Why be a Psychologist?

7th January , 2019 – Happy New Year!

I am asked so often to talk with young people about my career path that I could easily devote a day a week to answering queries, giving interviews and offering workplace experiences. In reality I have to set some limits to this voluntary work and I now try through my writing to give a flavour of what the work of a Practitioner Psychologist entails and how you get to become one as well as giving the occasional interview.

Recently I spoke with three secondary aged students whose career advisors had contacted me and set up phone consultations. They each asked three questions and I thought it would be interesting to share these plus a taste of my responses because as well as encapsulating what the majority of people want to know they asked me some slightly off-beam questions; the ones I generally enjoy most. So that links nicely to the first question:

1. “Why did You become a professional Psychologist?”

Me: “Because I like to think, to analyse and to problem-solve and because people offer a never-ending supply of reasons to do this

2“When did you know you wanted to become a Psychologist?”

Me: When I realised that a job high in role definition, routine and predictability wouldn’t satisfy me. I’d already tried nursing, retail, police and teaching and much as I wanted them to be the right work fit they just weren’t.

3. “How do you qualify to be a Psychologist”

Me: This is a big question as the range of courses and qualifications in Psychology is huge and there are many higher education institutions and professional bodies involved. The best thing to do is to explore the British Psychological Society’s website and the section on membership and qualifications is particularly helpful.

4. “What’s your day like?”

Me: “Every day is different but I could sum it up under 3 headings: communication – written, telephone, email; research – data collection/analysis/synthesis & again, communication; administration – organisation – financial, time, resources, which includes me and my professional development.”

5. “Where do you work?”

Me: “Wherever I’ve agreed to do so. In the past this was mainly in schools, colleges and universities. These days it could be in the community, with business organisations, press and media-related locations and my office plays a big part too although I do a lot of work whilst I’m travelling.”

6. “What do you like best about your work?”

Me: “The learning, the helping and the scientific method”

7. How much do you earn?

Me: “It varies and because I’m now self-employed I set my rates. My rates are decent but not the unreasonable given the huge amount of studying I’ve done and my experience. If you want to know how much a Local Authority-employed psychologist earns then approach the Association of Educational Psychologists and ask them about the rates of pay.

8. “Why did you become self-employed?”

Me: “Because of a growing conviction that I was getting further and further away from my original reasons for being a Psychologist. More and more of my time and energy as a Local Authority-employed Psychologist was being used for what I’d call Local Authority maintenance and political purposes. Also, I wanted to complete my PhD and after having a request for a career break to do so got turned down plus being loaded with an increasingly unreasonable workload I decided to make the jump. On the day I did so one of the Psychologists who managed the Educational Psychology Service and gave me professional supervision was bemoaning the fact that they didn’t do any Psychology any more. That seemed like a clear message that I needed to do something different and to take control.

9. “What if someone difficult doesn’t want to be seen by the Psychologist?”                                                                                                            Me: “My only experience of this situation is when I was working with disaffected young people in Local Authority off-site units and I can only remember a handful of occasions during the five years I had a special responsibility for students with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties. I always took such refusals as a communication that something a lot further back in the young person’s life needed work from me so I would put time into talking with the adults who had requested my input in the first place. After all, it was their view that the young person’s behaviour was a problem and if you think about it the young person’s refusal to engage suggested they didn’t see themselves as having a problem. Most likely the way in which they were behaving was a solution so why would they want someone like me involved in order to fix it? Sometimes there might be a problem in the school where the teacher was struggling, where the ethos of the school featured social difficulties such as bullying and inclusion for adults as well as children. Sometimes the parents/carers of the child might be experiencing problems such as poverty, ill health and/or relationship problems. I could go on but as I already wrote, the supply of material is never-ending and to truly understand and find out what is behind the behaviour you need a professional applied Psychologist.

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