I got asked a question a few months ago that I wasn't sure how to answer, but it stuck with me: "What would you tell your younger self when she was a provisional psychologist?"
I started studying psychology 18 years ago and have been working clinically for the last 11 years. I have had my fair share of struggles and uncertainties throughout my career and provisional psychology internship. I've been pondering this question for a while, and looking back, there are several things I wish I had known when I was a provisional psychologist.
Seek Out Diverse Experiences
Your provisional psychology internship is one of the best times to explore different areas of psychology and figure out what kind of work you enjoy the most. Don't be afraid to ask for opportunities to work with diverse populations, such as children, older adults, or individuals with disabilities. Additionally, seek opportunities to work in different settings, such as community mental health centres, private practice, or schools. These experiences will help you become a well-rounded psychologist and determine what kind of work you want to pursue post-registration.
One of my best experiences during my provisional psychology internship was working in an aged care facility. I got exposed to various mental health problems and got my first taste of conducting psychometric assessments. This experience exposed me to clients from different backgrounds and allowed me to work with various presenting problems. I didn't realise it at the time, but this role eventually would lead me to work for the NHS in London, providing comprehensive psychological assessments to those suspected of having dementia or other cognitive impairments. This role was one of the highlights of my career to date.
Also, your career will hopefully be long and prosperous. Though seeking diverse experiences is beneficial, opportunities will continue after your internship. Most of my quality training and experience came post-registration.
2. Embrace the Learning Process
It is important to remember that your provisional psychology internship is a learning process. You will make mistakes, and that is okay. What is important is that you learn from those mistakes and use them as opportunities for growth. Embrace the learning process and take advantage of supervisors' feedback and guidance. Additionally, seek out opportunities for continuing education and professional development to help you stay up to date with the latest research and clinical practices.
It is easy to become disillusioned and disengaged during your provisional psychology internship, especially with the pressures of all the internship tasks and studying for the National Psychology Exam. Staying engaged and motivated during my provisional psychology internship was challenging at times. Looking back, I would tell myself to embrace the learning opportunity and, when feeling overwhelmed, remember why I entered the field of psychology. Take advantage of the support and guidance provided by your supervisors and colleagues. Remind yourself about the impact you hope to have on people's lives and try to see it as an opportunity for growth and development.
3. Build Relationships
Building relationships with colleagues and supervisors is essential for professional development and career advancement. Take the time to get to know your colleagues, other provisional psychologists and supervisors. Ask for feedback and guidance, and seek out mentorship opportunities. These relationships provide support, guidance, and networking opportunities that can help you grow and develop as a psychologist.
Psychology can be an isolating profession, particularly given that we cannot come home and 'unload' about our day due to confidentiality. Having colleagues and peers in the field you can talk to who understand the highs and lows of being a psychologist truly helps. Connect with other psychologists on Facebook groups, join group supervision regularly, network within your own workplace!
I was lucky to connect with some wonderful people during my internship years, one of who I am still friends with today. If I could go back, I would have sought more networking opportunities than I did. I am more proactive about this now, later in my career. The relationships I have with other psychologists provide me with support, guidance, and mentorship opportunities that help me to develop as a psychologist. Don't underestimate the importance of building relationships early in your career!
4. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses
As a provisional psychologist, you may feel pressure to know more than is realistic at this stage of your career. It's important to remember that you are still 'in training' and that we all have strengths and weaknesses. It's okay to acknowledge areas where we need to improve and to seek out training and support to develop our skills. It's also okay to accept that we can't know everything yet and be compassionate to ourselves. Are you putting undue expectations on yourself, your client, or therapy? It's important to know the difference between a genuine skill shortage you can address and unrelenting or unreasonable standards you've set about how you should be performing at this stage in your career.
5. Learning is a lifelong process
Finally, one of the most important things I wish I knew as an early career psychologist is the importance of lifelong learning. As a provisional psychologist, I likely pressured myself to 'know everything', not realising that my learning would be a lifelong journey. Nothing is more satisfying to me than picking up a fresh textbook and learning something new. Our field is ever-evolving, so we will never reach an endpoint in our learning. There will always be more to know, and staying up-to-date with the latest research and techniques is essential for providing the best care to our clients. I encourage early career psychologists to embrace lifelong learning by attending conferences, reading journals, and seeking out training opportunities.
In conclusion, as a senior psychologist, there are many things I wish I had known when I was a provisional psychologist. Seeking out diverse experiences, embracing the learning process, building relationships, being aware of our strengths and knowing that learning is a lifelong process are just a few of the insights I would share with early career psychologists. Remember, starting a career in psychology can be challenging, but with the right support and mindset, it can also be incredibly rewarding.
If you are interested in joining a safe and supportive group to network with other provisional and early-career psychologists, you can request to join my Facebook group here. I also host regular group supervision on a range of topics that you will find on this section of my website.