This article is written by Megan, an Assistant Psychologist (AP) working in the north of the UK! Megan talks about life leading to an Assistant Psychologist, university roles and experience and transpiring these into an AP role. You can find Megan on LinkedIN here. Although Megan achieved an AP role straight out of university, this is about Megan’s journey and not about ‘getting an AP role quick article’.
Whilst studying at university I was heavily involved in a number of extra-curricular activities, including charity work, student-led organisations, sports and paid work. For the three years I was a volunteer first responder for a student-led organisation called ‘Nightsafe’, where we provided immediate support and signposting for vulnerable students on club nights. We had training in first aid, active listening, conflict resolution, drug and alcohol awareness, homelessness and rape and domestic violence awareness. Working in small groups of three we patrolled the city and were in regular contact with venue managers, security staff and the emergency services. The role was sometimes intense and required quick problem solving and clear communication skills. When I first began volunteering I was initially more reserved and would take a more observational and safety role during the night shifts, but after two years I was much more confident in my knowledge of how to navigate numerous events that often revolved around alcohol, quickly being able to read a situation and anticipate sequential events and therefore protect against them.
Such skills have been useful when working alongside those with mental health problems and those who present volatile behaviours.
Throughout the three years I was also a mental health educator as part of another student led charity called ‘Open Minds’. Our aim was to reduce the stigma and increase awareness of mental health conditions by working with psychiatrists for training, to deliver educational, interactive workshops to Key Stage 3 and 4 pupils in local schools. Collectively, we had training from professionals about mental health disorders, teaching and classroom skills, enabling us to design the workshops we would deliver and share our knowledge. I enjoyed the psychoeducational aspect of this role and took pride in being able to increase awareness and spark conversations about mental health. It was challenging at times to ensure a class of 30 teenagers were following along and remained engaged throughout the workshop. Alongside consolidating and expanding my own knowledge of mental health conditions, I also developed upon my communicative skills. Some of the material we covered was sensitive and complex, therefore the way in which it was relayed needed to reflect that.
Amongst studying and volunteering I also had several jobs throughout university. It was something I knew I wanted to do, not just because I needed to, but also to experience a whole other side of the city. I worked as a customer assistant in a cinema, a team leader in respite centre for children and young people with disabilities and also a waitress and bar tender. From each of these jobs I learnt valuable lessons and developed key personal skills which would take a long time to write down, but the main thing I have taken from holding down full-time jobs whilst studying was self and time management. Skills that are critical when workloads are large with fast paced deadlines within assistant psychologist roles.
Post-graduation, I have worked as an assistant psychologist in a private practice and as a care assistant in a care home specialising on a Dementia care ward. Both roles required the academic knowledge I obtained throughout university as well as the practical skills gained from the additional experiences and opportunities in those three years.
Applying for AP roles, the reality of the strain, effort and persistent rejection and attaining an AP role.
I was extremely lucky to have my first AP role in the private sector upon graduating from university. The journey to my second role was not as smooth. During lockdown whilst I was working significantly less, I took the time to begin applying for Assistant psychologist roles within the NHS. Initially I thought my applications and supporting statement were ‘good enough’, however after several rejections I began refining and really ensuring I was tailoring each application to the job specification whilst including reflections from experiences that spoke of my values and skillset.
I once experienced upon finishing an application and pressing submit that the vacancy had closed whilst I was filling it out. At first, I was frustrated but I realised I needed to be quicker in both finding and completing applications. From ‘LinkedIn’ and other online forums to support aspiring clinical psychologists and assistant psychologists, I learnt that typically the NHS website creates vacancies in the early hours of a morning, therefore I setup a notification service to allow me to see those vacancies early and ensure my application was in on time, as they notoriously fill up quickly and are not around for long. I often was awake writing and completing applications at 5am which may sound drastic but I knew how competitive and over saturated these posts were and so this became a regular occurrence. My mind quickly became overtaken by applications and it was hard to fully think about anything else, alongside the added pressure of needing financial stability it became stressful and overwhelming especially when over 90% of my applications resulted in rejection.
I was elated when I was given an interview but quickly disheartened when I was told afterwards that I had just missed out on a place and if they had additional funding, I would have been successful. It was hard to take the positive from that feedback when again I was unsuccessful. However, it consolidated for me how much I wanted this position and so a second wave of applications came. In the three-month period I had made 28 applications and then I unexpectedly was offered two interviews within the same week. My excitement was accompanied with apprehension and self-applied pressure to obtain one of these positions, which sometimes overshadowed the process.
However, I managed to obtain a position with the North West boroughs, and I am now fully ready to begin a whole new journey within the NHS.
Thoughts about career as an AP and the challenges of the ‘Doctorate phase’.
Like many trying to acquire an AP position or those who currently hold them, I am on the journey to DClinPsy (Doctorate in Clinical Psychology) (hopefully). AP roles are typically held as the gold standard for experience to support applications for the Doctorate which add to the competitiveness of the roles and desirability for them. However, having had additional roles that are patient focused I have learnt that there are many other experiences that are just as valuable. The pressure we put on ourselves is extremely high throughout this process. I do not remove myself from this way of thinking as I have aimed for an AP role for a long time, however I do not discount what I have learnt from other mental health-based roles or others which may present themselves in the future. It is possible and occurs regularly that people achieve places on DClinPsy courses having experiences other than AP roles. Reminding ourselves of this I think is beneficial as it reduces the pressure in obtaining an AP role as a stepping stone towards the doctorate.
Anyway, I hope this has been useful for people to have an insight to my journey!
I hope you found this article useful and gained some insight to other people’s Psych Journey (in this case, Megan’s).