Many ways to be a clinical psychologist

'Life as a clinical psychologist: What is it really like?' (Critical Publishing) by Paul Jenkins, reviewed by Katie Voss and Alice McNamara.

The cover of Life as a clinical psychologist shows an illustrated Freud-like character, perhaps representing a traditional, stereotypical psychologist. The bearded white man has a stern glance, is formally dressed, and sits on an imposing expert’s chair. Opposite this character is a smiling young black woman with a more open and warm expression. She appears informally dressed and somehow more relatable and approachable.

The ambiguity of the scene immediately piqued our interest. What are the roles of the characters? Are they client and therapist? If so, who is who? Or do they represent the changing perceptions of psychologists over time? Perhaps the illustration is intended to reflect the main feeling we were left with after reading the book – that there is not one way to be a clinical psychologist. The profession is ever developing, changing and moving forward.

This book offers a broad and realistic perspective on what it’s like to be a clinical psychologist, including an understanding of the diversity of the role beyond the therapy room, and in the current climate of the NHS. Much to our happiness, the book is not a ‘how to’ guide for clinical psychology training but an honest and open reflection on the profession itself.

The reader is frequently encouraged to explore their motivations to train in clinical psychology. Reflections are prompted on both ‘do I want to be a clinical psychologist?’ and ‘what type of clinical psychologist do I want to be?’.

We have each been through the interview process this year. The book gave us a number of interesting points to discuss in preparation of and in our interviews. For example, Jenkins considers the validity of evidence-based treatment, practitioners’ differing perspectives on this, and the limited number of clinical psychologists actively engaged in research.

When reflecting on ‘what is a clinical psychologist?’ we both came back to the following quote from Jess, who offers a simple but powerful explanation of the role:

‘Ultimately, I believe it is our job to listen, really listen and hear. To bear witness to another’s suffering, seeking to understand all that they bring, offering guidance at times, but most importantly, be a fellow human alongside them... as clinical psychologists we can be present in the darkness without needing to turn the light on.’ (p.38)

Case studies such as Jess’s offer snippets of other clinical psychologists’ journeys and careers, adding a range of voices alongside Jenkins’ own story. Jenkins drives home key points, such as: it’s not the experience you already have, it’s what you learn and there truly isn’t one way to get there.

This is a balanced and comforting perspective on the route to clinical training. It offers a space to ground yourself in what clinical psychology is and what it can be. It will be helpful at any stage of the journey – we all need to come back to these reflections occasionally.

- Reviewed by Katie Voss @katievoss16 and Alice McNamara @AliceMcNamara_ Assistant Psychologists

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