Hello and WELCOME to PsychAssist. This week we have a great guest article from an amazing individual called Ashley Boscoe. This is her story of how she overcame her own anxieties and depression and how her experiences ultimately led her to pursue a career in psychology. This is a truly amazing story and one that we can all learn a lot from!
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When I left school at 16 I felt lost. Suddenly the security of routine and validation of success had gone. With no strong sense of direction, aside from affirming to myself that ‘I am going to University no matter what’, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life as many my age felt. College was tough, the teachers often didn’t turn up to classes and I felt that there was very little investment in the students. This made me angry and dis-empowered. I felt let down by the system, less than 12 months before I was a happy student, inspired to learn, decent grades-now I was spending more of time working than studying and by the end of my A-levels I had a bit of a mixed bag of grades- from A-D.
This was not a good start but I refused to give up. So, I did a foundation course in art and design to buy myself some time to decide on an undergraduate course. I didn’t choose psychology at all, I wanted something that allowed me to be creative and since my best A Level result was in photography, I chose that. I quickly realised that I needed to study something more academic so I knew how to ‘get things right’ but I refused to drop out so I stuck it out.
Around second year, a whole torrent of things happened one after the other, I realised late in life that I am bisexual and had my first gay relationship, my parents told me they were getting divorced and I was under a huge amount of financial pressure (to name a few). Facing a major identity crisis and with the absence of a secure base through my parents or my circumstance, my self-esteem was at an all-time low. From there I spiralled and spent most of my days either drinking or crying.
I firmly held the belief that I don’t deserve support of any kind, that everything I do I should do alone and unaided, that I’m fat, disgusting and unworthy of success and happiness. And so, in my third year when my depression and anxiety was very visible to my academic tutor and only days before my dissertation (that I hadn’t started) was due, she told me I should go to my GP to get a note for depression and ask for extenuating circumstances- I declined. I declined because I felt I didn’t deserve an olive branch, that I was a failure and needed the punishment of a poor grade. I completed the dissertation over a few days and came out with an average of 59 so a 2:2. I was satisfied and miserable, I had evidence of my failure.
Over the next few years that followed, I would have individual and group CBT, Psychodynamic counselling and all whilst working in mental health myself.
I would learn that to overcome depression and anxiety I MUST remember that every single human being is deserving of love and support, and that includes myself. I learned to unpick the underlying mechanisms that contribute to my mental distress and to challenge them. And most importantly I learn to re-author my story and to put distance between myself and my mental distress, I learnt that depression is an experience and it does not define who I am, it is not my fault.
I found the field of psychology by accident in 2013 when I applied for my first mental health support worker role in a tier 4 adolescent PICU, I worked there for two years gaining the most valuable experience of my life that I still think about to this day. Following this I worked as a support worker for another 2 years with Looked after children and unaccompanied minors- another absolutely amazing and rewarding experience. I realised that psychology & mental health is definitely where my passion lies, it affects so many people in so many different ways, I just knew that I wanted to focus my energy on learning as much as I could about how best to help people through mental distress. That’s when I decided to be brave and go back to academia to do the conversion MSc in 2016-2017; I put the past behind me, I worked hard and achieved a Distinction.
The MSc opened lots of doors, I was lucky enough to help with an amazing RCT project as a Research Assistant on an ad hoc basis while I was studying called Honest Open Proud-an intervention to help clinicians and allied mental health professionals make decisions around disclosures about their lived experience. And I am 10 months into an Assistant Psychologist role in CAMHS that I absolutely love.
So that’s my journey so far, I wanted to share my story for those aspiring clinical psychologists who may not have the perfect grades, or who have struggled with their own mental health either in the past or in the present, for those that have “imposter syndrome”…you are not alone and you are not an imposter!
Don’t be afraid to get professional help. Even if you work in mental health.
In my experience, I’ve observed a real fear of seeking professional psychological support when a person is either working in mental health themselves, trying to get AP roles or applying for the doctorate. There is this unfair and unfounded expectation that if you really ‘know your stuff’ you should ‘therapise’ yourself or that you won’t be seen as fit for practice if you seek psychological support. I think this can be really damaging when actually the amount of courage, motivation and reflection that therapy requires is a demonstrably healthy thing to do for yourself. Having tools to support yourself is important, but sometimes we need someone else to guide us and that’s ok.
Own your experience.
I spent years hiding my depression, my undergraduate grade, and any perceived weakness or failure. I was afraid of judgement. Over the past few years I’ve met others that have been so open with me about similar experiences they’ve had and it inspired me to be honest about mine. For me, owning my experience is about acceptance but also the re-appraisal, and re-authoring of the stories I’ve told myself for years.
Don’t let the process of trying to get onto the doctorate/get an AP job determine your self-worth.
Trying to gain a place on clinical training/get an AP role is stressful at the best of times. If you also have lived experience then I would encourage you to do lots and lots of self-care during this process and challenge any self-stigma you might have that might entangle your self-worth with your success with applications. This is something I have to do to keep things in check and stop any niggling self-doubt creep in with the stress.