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Copyright Centre For Effective Living © 2016
ne of the topics I am asked to speak on is a careers talk on being a Psychologist. The study of Psychology has become popular. Perhaps it is the lure of providing blue skies and sunshine to others. I think that there is more to it, and often blue skies and sunshine is not what our clients are ready, or asking for. Here is the script from a talk I prepared to university students from a Psychology department.
"In giving a talk like this, I find myself reflecting and trying to work out how I got be where I am today. Did I always know what I wanted to do? Not really. In high school I had no idea what I would do and so I had a broad subject choice base. To keep it interesting, I was involved in a variety of committees and groups. By the end of Year 12 I had hopes I would know for sure the degree I would study. I did not.
Somewhere along the way I found my path and have happily stuck to it for the last 20 years. Here are some thoughts looking back:
1. Appreciate the detours. Life is a journey and there is no rush to have it all figured out. The degree I was initially accepted into was a Bachelor of Music. I did not pursue that. The degree I started with was a combined Law/Arts degree, I did not finish with that. After a year of Law, I moved into Education. After a year of Education I settled on Psychology. I majored in Organisational Psychology and had my first 2 jobs in the corporate sector. I enrolled in a Masters of Organisational Psychology before realising that I wanted to be a Clinical Psychologist. So I retrained there. Along the way I have come to appreciate detours. The scenic route is not necessarily straightforward, but it does allow you to meet a whole bunch of different people and gain a whole bunch of different contextual knowledge which will give you appreciation and empathy for the different people you will meet as a Psychologist.
2. Figure out your common denominator. I don't know what you believe about having a personal mission, but I find this incredibly important. Being a Psychologist requires a purposeful focus on your work, the people you are serving, and making sure it is not about you. This means figuring out what it is that draws you to people and Psychology. What are the issues that engage your heart as well as your mind? Across all the career paths I explored, my common denominator was that I loved the complexity of people, and I valued spending time in their world. I learned so much from their struggles and I admired their courage to keep on going. I worked out that human suffering was not something that was intimidating. It is poignant and dignified. I feel a great sense of purpose to stand with my clients in this space.
3. Compassion above Competition: In Australia, to become a Psychologist requires a minimum of 6 years training. To be endorsed as a Clinical Psychologist requires a further 2 years of training, bringing the total to 8 years. On top of this, it is a competitive field, both academically and commercially. If we are not careful, the pursuit of academic excellence detracts from the basic posture we need as therapists - that of compassionate service. My encouragement to you is to work on that posture - even now. Think about the student in your course who is working part-time as well as studying. Choose to give them priority in group assignments so their learning is maximised and their burden eased. Pick the essay topics that challenge your prejudice and stereotypes. Get used to vulnerability and practice humility. Ask the questions that help you learn from others, and not to be quick to look clever.
4. Be a part of something bigger than yourself: Seek out avenues where you feel the privilege of serving a cause that makes a difference, even if you cannot see it in the immediate. Get used to not being the saviour, but a cog, even a small one, in the wheels of making a difference. Being a Psychologist means taking a back seat to your agenda and being present (and patient) with your client's story and needs. The solutions will not be immediate. Hope, patience and endurance must prevail over the need to "fix it".
5. Have courage: To make mistakes, to say “I don’t know”, to seek counsel, to remain open to the input of others. Don't wait until you graduate, start now. Take risks that put you in the direct path of other people's point of view and assistance. Learn to disagree respectfully. Practice failure and standing back up. Make mistakes. Make mistakes. Can I say it a third time? Make mistakes. Ask for help. It keeps us real. Being a Psychologist is not just about having knowledge and skills, it is about being authentic and having the courage to be, and to accept being, human. "