One on one… with Dr Cerith Waters
One moment that changed the course of my career
My undergraduate degree was pretty cognitive and behavioural neuroscience heavy, and having been interested in longitudinal studies and the origins of psychopathology since my teenage years I was desperate to learn more about developmental and clinical psychology. Professor Dale Hay had recently transferred from Cambridge to Cardiff University and I had read her work on the impact of maternal postnatal depression on children’s cognitive development with great interest. I got in touch with Dale, probably sounding quite desperate, and asked if we could meet. Dale was very kind with her time and put me in touch with Dr Susan Pawlby who was working at the Channi Kumar Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) in South London. From these initial meetings, the perinatal world had me hooked! I completed my undergraduate dissertation with Dale and Sue, examining mother-infant interaction in the context of severe maternal mental illness. I then went on to complete my PhD on the impact of perinatal depression on children’s cognitive, behavioural and emotional development in the context of young motherhood. Since qualifying as a Clinical Psychologist I have focused on developing psychological interventions and clinical services for families identified as at risk during the perinatal period. When I reflect, I often wonder how different my life would have been had I not plucked up the courage to ask to meet with a Professor to discuss my highly unfeasible ideas for an undergraduate dissertation!
I vividly remember reading Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence as a 10-year-old. It is a story about life on earth after a nuclear war, detailing the lives of successive generations of the same family who survive by mutating to their poisoned world. It is about loss, fractured family relationships, and ultimately survival. Whilst it terrified me, it also opened my mind to the fragility of the earth and the human species, as well our innate drive to adapt and survive. On reflection, and putting the increased anxiety aside, I think it opened up a new compassion for the earth and all of its inhabitants, sparking an interest in environmental and social justice issues.
At the beginning of the pandemic the NHS Wales Choir produced a rendition of A Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel. Hearing this while driving home from work one day was a completely overwhelming experience that somehow connected all of the emotions that I had been experiencing in response to the pandemic. I don’t think I will ever forget this day. I often listen to this song to help me process all that comes with being a parent of young children during a pandemic and working in the NHS and University sectors (https://youtu.be/WXISBPKrf2E).
That has to be the founder of the NHS, Mr Aneurin Bevan.
One thing psychologists could do better
I don’t think we nurture or utilise the potential of our graduates enough. Many become disheartened by the unclear career pathways and fierce competition for opportunities – often spending many years trying to get a ‘foot in the door’ of a psychology profession. The expansion of the ‘psychological wellbeing practitioner’ and ‘graduate psychology’ roles in the NHS presents hope for talented and passionate psychology graduates who want to improve the lives of others. Now more than ever we need to forge clear pathways from psychology degrees into the health, education and social care workforce.
The back catalogue of Desert Island Discs is a real treasure that never fails to provide me with much comfort and entertainment.
One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
Pursue the initial interests that led you to psychology. Email researchers and clinicians whose work speaks to you, even if it is just to share your appreciation! It’s scary, especially if you are from a background where the concept of University is pretty alien! Be brave, reach out, and create opportunities, you never know which door will open.
One proud moment
Being part of the NHS response to the pandemic and ensuring the continuation of vital services for vulnerable parents and babies has to be up there. I felt so proud of how the families I worked with, my trainees and colleagues responded to the crisis. If you told me in 2019 that I would be delivering psychological interventions to parents and babies via the internet in 2020 I would probably have fallen off my chair laughing!
A favourite is Into the Wild, which is based on a true story about an emotionally traumatised young man who becomes disillusioned by society and sets off to live in the wilderness. Unfortunately, he eats a poisonous plant and dies alone in nature. The film has an awesome sound track curated by Eddie Vedder (absolute legend!) that really conveys the emotional climate of the film.
I hope that when the pandemic is over we adopt more environmentally friendly and sustainable ways of living. We have been forced by the pandemic to use video-conferencing to host national meetings, to attend international conferences, and to deliver many clinical and educational services. I don’t think that technology can ever replace our need for social interaction and physical connection, but I do think that our response to the pandemic has proven that we can travel less, work more flexibly, live more locally, and be a greater part of the communities that surround us. The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the inequalities that exist in our society and the need to better nurture the planet. My hope is that we come out of this pandemic taking seriously what the science is telling us, and that we are more compassionate to our fellow humans and take better care of the earth that sustains us.
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