship with mental health services. Dr Danny Taggart emphasised how absolutely essential it is that we listen to survivors of trauma. This talk, along with many throughout the day, sparked much discussion around moving beyond diagnoses and labels, changing stigma, speaking out as professionals and standing for change.

Throughout the day there was a real encouragement to embrace and cherish every step along the way in our individual journeys and to take responsibility to get the most out of our own learning, development, supervision and support. Clinical psychology is facing a time of uncertainty and change and as prequalified members, being able to manage this through standing together and supporting one another along the way is imperative. 'Changing the world' was referred to on a number of occasions throughout the conference and whilst this may be intended as light-hearted and comical, it really left a sense of those present feeling valued and inspired as the future of clinical psychology.

- If you are an aspiring clinical psychologist at pre-qualification level then you can find out more about the PQG here.

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