What justifies your belief that CP is the right career for you?

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DoubleHelix
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What justifies your belief that CP is the right career for you?

Post by DoubleHelix » Tue May 15, 2018 9:38 am

Hello my lovely psych fellows!

I'm 31 years old, and have been working as an AP after a career change in my mid twenties towards working in clinical psych. But now I am having my doubts. The application process is arcane and gruelling, you end up working for 'the man', and remain a slave to the rat race (at the very least until completing training). While my initial interest in clinical psych never considered these things - I was motivated to spend my time helping people suffering in the best way my talents allowed - I am coming to wonder whether the path to clinical psychologist-dom is something I can actually tolerate. I love psychology, I love the knowledge, I love working with people and seeing change in their lives. But I feel like the bureaucratised constraints of the job, the wage slavery, and the lack of personal freedom that comes with a 40 hour work week, significantly overshadows what initially motivated me to work in the field in the first place.

Working 9 - 5 hurts me. I am always tired and demotivated. The application process if fraught with rejection, anxiety, and moves me to neuroticism. And the AP salary, well, let's just say that I'm not able to save much for a weekend away let alone investments or retirement. I read about people going on the courses who manage to get by because of devoted partners and the perks of living in a dual income household. But as a single, somewhat more 'mature', student; I am not sure how sensible it is to continue on a path to qualification when entry is not guaranteed and to continue trying might mean sacrificing a significant amount of financial security (especially if I don't get onto the training).

While it is certainly a massive advantage to have the NHS fund the course and pay a salary while we train, it just seems like so many sacrifices need to be made in order to 'get there'; and now having seen what 'there' looks like a bit by working as an AP, I'm having my doubts.

So much question is: how do you know that being a clinical psychologist is what you want? How do you stay motivated in the face of all the weighty and boring BS; the admin and the rigid underpaid working conditions?

Your thoughts are most welcome. I am lost, feeling cynical, and need your help.

Thanks.

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miriam
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Re: What justifies your belief that CP is the right career for you?

Post by miriam » Tue May 15, 2018 1:27 pm

I've loved my career every step of the way. I've always found it such a privilege to be given a window into other people's experiences, and such an interesting riddle to help untangle what is going on for them and how they can make positive change. The fact I can earn a living doing that rather than having to work in a shop, or a factory or sit at a computer screen all day is amazing, and most of the time I look forward to going to work and my main regret is that I don't have enough time to fit in all the interesting opportunities on offer to me. I genuinely feel like I am being paid to taste chocolate (except not literally that, as I don't like chocolate that much and have an intolerance for caffeine that means I can't sleep if I eat it).

I have to say that your description doesn't resonate with my career experience at all. I'm not working for "the man", I'm self-employed and running a business, and I never felt that being part of the NHS was working for him either. It gave me a chance to be part of the most amazing public service that treats everybody equally and without charging at the point of need. I never felt that when being paid to learn either. I've never had a contract for more than 37.5 hours, and I think we get paid really well for what we do compared to nurses or other health professionals. So it makes me wonder what the difference is in your perception, whether that is in your life stage, or your expectations, your cost of living, or whether it reflects a negative experience or frame of mind.

In my opinion, if you feel a few years at lower wages at the beginning of the career path are a barrier to the career as a whole then you should go and do something else, or self-fund training in counselling psychology and work independently. It isn't worth suffering through stuff you aren't enjoying, life is too short. Everything is a choice, so you need to work out what works for you. To me having some slightly lower paid work is better than having to fund another qualification or do an unpaid internship, as might be necessary to break into some other careers. I view the funded training of CP as an enticing option that is worth jumping some hoops for - especially as I really enjoyed my experiences before, during and after training (whilst paid a lot less than the current AfC rates for them, even compared to the difference in cost of living). I think it maps out well in terms of career earnings and freedom compared to most other professions. So whilst it is absolutely legitimate to decide that it isn't the right path for you, I don't think you can justify it by giving an unrealistic portrayal of the whole profession, or assume that your negative view reflects the reality of the profession or the experience of your peers.
Miriam

See my blog at http://clinpsyeye.wordpress.com

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workingmama
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Re: What justifies your belief that CP is the right career for you?

