Double doctor: from PhD to DClinPsy
By Sophia Donaldson, on 17 January 2017
How did you get into Clinical Psychology?
Pursuing a career in clinical psychology is something that I’ve been passionate about since A-level. When I finished my psychology degree I was very fortunate to go straight into an assistant psychologist post, which confirmed my love of clinical work. However, at 24, I wasn’t sure I was ready (personally or professionally!) for the demands of clinical training. Instead, I spoke with several people about pursuing a PhD as a first step. One Professor was particularly enthusiastic, explaining that, as a psychologist I would help perhaps 8 people a week, but as a researcher, I had the potential to help millions. Although I’m not sure I have ever agreed with his statement, it was pretty compelling! I was offered the chance to complete an MSc/PhD with a leading researcher in their field. As well as providing excellent research training, the role involved meeting families and carrying out diagnostic and cognitive assessments. This clinically relevant experience was really helpful later on when applying for clinical training.
After my PhD, I was very keen to pursue a post-doctoral position in the US. I wrote to several people who I had cited in my thesis or met at conferences to see if they had any appropriate vacancies. A professor was looking for a post-doc to work as a ‘research therapist’ on a large autism-focussed RCT – it was a perfect fit! I worked there for 18 months, and during that time I applied for clinical training. I had to fly back for the interviews, which were pretty tough. I was on the reserve list for two courses, and when a place became free, I came back to study in the UK.
What does an average day look like to you?
I’m currently training, so an average week is probably easier to describe. On Mondays and Fridays I have either lectures or time set aside for research. From Tuesday to Thursday I have my clinical placement. Over the last three years, I’ve had six different placements, working with a wide range of client groups (e.g. in child services, oncology, addictions, neuropsychology). My current role is at a specialist child OCD clinic, working as part of multidisciplinary team, carrying out assessments and CBT treatment with children and their families. I’ll generally see around 3 families a day, write up notes, attend meetings and have a weekly ‘clinical supervision’ hour. I also have an opportunity to observe other members of the team as part of my training.
What are the best bits about your role?
I love working as a therapist, it’s different to anything else I’ve done before. It is really rewarding to meet so many different clients who are experiencing such a range of challenges. At my current placement, the children often make amazing progress fighting their OCD and it’s wonderful to help them with that journey. I also really enjoy working as part of a multidisciplinary team, working alongside other professionals and liaising more broadly with schools and other services. Although I do feel like I’ve been a student for a long time, I love being part of a learning environment and attending lectures from leaders in the field. I’m also very lucky to have a lovely, supportive cohort of course-mates to study with, who all have such varied backgrounds and experiences to share.
What are the downsides?
It’s a lot of hard work. I suppose I may have thought that after doing a PhD I’d be ok, that perhaps the clinical doctorate wouldn’t be as hard, but in fact it’s harder. Clinical skills are new, and there’s a lot more responsibility when you’re working therapeutically with clients. Plus you’re still having to do research and attend lectures, but you’re doing that alongside holding down a busy job within the NHS, so there’s a lot of juggling to do. Taking exams again is also a bit of a shock to the system!
Where do you see your career going from here?
I finish my course in a few months so I’ll be looking for a job very soon. Ideally I’ll still be working clinically, but if I can combine that with continued research that would be perfect. I think balancing clinical work and research can be difficult at the moment, particularly in the changing and challenging environment of the NHS. However, as ‘scientist-practitioners’, I think it’s so important that psychologists continue to conduct relevant research to expand our evidence-base for treatment. I’m hoping that I can find a post within a research-oriented team – but we’ll have to see what happens!
In terms of career progression, the NHS system is fairly clear. You start at a certain grade after training and work your way up steadily over the years. Over time, your responsibilities increase and you tend to become more involved in supervising others, leading teams and service development. In the current financial climate, seeking and maintaining funding for services will also become increasingly important.
What are your top tips for anyone thinking of becoming a Clinical Psychologist?
It’s a very competitive course to get onto, so make sure you get as much clinically-relevant experience as you can from early on. Try to get a breadth of contact with different client groups if possible and make sure that you also have an understanding and interest in current research. I would highly recommend talking to current trainees, and seeking guidance with the application form, because nailing that is key. Being aware of current issues in the NHS is also really important for your application and interview. I think it helps to get to know the differences between the different Clinical Psychology courses, so you know which course will suit you best. Different courses differ in their entrance criteria and tend to ask different types of questions at interview – for example some courses ask a lot more personal questions than others. And most importantly don’t give up! Plenty of people apply multiple times before getting in and everyone has a very different career journey before they get accepted.
Image taken from Abraham Williams