Psychology and counselling - student stories
Sonya Wallbank, Trainee Clinical Psychologist
Why have you decided to train as a clinical psychologist?
I was on maternity leave and had started reviewing my career opportunities. I was familiar with the hospital environment as my mum is a nurse. Having read up on clinical psychology, I saw it as preferable to medicine; not as intense and without the gory bits! After some research I attended an open day at a local college and it just didn't feel like the right place for me. I looked at the OU website and there was loads of information there; I knew I could do just one course and could choose somewhere else if it didn't work out, but I just clicked with the OU.
I decided on a degree from the start. My first course was child psychology, which was great because it coincided with my first child and I was really able to understand the stages of development. I had very supportive tutors and six months into my study decided that psychology was definitely for me.
How did you gather experience?
I knew I had to get plenty of experience so as I was in the States, having relocated with my husband's work, I worked with families affected by drug abuse, finding practical solutions for them to improve their lives.
In my second year, returning to the UK, I applied for a teaching assistant post which I got and did for six months. The OU had a good reputation with the school. After that I became a family support worker for NCH (Action for Children) working with a diverse range of families, and responsible for helping them to get the support that they needed.
I graduated last October - not long after my third child - and around that time, while I was still on maternity leave, I managed to get a place volunteering with my local child and mental health unit. It took me at least 20 emails to different arms of the NHS offering my services as a volunteer before someone agreed to see me. Soon after this in November I was offered a permanent post, and I am currently working as a child, adolescent and mental health coordinator. I deliver one-to-one therapy under the supervision of a clinical psychologist, and offer a range of support to families. I was unsure whether to apply at that stage to a clinical psychology course, but my supervisor encouraged me and I applied, getting interviews at two places.
What was the clinical psychology course interview like?
Obviously it's not the same at every university. I felt very nervous, but was met by a friendly year-one trainee. I had three interviews with different people over half a day - one each on research, personal and clinical issues. Not everywhere is the same - some places are over a whole day and involve group exercises.
It was a bit like studying for an exam as I had to revise a lot to make sure I remembered things I had studied several years before. Although I became nervous, I decided I had to just do my best, and I think that having studied on my own with the OU made me more confident in myself. However I came away feeling that I had just been in a very different world.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about going into clinical psychology?
Even if you are in your first year of your OU studies and getting into clinical psychology is a long term aim, you need to start getting some experience. Contact your local mental health charities and see how you can help - you have to show that you are willing to get in there and get involved.
My advice from these experiences would be that, although statistically its hard to get a place, don't listen to all the hype, its not as daunting as you think it's going to be. You can find possible questions about what you might be asked from psyclick.org.uk.