Post by workingmama » Tue May 15, 2018 1:36 pm

I guess, for me, I never lost sight of what I wanted to do, so I don't know if that's much help to you. I studied as a mature student with children. I wasn't bankrolled by family or a well-earning partner, and I tolerated the anxiety of not knowing if it would work out by electing for a position of refusing to engage with the thought that I might not get where I wanted to be. I'm sure there are lots of folks who think that's a poor strategy. It worked for me. I just decided to focus on my work and trust that I would get there, and if I didn't, I'd figure that part out when I had to face it. I never had an AP post (I couldn't afford to work at that salary with a mortgage and dependents), and neither did 50% of my training year group, so clearly it can be done without going the (very valuable) AP route. I earned less than my pre-training salary for a few years, but I'm pretty much back up to that level now but with significantly more job satisfaction.

I work part time for 'the man'. Most psychologists I know don't work full time, although at band 7 there are more full time posts. After that, there is a lot more part time hours. 'The man' paid me through my training, and I'm jolly grateful for that. Now I work partly for the NHS (which I am deeply committed to despite its flaws) and partly for myself. My conditions don't feel rigid (I like working for services which offer a good level of autonomy and flexibility) and I don't particularly feel underpaid.

I guess it's got to be a balance between how much you want the career (and it sounds like the AP experiences you have had haven't shown you an area of clinical psychology which makes you champ at the bit) versus how hard the barriers you face are (which are, admittedly, jolly high at points), plus a dollop of how robust your resilience feels at any point in the process (I made my partner call me 'Doctor Workingmama' for about seven years straight just to keep my eyes on qualifying, which now feels a bit blushworthy, but there you go :oops: ). I stay motivated now I'm over the worst of the hurdles because I love the job I do (I work a sickening number of unpaid hours predominantly because I enjoy what I do).

Hope something in that helps.
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Tabitha
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Re: What justifies your belief that CP is the right career for you?

Post by Tabitha » Thu May 17, 2018 7:50 am

The clinical psychology route is gruelling isn't it? I felt really disheartened again this year after not getting in, and am having to think about jumping our of my permanent and comfortable PWP contract into a one year year AP role. I am lucky in that I have no dependants, and a wife who earns a small salary, but no dependants.. I'm going to give it another go this year, because I'm excited at the prospect of doing some thing different in an AP role.

I know people can look unfavourably on IAPT and pwp work.. but if it's job security, there are services out there who would love the opportunity to have a long term pwp. After your training year it's band 5, and often senior positions at band 6.. and there are some part time opportunities as well. I have found my pwp highly rewarding, and yes at times it is tough, and you do have to work hard, but I have enjoyed the security of a permanent contract for 4 years. Just an idea, and my thoughts on the pros and cons of my experience in iapt. :)
Good luck with your next steps

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Re: What justifies your belief that CP is the right career for you?

Post by lingua_franca » Sun May 20, 2018 6:24 pm

In my own case I didn't really have my heart set on CP. I saw it as one interesting option among three or four interesting options, and my strategy in life has always been just to do the next thing that feels right for me now rather than working towards one specific goal. Sometimes I worried that this approach meant I lacked commitment, so I'd try to be more focused in planning my career - but it just made me feel on edge and stressed whenever I tried to do that. Now I think my approach has its merits. It certainly takes the stress off if you see clinical psychology as one potential career rather than as the only possible one for you.

A year or so ago, I made a list of the things I enjoy the most about my current job (postdoctoral research fellow and lecturer, fixed-term contract). The three main things were discovering new information, listening to people's stories, and being able to make a positive difference to their lives based on what I found. Then I made another list of professions in which I could do this. There were quite a few options. It might help you to do something similar if you're feeling really trapped in your current job and you want to look for other routes. Even if you do go on to train as a CP, it helps to know that it's not the only thing that would ever make you happy.
"Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?"
"Suppose it didn't," said Pooh, after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this.
- A.A. Milne.

Ran
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Re: What justifies your belief that CP is the right career for you?

Post by Ran » Tue May 22, 2018 3:06 pm

I think its too simplistic for one to comment on being a CP as an ideal career choice based on the job alone. Its a great job, having the privilege to work with people in such an intimate way. I only know this from doing clinical work as an AP myself, I loved every second of it and would love to be a CP.

But there does come a point where one has to look at the bigger picture. The low paid jobs and lack of power/authority in a role does get the better of you eventually and to be honest, so does life. I've applied for the doctorate several times with no luck. I want to keep on going with the applications (I would just continue until I'm retired/dead if I had the choice!) But I've got to think about the future, my family and all the other things I want in life which come at a cost. That's what has stopped me from applying again. Its a nice idea to become a CP but I guess part of growing up for me is realising one can't always become want one wants to. I certainly know I have limitations given the problems I have and I'm ok with that.

I have no idea what to do with my career right now, so I'll just keep working hard in my job and hope I can take a good opportunity if/when it comes.

latelifechanger
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Re: What justifies your belief that CP is the right career for you?

