My psychology journey: Part 3 – Doctorate in Clinical Psychology

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, in part two she discussed her postgraduate degree and now in part 3, she talks all things ClinPsyD

So I made it, I’m finally on the course that I never believed I would be on! Before I started, I had those same doubts that I wouldn’t be good enough. Remember, I never was an Assistant Psychologist, so I had little experience working directly with a Psychologist and I still didn’t know exactly what they did. But, my cohort is amazing, such a lovely bunch of down to earth people and turns out we all felt/feel the same!

Coincidentally, on our first day we were told about “imposter syndrome” – not feeling like we belong/deserve to be here. We were also told that those feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty never really go away when you’re a Psychologist, which was reassuring but also terrifying! I’m just about to start my third year and I have learnt so much – not only about clinical psychology, but about myself, and myself as a Clinical Psychologist.

The course is a combination of lectures and placements. The lectures are a similar style to the psychological wellbeing practitioner (PWP) training in that the focus is on applying skills to practice (with less roleplay!) But the ClinPsyD incorporates much more psychological theory and different approaches. Also, the focus isn’t just on what to say and do, but on listening and noticing what’s going on ‘in the room’ between myself and the client, and my own thoughts and feelings.

We’re encouraged to take time to fully understand a client’s difficulties before intervening, which is very different to my Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) experience and I have had to work on slowing down and feeling the need to do something quickly to help.

Alongside teaching during year one and two, we complete four different six month placements across four core settings (adult, child, older adults/health and learning disabilities). Although there have been challenges, I have enjoyed each one and they have all been a valuable learning experience in their own right.

Surprisingly, I think my older adult/health placement has been my favourite. I was in a Community Stroke and Neurological Rehabilitation team and worked with some really interesting conditions and I was able to step out of my CBT box and use different therapeutic approaches.

What really makes (or breaks) a placement is the supervisor. I found that having a supervisor that is available and approachable is key to feeling supported and gaining the most from placements and personal development.

In third year, there will be less teaching and more research and placement. We have one specialist nine month placement, it’s not been confirmed yet, but I am hoping to go to a secure hospital. Although this has been on my agenda from the beginning, I still haven’t had any work experience in a forensic setting. So it’s finally time to put this to the test and see if this is what I actually want to do! But that’s the beauty of clinical psychology, if it’s not, there are so many other options!

Amongst teaching and placements there is also research. We have to complete a thesis consisting of two papers; an empirical project and a systematic review. Whilst I have been ‘working’ on both, I have been in blissful ignorance about it. I feel it’s going to be a shock to the system when I realise how much work I have to do but I’m not thinking about that just yet.

I’m a clear lover of The University of Manchester and seem to have spent half my life here, but I have to admit going into this final year is starting to take its toll (I’m sure COVID-19 has something to do with this). I am loving it, but it is tiring, there is always something that I can be working on. Even when I’m on leave I feel guilty that I should be working! I guess for most my Uni life I have had to use weekends and holidays to study, otherwise work wouldn’t get done and I wouldn’t be where I am now.

That’s not to say I don’t have a life outside of studying, I am a firm believer in a work-life balance and make sure I stay active, spend quality time with my friends and family and fully indulge in a bit of “me time”. I’m looking forward to my final year on the ClinPsyD and hopefully my last year as a student! Although, I’m sure I’ll be back at The University of Manchester at some point!

Top Tips:

  • Keep applying! Don’t let rejections put you off!
  • You don’t need to know exactly what you want to do, do what you’re interested in and see what happens!
  • Don’t be afraid to contact course tutors and ask for help with finding jobs.
  • There are many different routes to Clinical Psychology, make the most of the opportunities offered to you.
  • Work hard, but not too hard!

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