Hello and WELCOME to PsychAssist. This week we have an AMAZING guest post by Olivia Mohtady who is an aspiring psychologist. This article perfectly encapsulates all the feelings and frustrations that many psychology graduates experience when they are looking for their first roles. Nevertheless, Olivia is proof that with hard work, grit, and determination, anything is possible. This is her story from lost graduate to leading research within a new cool mental health start-up company in London.
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I was told many, many times: Don’t go into clinical psychology. Friends, family members, lecturers, teachers…even clinical psychologists told me this! They told me clinical psychology was a ridiculously competitive field and that I would feel endlessly dejected and hopeless trying to find jobs and get onto doctorates. They said I would be poor and overworked for a very long time. They said that I would be exposed to horror and trauma while I supported vulnerable individuals. They warned me that people I met at parties would joke that I read minds and then spend the rest of the night crying into my shoulder about their failing relationship and/or dead dog.
Did I listen to these endless attempts to put me off clinical psychology? Of course not. I was seventeen when I decided to do a psychology degree. Seventeen is exactly the right age to ignore good advice. Psychology looked interesting, challenging and entirely relevant to the entire world. I already spent most of my time reading about it and talking about it. Why not seek a career in it?
In many ways, I made the right choice – I loved my degree. I practically skipped to my psychology lectures while my peers slept through maths and engineering seminars. I went to all the additional talks. I did an optional exam. My placement year in clinical practice was the best year of my life.
Nothing beats working in a field that you find interesting. I still maintain that now. However, it transpires that there is a price to passion. Every single thing that I was warned about has turned out to be exactly true.
Now, my engineering and maths friends are in graduate schemes making more money than I would earn even as a qualified psychologist. They skip off to classy corporate events and go on expensive holidays while I hunch over my laptop in my flat, desperately applying to Assistant Psychologist jobs and eating rice and beans (I am exaggerating a little here; I know life is hard for graduates in all professions and sometimes I do go to the pub).
And yes, I have learned some awful things about the human experience as part of being a psychologist. I have volunteered in helplines and trauma centres and heard all sorts of horrors. At times, it has been very upsetting.
People do treat me differently as an aspiring psychologist. I have been patronised by some and subjected to excessive over-sharing of psychological issues by others. I have had strangers suck in air through their teeth and comment on how difficult I will find it to excel in my field (since when was it ok to casually diminish someone’s goals like this?).
I am sure I am not alone in these experiences and I am here to tell you that there is hope! There are a hundred ways and more to cope with these realities. It’s about hard work, smart work, and most of all: grit.
“Sit tight – that’s what overdrafts are for….”
Olivia Mohtady (2019)
We aspiring psychologists have the privilege of developing grit well beyond our years. We are not here by accident. We didn’t fall into a graduate job that we didn’t really care for. We went through long, grueling, soul-destroying application processes to get the job we really wanted. We should be proud of fighting for the chance to contribute to an important field that serves humanity.
There are a lot of ways to foster grit and they all take a bit of thought and work. I am nowhere near mastering any of them, but I have shared a few words of wisdom below in the hope of inspiring some confidence in all those other young psychologists who are also feeling the need for a bit of motivation and support at this time. I have been applying for Assistant Psychologist jobs for over six months now and can’t tell you how nice it is to reach out to others who are going through this journey as well.
If you cannot trust your own decisions, nobody will. I have had many moments of self-doubt since I graduated last July. And who can blame me? I was serving ice-cream to tourists for an entire summer, hearing absolutely nothing from the forty plus jobs I applied to in that time. I was moving to London, going to terrifying, dead-end interviews and watching all my money disappear as I spent days locked inside applying for jobs. I was hearing bewildering amounts of conflicting advice from all directions: Hold out for something good! Do not take that teaching assistant job – you’ll get sucked into education. Take any job you can get! Why would you want to waitress? Sit tight – that’s what overdrafts are for.
At the end of the day, you just have to trust yourself. As long as you have put thought into your life decisions and made them in line with your principles and values, then you can have confidence in them. More importantly, you will go insane if you do not. People might whisper about you or tell you that you are going in the wrong direction, but people will do this whatever you do. Trust yourself. Seek advice but remember that nobody knows you better than you.
“…there are other jobs besides Assistant Psychologist posts”
Olivia Mohtady (2019)
Explore other options
Sometimes, things just do not play out the way that you planned or hoped. This is normal. This is life. This is exciting! By October, there was no sign of any Assistant Psychologist jobs that I could feasibly get. I kept trying but after every interview I had, I was told that I did not have enough experience. I was told I would need to do an honorary role, even though I had already done a year as an honorary assistant psychologist during my degree. This advice made me feel hopeless and angry. I simply cannot afford to work for free.
Luckily, there are other jobs besides Assistant Psychologist posts that give you relevant, clinical experience! I widened my search, did some freelancing, and landed a role as a research assistant, cognitive-behavioural coach and content writer for a cool start-up company.
This role started small, back in August, with a couple of blogs and some responsibility coaching clients on a digital platform. I worked hard, showed my knowledge and skills, and consequently gained the exciting opportunity to work on a clinical trial. The crazy thing is that I gained faith in this company originally because they liked the look of my student mental health blog. You never know where or how opportunities are going to hit you. Be flexible, seek other avenues and you will find your way into psychology!
As unpleasant as job-hunting is, it is a wonderful opportunity to learn. Interviews provide excellent life experience, even though they require tireless preparation and undue stress. I have messed up quite a few interviews since I graduated. I was devastated at the time but have since realised that I had to go through that process in order to understand how to prepare for and handle a clinical interview.
You cannot get places without messing up a little. Mistakes are allowed and you have plenty of time to make them.
Thoughts have a funny way of turning on us in times of adversity (especially with sixty job rejections in six months). I have been trying to remember that I am a valuable person. Regardless of my degree class or career prospects, I am worth caring for. I can continue to exercise and eat well and meet up with my friends. I do not have to deny myself good things in life because somebody who hardly knows me does not want to hire me at this particular time.
Your health and well-being come first. You need strength to succeed. Take care of yourself – you matter!
Thank you, fellow psychologists, for hearing my thoughts. I hope I have inspired some hope for anyone else who is hovering at the bottom of this career ladder, fighting to get onto the first rung. Remember, without this initial struggle, you would have no grit. You would perhaps not know just how much you want to contribute to the field of clinical psychology.
Now, when you do make it, you will be the best version of yourself.