I want to keep this short. Is being a volunteer worth it as an aspiring clinical psychologist?
I think this question is asked a lot – the main consensus in the area of ‘aspiring clinical psychologists’ is ‘should I be an Honorary Assistant Psychologist (HAP)?’ – this is a very very long article in itself and I don’t want to focus on this. I think there is an ethical problem with this ‘war zone’ of jobs which are voluntary (HAP).
I want the focus to be on volunteering and for you to think about the experience you can gain from it and the skills and abilities you can develop. I also understand that this may be more relative to those who are students and importantly, to those who are able to commit to volunteering – based on personal circumstance. The most important point about volunteering is about reflecting on the experience and using this in future interviews and further opportunities.
Let me give some context to my voluntary experience:
- Volunteer in alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre (pre-university).
- Voluntary Research Assistant (in Psychology – whilst studying undergraduate).
- Volunteer in mental health and activity coordinator (6 weeks in Sri Lanka).
- Volunteer ward assistant (in acute mental health) whilst studying my MSc (Master’s) – this job helped me gain a paid job as a Health Care Assistant (HCA) which I know helped me gain my current job as an Assistant Psychologist (AP) in acute mental health.
Importantly, I believe that my first volunteer role helped me gain the final volunteer role on a mental health ward. With that came a HCA role and furthermore, I know that if I didn’t have that HCA experience, I wouldn’t have developed the skills and knowledge to gain my role as an AP – now I can say, upon refection and my own development, voluntary experience is worth it!
DO NOT rush! If you are at the point of undergraduate or A-Levels or, you may be a mature student, consider it useful to do a voluntary role. Again, circumstances are the most critical point so evaluate this and don’t put pressure on yourself. The problem I see is people ‘rushing’ to get ‘the perfect role’, which I don’t believe (As many others don’t) exist. A volunteering role is about developing skills, abilities and gaining experience which will help you obtain the next role – THIS IS THE MAIN POINT!
Some questions I would ask myself when thinking about voluntary experience:
- What are my current circumstances?
- What is the opportunity?
- What can this opportunity help me with / help me develop?
- Will the prospective (voluntary basis) employer enable me to commit to flexible hours / minimum hours? (They certainly should do)
- Could this opportunity (As a volunteer) lead to another opportunity?
- Can I financially look after myself whilst committing to this voluntary role?
- What skills do I want to gain?
- Where could this opportunity take me?
If I think back to working in an alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre before university…. I knew at the time I wanted to work in a Psychology related profession but no specifically Clinical Psychology (this came to may early on in undergraduate). Overall, I feel proud and really glad that I committed to that role, it offered me an abundance of skills and it was the beginning of my journey. That short reflection makes me smile.
Just remember, think about what this volunteer role can offer you as experience and where it may take you. Also, always remember to look after yourself.
This article was written by George, the creator of the The Psych Journey.