From A&R man to assistant psychologist

Nick Taylor on different roles and the benefits of voluntary experience. As told to Ian Florance

I’ve taken a tortuous route through work and study. I originally went to Manchester University to study history and economics. I was trying to avoid doing music, since my family was so involved with it. But I was drawn in and took a music degree. My rebellion failed.

My degree was in classical music – I wrote my long essay on the use of Gyorgy Ligeti’s music in Stanley Kubrick’s films. I can remember, though, sitting in a café with a friend who was studying psychology. I made a gesture. She explained it. I thought ‘What a fascinating subject.’

For about six months after completing my degree I did two jobs to earn money to travel. The first was theatre work. While I was doing this an advert came up for a support worker at MIND. I read the job description and felt that it was something that I would be able to do well. One of my sisters has Down’s syndrome and this has been a huge influence on my life and thinking. I’ve had to be one of her advocates, and I am sure that growing up as one of her siblings has had a huge impact on my personality. One of the jobs at the theatre related to helping children with Down’s syndrome participate in mainstream drama classes.

But, I wanted to travel and for six months I travelled round India, southeast Asia, Nepal among other places. When I got home, an old school friend introduced me to his record label. This led to me being an A&R man for a small record label for seven months. I got cynical. For a while it put me off the very thing I loved – music. I realised that the work with MIND was by far the most enjoyable thing I’d done so far.

I was in a best friend’s living room looking into potential roles working in the field of mental health when I made up my mind. I announced I wanted to be a psychologist. This was a surprise to both of us, though my mother is training to be a social worker and my sister as a speech and language therapist, so there’s always been that strand in our family.

I discovered I could do a diploma in psychology at Cardiff. As I had done no psychology during my music degree I had to do a conversion course at Oxford Brookes. It was only when I was at Brookes that I realised that I would have to complete a doctorate to become a psychologist.

To fund both of these courses I went back to working for MIND but this time in three different services – a drop-in day centre, a residential care home and as a sleep-in support worker in independent clients’ houses. During this time I also volunteered with the Samaritans. I learnt a lot through these experiences.

Cardiff blew me away. I didn’t realise how much statistics was involved, but I enjoyed this side of it too.I got obsessive about psychology. I read everything I could. But I suppose the downside of the courses was that if, at the end of them you’d asked me ‘What does a psychologist actually do day by day?’ I couldn’t have answered.

I thought I’d find an assistant psychologist job quickly. Many job applications later I realised this was more than a bit naive. I got in touch with a local psychology service, Hereford, and volunteered for an honorary assistant job. You get some much-needed experience while waiting, and hoping, for a paid job advertisement to come up. I ended up working for two services in this capacity – an adult integrated community learning disabilities service and an older adult service. During this time I worked closely with the head of psychology from the Hereford adult service on the successful cross-service IAPT bid, helping particularly with the specialist services aspects. This was a great experience because it introduced me to IAPT initiative, the individual roles within the MDT, and the different services in the county.

I’m now a paid assistant psychologist in both these areas. I love the variation and benefits that come from working in more that one service. These include firsthand experience with more than one client group and seeing the different psychological roles. It is interesting to see some of the similarities and differences between these roles.

I carry out psychological and neuropsychological assessments using an array of tools. I have some therapy cases with the older adults service, though of course those are supervised. I’ve also worked with behaviour that challenges services in the adult learning disabilities role.

I’m enjoying working with a range of different professionals – I have a lot of contact with psychologists, trainee clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and speech and language therapists, for instance. I take my hat off to social workers!

I’m also trying to develop my research skills so now, in addition to my two paid roles, I am working as an honorary research assistant psychologist with one of the county’s adult services looking at how well it provides a facilitative environment for recovery. It is a fascinating subject and work!

Ultimately I would like to get a place on the clinical doctorate course, but I know it’s a tough battle to get in. I’m interested in a number of things. I’ve become fascinated by the different therapeutic approaches. I’ve read about the pioneers of therapy and I now want to go back to their firsthand writings. I’ve started an Introductory Practitioner in Cognitive Behaviour Approaches course at Birmingham University. And I?want to gain more experience working with different client groups. I have enjoyed working with older adults. I’m 26 and I suppose. I still feel I’ll live for ever. These clients are teaching me things about loss and ageing. I worried that working with learning disabilities might be emotionally hard due to growing up with a sister with Down’s but it has actually been really rewarding and fulfilling. I would love next to work in an adult service,an eating disorders service, a health service, a child and adolescent service.

My voluntary work has been invaluable. It gives you a better idea of who you want to work with, what areas of the discipline appeal to you, how it really feels to work in a particular way and how both psychologists and the NHS actually work. In a sense I feel that nothing I have done is irrelevant to this career path –I often find myself drawing on things from my family life, my musical past and my outside interests.

I have also come to really value peer support. In Hereford we have set up a local network of assistant psychologists and we meet on a monthly basis. We have organised training sessions and speakers, and we would welcome any students if they want to join.

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