Post by latelifechanger » Wed May 23, 2018 1:48 pm

I agree that, especially as you get older, and particularly if you have responsibilities towards others, your career choice is never made in a vacuum and also that sometimes, something that was right to pursue at one stage isn't at another. Any career has its advantages and disadvantages, and these have to be weighed against your temperament and all the other things in your life. In the case of DoubleHelix, if you find you are disliking some of the core elements that you associate with your desired future job (atmosphere, hours, structure) then at the very least, it IS a sensible time to at least look at all the other options and paths you might take, and to look more closely at how avoidable these factors will be in the future.

In his 30s, my husband career changed from something even way more competitive/like playing chicken with your life/difficult to achieve than CP (in the arts) and having changed career, now has respect for both his new and his old paths - he really has no regrets and certainly doesn't see the time he committed to the arts as a negative. He's got friends who stayed in it, and achieved in it - and that's great too, but he happened to have other things he wanted. And I'm now, slightly later on, also changing paths, with some different challenges, motivations and advantages.

I personally think that what lingua franca says about core values and interests is very wise. I think that quite often, people in jobs you never heard of or thought of get the best deal, because nobody else thought of them either, but they turn out to be really fantastic and to quietly tick the box. I also (for what it's worth) think that a few careers counselling sessions can be really helpful.

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Re: What justifies your belief that CP is the right career for you?

Post by workingmama » Thu May 24, 2018 11:23 am

I'm aware that the OP did not return after that post, and I'm wondering what that is about (not enough time to tit around on a website forum/choice to 'dump and run' - always a valid decision/chose to read but not respond to the replies). I am left wondering what the OP made of the responses, and whether these reflect or are different to the responses that he/she imagined they might receive.
Fail, fail again, fail better.

DoubleHelix
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Re: What justifies your belief that CP is the right career for you?

Post by DoubleHelix » Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:40 am

Thanks for the replies! There is so much individuality in each that it seems as if the path to being a CP is going to be different for everyone. Sorry to have left writing a reply so late. I read them some time ago, and as they came in. And I have thought much about them. But writing a reply has taken me some time to do. Luckily I'm procrastinating this morning, so I can do it now ;P

It sounds like you really love your work Miriam. I definitely do find a lot of the work rewarding and interesting. I think it is my sitting in the uncertainty of a) not knowing if/when I would get on the course and therefore b) not knowing whether I am actually moving forward or doomed to obscurity. Maybe this is what underlies my cynicism about it all. I love working with my clients, and with my team (well, for the most part. My line manager and I have a tense relationship; which remains unspoken about and tenser as a result!). I envy your confidence that it's your calling though. I'm plagued with doubt that maybe clinical work is not for me. Did you ever experience this? Do you think it a key to success that one knows without a doubt that becoming a CP is the right thing to do? How do you ultimately know? Or is it a risk you take only to find out for sure later?

It's heartening to hear stories like yours Workingmama. Of course, it seems that for the majority of people who get on the course the journey is not a straightforward one; and is one characterised by a dogged determination not to give up on the career path. You're right in terms of not champing at the bit though. I guess part of my anxiety is not knowing how much I ought to be feeling that way. It could just be the cumulative effects of stress, but each morning I feel like going to work is a battle with gravity. And hence my doubts again. Do I need to know that there is something, like a specialisation, that I am absolutely certain I want to work in? Or is the motivation to work overtime something you discover as you carve your way through the barriers and climb up to a position where you have autonomy?

Tabitha - the PWP role does not appeal to me. Not because I think it requires less or anything, on the contrary because it seems to be so high pressured and stressful! The high volume low intensity seems like more than I could handle (I would describe my current position as high intensity but low volume). I'm already frustrated with the work to remuneration ratio at the moment; I think I'd be more unhappy in a PWP role. Mad respect!

Lingua_Franca, I definitely see the wisdom in considering a CP as one of several options. I'm going to take a leaf out of your book and make some time to think about what options I actually do have and would consider pursuing. And Laterlifechanger's story resonates too. Maybe my anxiety is in part exacerbated by seeing the CP as the only option, but one that is ultimately impossible to achieve. That impossibility then makes me question my competence or my desire for the career. Maybe putting it into a greater context of my capabilities will make things seem less cut and dry.

I feel you Ran. We live in uncertain times. I find it really stressful to think about making a meaningful contribution to society and making ends meet in a way that satisfies my needs for security. What kinds of things are you considering, given that you have decided to leave pursuit of the CP route?

