My psychology journey: Part 1 – Undergraduate degree and first full time job

Abigail Kay is currently a student on the ClinPsyD Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at The University of Manchester. To get to this point, Abigail has completed both an undergraduate and postgraduate degree at Manchester in Psychology and Forensic Psychology and Mental Health respectively, and has undertaken a number of jobs in the field. In this three-part series, Abigail discusses in-depth every step of her psychology journey. In part one she focuses on her undergraduate degree and her first full-time job…

I decided to pursue a career in psychology following my love of CSI, and like many other psychology students I believed that Forensic Psychology involved helping the police catch criminals. However, in one of my first psychology lectures this myth was shattered as it was made very clear that this wasn’t what psychology was at all!

We were also told that not many of us would not become actual Psychologists but, that a psychology degree would open doors to a range of different careers. I was a bit disheartened at this news and I questioned whether I had made the right decision, but if anything, it made me more determined to become a Psychologist and while it may not involve offender profiling I was still interested in learning about criminal minds.

My undergraduate degree seems like a distant memory. I remember being given my first essay question and I had no idea how to approach it! Who knew you couldn’t just write an answer, but had to read journal articles and use references, my mind was blown! I’d done A-level Psychology, which I got an A in, so you’d think I’d be alright at this – I wasn’t!

Year one wasn’t too bad as I only needed a pass and most of the exams were multiple choice so that wasn’t too stressful. Year two was when things got more serious and most of the exams were essay questions, which meant a lot of memorising of who did what and when.

I’m not a huge fan of exams, and even vomited before one in second year out of nervousness, but I did quite like the modules in years two and three. Strangely, the ones that I performed best in were my least favourite – Statistics and Data Analysis, and Cognitive Neuroscience. In year three I opted for Forensic Psychology, Memory in Practice, and Perceptual Control Theory (PCT), which was the closest to clinical psychology, and is now the basis of my thesis.

During my undergraduate degree I completed the Manchester Leadership Programme which required undertaking voluntary work. I thought I would use this opportunity to also gain work experience in a forensic or mental health setting. I was really excited about this and contacted numerous psychologists and other professionals in the police and the NHS and eagerly awaited the replies.

After a few knockbacks I came across the Stockport Progress and Recovery Centre (SPARC) via the University’s volunteering website. The centre is a day service for adults with mental health difficulties and other complex needs including learning disabilities and autistic spectrum conditions.

My experience with SPARC was priceless! It opened my eyes to the impact that living with mental health difficulties can have on an individual and their families and friends. SPARC encourages and enables people to pursue meaningful, quality lives through providing education and vocation opportunities and helping people engage with their hobbies and interests. It is also provided a safe place for service users to meet and chat with a brew and biscuit.

SPARC instilled people (including me) with hope, and it was there that I realised my passion for supporting people to fulfil their potential. Through SPARC I gained skills in communication with both service users and staff members, but the main thing I gained was confidence. I remained a volunteer after finishing my BSc (Hons) and I was then offered a (paid) part-time support worker position.

After achieving my BSc (Hons), like ALL other psychology students I wanted an Assistant Psychologist position. I couldn’t tell you how many I applied for, but I can tell you how many I got an interview for – ZERO! Not a single one! I met all the minimum criteria and dedicated hours tailoring each application to the specific service but to avail. It got to the point where I was applying to anything with the word “psychology” in!

I finally received an invitation to an open day in Kent for a Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) position in an Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service. It was mandatory to attend the open day to be considered for interview. Bear in mind I still hadn’t had a single interview for an Assistant Psychologist job, so it seemed very unlikely I’d get this one. I was reluctant to travel all the way to Kent for an open day, but my manager at SPARC encouraged me to go, and my Mum was happy to come with me as we have family there, so off we went.

The open day was brief to say the least but, going was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made. I finally got an interview and not only that, I got the job! Which was more than I wanted as it was it a full-time (salaried) NHS job and a training position towards a Post-Graduate Certificate in Low-Intensity Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (LICBT) Interventions.

This was a big move, it was the first time I had ever lived away from home, but I loved it! The training involved teaching provided by The University of Surrey and a placement in an IAPT service. The teaching was very different to undergrad as it was classroom-based and there was only about 30 students. While there was some theory, the focus was on training us up to conduct psychological assessments and deliver LICBT interventions.

To my utmost delight (not) this involved a LOT of roleplay, even the exams were roleplay! Now, I’m not one for public speaking and I absolutely hate giving presentations, but I have to say, for me, roleplay was the best way of learning. Most of the roleplay was in groups of 3 so it wasn’t that daunting, and it was really valuable to observe and learn from others.

Read the next instalment of Abigail’s psychology journey, where she discusses her return to Manchester to obtain a master’s degree in Forensic Psychology and Mental Health.

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