Mental health is currently a hot topic of discussion on social media, however, with thousands of people still struggling to talk about their issues, it continues to be a massive problem in the UK and around the world. The University of Manchester offers a postgraduate degree in Advanced Practice Interventions for Mental Health and in 2016, Nikolaos Sarras started on the path to fulfilling his desire to help others by starting on the course. Find out how he got on below…
I was inspired to go down the mental health route due to my commitment to helping people and my motivation to make a difference to their lives. Before applying to the University of Manchester to do my postgraduate studies in Advanced Practice Interventions for Mental Health (Primary Mental Health Pathway), I had already gained a substantial amount of experience through working as an Assistant Psychologist. I helped clients of all ages and from various cultural diverse backgrounds within the NHS and other settings.
Applying to do the course at the University of Manchester was the next natural step for me as I was keen to enhance my clinical and counselling skills. Additionally, I was looking for a course that would enable me to develop my knowledge and competence in Low Intensity Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), an evidence-based form of psychological treatment that’s recommended in clinical guidelines.
The reason why I specifically applied for the course at Manchester is because of its commitment to world-class research, social responsibility and student experience. The course proved to be EXCELLENT in all aspects! For example, academic supervision, lectures and tutorials were all of a very high standard and our academic/clinical work was monitored very closely throughout the academic year.
The three main tutors on the course all have many years of clinical experience working in primary care settings and are therefore extremely knowledgeable at assessing and treating common mental health problems. This enabled us to feel confident in applying everything that we learnt on the course (e.g. doing role-plays, discussing vignettes, reflecting on clinical work ) to our clinical placements. Throughout ours studies we also had the pleasure of listening to guest lecturers who were always extremely engaging. Their experiences were varied with some working with the elderly, some working with diverse groups, and others were in the process of developing socially inclusive practice.
As soon as I graduated from the course, I was immediately employed on a full-time basis by Healthy Minds, a NHS IAPT psychological therapies service in Greater Manchester. My main role has been to deliver low-intensity CBT-based assessment and treatment to people experiencing common mental health problems (e.g. stress, anxiety, low mood, worry, low self-esteem). I offer telephone and face to face sessions as well as delivering group therapy workshops. I am also involved in delivering CBT-based psychoeducational sessions at various colleges, and other community settings, in order to promote mental health and well-being, help break down the stigma of mental illness and improve access to psychological therapies for diverse populations (including hard-to-reach client groups) in the local community.
Each day is varied, meaningful and rewarding and I feel privileged to be doing what I do, i.e. helping people and constantly learning and developing, both on a personal and professional level! That’s not to downplay the fact that the job is demanding though, which is why I strive for a healthy work-life balance whilst using existing self-care strategies such as seeking appropriate support from friends and family, supervisors and tutors. I also engage in mindfulness practice and regular physical activity, i.e. Brazilian jiu-jitsu training and singing in a community choir to promote my personal well-being and maintain clinical practice.
The course has also afforded me the opportunity to gain invaluable teaching-related experience. For example, based on my clinical experience of having worked with people with learning disabilities and common mental health problems, I have had the honour of being invited by the course tutors to facilitate a series of three problem-based learning sessions on Learning Disabilities for this year’s cohort (2017-2018). This forms part of teaching on Social Inclusion and Working with Diversity for the course. This experience has been rewarding and such a learning curve.
My proudest moment though is always when I see clients achieve their goals by overcoming barriers! This is empowering and fills me with hope. I am therefore very grateful to my course tutors for their continued support and for helping me enrich my life, as well as my clients’, in such an important way.