All in all, I still struggle with justifying to myself that I am worthy of pursuing the path. And I'm sure that's something that would come up in an interview. I can provide a rehearsed and pretty answer to make people like me. But deep down, I am unsure. In part I doubt my own ability and competence. In part the prospect of working so hard with so little freedom in return is off-putting. I don't know anymore. I'm pretty resigned to not knowing. My plan is to apply to training up to two more times. And in the meantime maybe try to develop some other options/avenues on the side. If I don't get into the training by 2021, then maybe I ought to let sleeping dogs lie.

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miriam
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Re: What justifies your belief that CP is the right career for you?

Post by miriam » Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:08 pm

DoubleHelix wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:40 am
It sounds like you really love your work Miriam. I definitely do find a lot of the work rewarding and interesting. I think it is my sitting in the uncertainty of a) not knowing if/when I would get on the course and therefore b) not knowing whether I am actually moving forward or doomed to obscurity. Maybe this is what underlies my cynicism about it all. I love working with my clients, and with my team (well, for the most part. My line manager and I have a tense relationship; which remains unspoken about and tenser as a result!). I envy your confidence that it's your calling though. I'm plagued with doubt that maybe clinical work is not for me. Did you ever experience this? Do you think it a key to success that one knows without a doubt that becoming a CP is the right thing to do? How do you ultimately know? Or is it a risk you take only to find out for sure later?
I think it is partly a personality traits thing. I like uncertainty and a certain amount of risk way better than too much predictability, which I easily find boring. I also have a general optimism that things will pan out alright, even if they don't go the way I expect in the short-term. The result makes me willing to gamble on things and try them out. And as a result I've been a bit of a maverick, willing to cut my own path and try new things to see if I enjoy them, including leaving the NHS, helping to set up new services, and running my own business. It isn't that I haven't had doubts along the way - my blog describes some of them - but just that I'm still prepared to give things a try despite my doubts. I don't think that would be the case if I'd had a less secure attachment experience or greater adversity during my upbringing, or if I was more prone to anxiety - steering your own ship doesn't suit everyone.

I also don't care very much about money. I care much more about doing something interesting and worthwhile. I know that's easy to say when you aren't struggling to pay for fuel or feed dependents. But I lived on a very low income early in my career without seeing that as a negative experience (self funding an MSc from a £9k salary, and renting a single room and then a bedsit with my now husband, having intentionally moved to a part of the country with low cost of living) and I've often made choices that sacrifice higher or more guaranteed sources of income for lower and/or less certain ones. For example, I turned down a £70k job as an NHS head of service for the uncertainty of my own company, and one year banked less than minimum wage to get the business cashflow to work because I believed in what we were doing. I even ran this website at a loss for many years, though it is now covering costs and slowly trickling me back my earlier investment. I've also done plenty of policy and committee work for free when I could have filled the same time with work paying £100+ per hour, because it needed doing and I was well placed to do it. Those choices have become tougher since I've been the sole earner for our family unit. But (aided by early financial prudence) overall I've managed to earn enough to pay the mortgage and give us a quality of life we find satisfying. Again, I suspect it relates back to early experiences that formed my value base. I was brought up by hippy parents who gave away all material possessions not long before I was born, and I was taught that people and relationships are what really matters, not material things. Success in our family values isn't the accumulation of wealth, but measured by the enjoyment of the journey and the knowledge that the world is a bit better for having had you in it.

So it wouldn't enter my head to consider the effort to remuneration ratio. That sounds like something that would apply to brick-laying or factory work, rather than to what I do. Likewise, I've never needed dogged determination, or to feel like I'm worthy of this career. Thinking psychologically is part of my being, and working on various projects is just something I do with all my waking hours that are not filled with other things, so I feel like its a total privilege if I get to earn money doing it - otherwise I just waste my time faffing on the internet, or on work-like activities like trading on eBay*. I enjoy what I do, and I constantly see places where I could contribute something worthwhile, so my challenge is not to try to spin more plates than I can keep up with and to focus on where I can have the most impact.

I guess that brings me back to the same old advice that I always give people - to enjoy the journey. You need to take pleasure in what you are doing right now. Not see it as the grind you have to do to reach some future destination. As Alan Watts so ably explained (and Matt and Trey of South Park fame so amusingly animated), life is a music thing.

* it probably helps that I haven't watched any live TV since 2008, only films and intentionally chosen TV series that we stream or watch from DVD, and I don't read newspapers or magazines, go out drinking, or spend much time on social media. Plus I only have a ten minute commute to work. So I probably have more free time than most people.
Miriam

See my blog at http://clinpsyeye.wordpress.com

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