Hello and WELCOME to PsychAssist. This week we have another great entry by Serkan all about his experience of going from an HCA to an ASSISTANT PSYCHOLOGIST within an adult inpatient service. Serkan gives some really amazing tips for Psychology graduates who wish to pursue a career in mental health all from his own experiences of working within the field. This truly is an amazing article!
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My first ever paid job was supporting young people as a Healthcare Assistant (HCA) in an inpatient hospital. Despite throwing myself into the deep end I thought “Man’s tough and cool so he’ll smash da ting.” lol. 😛 Two months in and I began doubting my suitability for the role. Was I not empathetic, approachable or a good communicator? If so, then why did service users that I supported for hours, days or even weeks repeatedly challenge me? I doubted my competence. Regardless of how much I multitasked, it seemed like there was always a duty lingering. I doubted the utility of my academic background. Before my entry, the hospital primarily operated within a medical framework…terms like “Psychology” and “therapy” were relatively new to most of the team. In fact I recall an awkward moment when I tried to explain psychosocial factors that contribute to suicidal behaviours and certain staff just stared at me blankly.
“Jeez…why am I doing this to myself? Surely THIS CAN’T BE CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY!”
Serkan Avlik (2018)
Now sprinkle tiredness and potential trauma (you know, from physically saving lives of service users) to the self-doubts and BOOOOOOM! My personality was changing. Ooooh yes. Sounds pretty scary right!? I only noticed this thanks to family and close friends. At shopping my inner voice was constantly risk assessing (“Shoelaces should always be tied.”, “Remove this from the floor in case someone self-harms with it.” etc etc). With friends, I was irritable over petty things. Avoiding family was the optimal strategy in case I lost my temper. As for work, I left many shifts thinking “Jeez…why am I doing this to myself? Surely THIS CAN’T BE CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY!”. Within my mind’s chaos, I was searching for anything positive to cling onto. Soon enough I discovered that my service advertised an Assistant Psychologist (AP) vacancy. Wow. All of a sudden this position came up? Did I have enough experience to even be shortlisted for an interview? Anyway, with pressure from work colleagues, I submitted my application (cheers guys) and got the role besides my HCA duties!! Let the hope and positivity come in. 😀
“With these lifestyle changes, it was easier to fall asleep at night”
Serkan Avlik (2018)
Things were improving but in slow motion. Aiming to take care of my mental wellbeing I reduced my work hours and hit the gym far more than before. With these lifestyle changes, it was easier to fall asleep at night and be less stressed at work (yay!). Moreover, working with adults as an AP gave me ample opportunity to question why I was so fatigued supporting young people as an HCA. Firstly, young people were making that anxiety-provoking transition into adulthood. Coupled with mental health issues, this partly explained why they displayed more challenging behaviours than adult service users. Secondly, supervision as an HCA was infrequent and to a degree, unstructured (this may be attributed to the dynamic and busy nature of the hospital environment). Complicating matters further was the Psychological background I had, meaning that often I wasn’t on the same page as my supervisor (a really passionate Mental Health Nurse, in case you wondered). Overall then, I couldn’t take enough time to reflect on what I was doing as an HCA or why things were happening the way they were on the wards.
Fortunately, supervision from a Psychologist during my time as an AP enabled me to develop a healthier work style and thrive. Let’s use the following examples to clarify what I mean:
I realised that THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG with my competence. The harsh reality whilst only working as an HCA was that I-TOOK-ON-TOO-MUCH-WORK, so burnout was on the horizon. After the awakening, I learned to say “no” to any new task if there were already several ones requiring completion (trust me this is so hard to do when you’re a perfectionist :/).
Not What You Find In A Textbook
I frequently told myself that my roles did entail Clinical Psychology BUT, I was handling mental health issues beyond those in textbooks (again, another thing that’s difficult to accept after spending years studying). This attitude motivated me to the extent that as an AP I implemented Dialectical Behaviour Therapy across adult wards with my supervisor!
“Resilience” is probably the best word that currently describes my behaviour in demanding situations (more on this in another article). Ehem so…bring it on.
In sum, my recommendation to those of you in (or aspiring to be in) the mental health sector is expect the unexpected. We study Psychology for years at University and leave that artificial environment believing that we know as much, or are as good as, the grade on the piece of paper they give us after graduation. Nope. That paper is meaningless by itself. YOU HAVE TO gain experience that really shakes you, keeps you on your toes and makes you think “I still have heaps to investigate within mental health!” In doing so, take care of yourself and know your boundaries.
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