My psychology journey: Part 2 – Postgraduate degree and applying for the ClinPsyD

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. On top of this, she has also 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 focused on her undergraduate degree and her first full time job, and in part two below, she discusses her postgraduate degree and why she preferred it to her undergrad…

Following my time working as a trainee in Kent, I moved back to Manchester and obtained a full Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) role with Healthy Minds, an Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service in Stockport. IAPT services are often criticised for being target-driven and causing staff burn-out due to high caseloads.

While I may not agree with all the targets, and it can be very demanding and pressurised place to work, I am extremely grateful to have worked as a PWP. The role provided me with a range of skills on top of training such as; organisation, assertiveness, creativity and recognising my own limitations. It was hard work, but also extremely rewarding and my supervisors and colleagues were great and we all supported each other.

As busy as I was, I still wanted to become a Clinical Psychologist. The next step would be getting onto the Clinical Psychology Doctorate (ClinPsyD). If I thought getting an Assistant Psychologist position was hard (impossible), this was going to be even worse. My PWP role was providing me with clinical experience, but other than my undergrad dissertation I had no other research experience.

I decided to get in touch with my academic advisor from my undergraduate degree and she was able to find me an honorary research position at The University of Manchester – I was chuffed to bits! I did this one day a week while condensing my hours at Health Minds into four days.

I thought I was doing everything I could get on to the ClinPsyD but after a second year of applying and no interview (surprise surprise), I thought it was time to consider other options. I’d previously neglected my interest in forensic psychology as my career path had veered to clinical psychology. However, I decided to re-visit this and contacted the programme director of the MSc in Forensic Psychology and Mental Health at Manchester.

I applied for the MSc as I felt it may help with getting onto the ClinPsyD and it would also open the door to stage 2 training, the route to becoming a Forensic Psychologist. To my surprise, I got a place on the MSc! I was absolutely petrified, it was five years since my undergrad which was hard enough and now I was taking on a full-time MSc and still working (now part-time) as a PWP.

I soon realised that doing a MSc ‘late’ after gaining work experience was a massive advantage to me. Even though I hadn’t worked in a forensic setting, I was able to apply new information and theory to a clinical setting which I feel gave me a different perspective as I was able to think how this would work in practice. It also helped with engagement in lectures as I was constantly picking up tips for working with clients.

I thoroughly enjoyed the MSc and a large part of this was due to the energy and passion of the course team. I was/am excited about the prospect of working in forensic psychology and rehabilitating offenders. The supervision, encouragement and feedback on coursework and dissertation drafts was also a massive help! I couldn’t really ask for more from a course!

Another reason I enjoyed the course was that I exceeded my own expectations! Not only did I manage to get a distinction, I won an award for ‘Outstanding Achievement’ and my dissertation came first in a conference fund competition. I did work hard, but it didn’t feel quite as hard as my undergrad and I think this was due to having clinical experience and genuinely being interested in the topics – I didn’t even mind (too much) writing my dissertation. Another huge help was the friends I made, we supported each other and kept each other laughing, even during stats revision.

Whilst I was completing my MSc, I applied to the ClinPsyD (you may have noticed by now I’m not one to let things go). You can apply for up to four different universities – I got one of four possible interviews, which just so happened to be at Manchester, which was obviously my first choice. I was ecstatic, I had to re-read the email about 100 times as I just didn’t believe it! I didn’t think I’d be successful and said to myself “this is just a practice”, and even questioned whether I did want to go straight into another course (not that I would EVER turn it down).

The interview was horrific, not because it particularly difficult, but my anxiety was through the roof! My mind went completely blank on the research question! Somehow, I managed to bumble my way through and then balled my eyes out – which is not like me! Although I’d convinced myself I wouldn’t get on, this was clearly what I really wanted and my emotions knew it!

I made it onto the reserve list. Better than a no, but I didn’t know how many other people were on this list or where I was on it. Initially I was optimistic, but as time went on that hope faded. So, when I got that “Congratulations” email I was stunned, I didn’t know what to do with myself! Also, I was home alone so there wasn’t anyone to run and blurt it out to so I just danced around my room making excited “yelping” sounds and then messaged absolutely everyone and blasted it all over Facebook.

Look out for the final instalment of Abigail’s psychology journey, where she reveals how she’s getting on with her ClinPsyD Doctorate in Clinical Psychology


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