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Psychology and counselling - student stories

Rob Stickland, Occupational Psychologist

Why did you choose occupational psychology?

I was in the RAF for a long time, and had been posted into a job I didn't like. It was boring and there were no challenges for me. People and organisations really interested me. As I was already a manager I had been involved in recruitment, training and development in my engineering role.

What has been your career path to date?

I was from a broken home in an area of social deprivation and I simply rebelled. I wasted my school years and was disruptive in class. As soon as I left I joined the RAF as a boy mechanic and worked my way up through the ranks until I became an engineering officer. In my mid thirties I did a BA in Psychology with the OU, having initially taken a couple of foundation courses. My OU study really gave me confidence and a belief in myself. The idea of getting away from engineering textbooks and getting a more theoretical understanding of people really interested me.

After that I was posted overseas so wasn't able to do any more OU study for a while. However as soon as I was able, I signed up for a part-time Masters in Occupational Psychology at Birkbeck. As soon as I knew I had passed the course I quit the RAF. My first role as a psychologist was as a trainee career consultant at a London consultancy group. I trained for three years under supervision with a chartered occupational psychologist to become fully qualified.

Once I became chartered, I moved on to the corporate headquarters of a financial services organisation as their internal career development consultant. In this role I was involved in training, management development, careers assessment, business consultancy, organisational change and also did some writing and lecturing.

I soon wanted to develop further so decided to do a PhD which I did part-time over five years at the Revans Institute in Salford. I became self-employed to allow myself time to study but also earn a living. My PhD studies focused on career self-management and action learning. The week I graduated was the same week I qualified for a state retirement pension!

As a self employment consultant I specialise in executive coaching, stress management plus management and business development.

What skills do you use the most?

People skills: building relationships, listening, empathising, establishing trust, challenging constructively. Also, written and verbal communication, problem solving and analysis. A sense of humility is vital, it's easy to become distant as a professional. People put their trust in you and its important to respect that.

What are the best and worst parts your job?

Best: undoubtedly working closely with people, helping them to overcome barriers and discovering their potential. I am independent and appreciate the autonomy this gives me.

Worst: the administration involved in running a business plus the selling side of it. Negotiating fees is something I have to do but I don't enjoy it.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Retirement isn't an option, I have a passion for my work and that gives me such a sense of direction, why would I give up? My mission is to help people to identify their potential and then find ways of using it. I have written a book on career self-management and am currently looking for a publisher, I want to look at ways of putting action learning online or make something available via CD-ROM. Recently I've been involved in training in the voluntary sector and from this have developed an interest in aspects of clinical psychology, particularly relating to oncology and palliative care.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into occupational psychology?

However humble your origins, don't be put off by a lack of qualifications or lack of experience. If you want to you can do it. An OU degree is an excellent way into psychology, you can take the opportunity to use your work role to reinforce your learning; it provides a vehicle to look at and understand people. Look for opportunities – think about volunteering.

Last updated 1 year ago