Lifestyle, Psychology

Adrienne Rennie’s Experience of Abnormal and Clinical Psychology MSc

Those of you continuous readers will know that Adrienne guest posted a few months ago on her clinical experience. Given that many of you will be coming to the end of your degrees soon, I thought I’d recruit some guests to give you open and honest experiences of their Masters.

I hope these inform you to make your choice in the path that you choose to follow.

So, a few posts ago, I wrote about my experience working as an honorary assistant psychologist (HAP). This position was made available through my Masters course, which I completed in Swansea University. This was a year long course and one, in which, I feel was an important part to my exploration of psychology as a career. 

The Masters, itself, was focused on abnormal and clinical psychology, and, as mentioned, it was a year-long course when completed full time. It could be completed part-time, as most academic courses offer this option. I actually had one friend during my time there who was completing the course on a part-time schedule. This allowed her to work full time as a support worker so she could gain some extra clinical experience. I took the full time option because it meant I could get funding from the Scottish Government. Check out things like bursaries, government loans, scholarships etc. They are extremely useful when it comes to paying your tuition.

In terms of my decision on the university and course, I did some searching on sites like Find A Master and directly on some university courses I had been made aware of. I spoke to a lecturer who was a co-ordinator for a particular Masters in Dundee. I let myself get a feel for what was out there for me. Initially, location was important to me. I wanted to stay in Scotland. However, I was feeling any of the Masters. That’s when I decided to branch out, as it were. I knew I had to pay for the Masters regardless if it was in Scotland or not. The top search that came up was MSc Abnormal and Clinical Psychology at Swansea University. One look at the description and I was sold. Before I knew, I was emailing my application off to the university. Usually, when it comes to Masters, you have to contact the email yourself. They have application systems on their websites. It’s not normally operated through UCAS. Although it’s important to check this out as some courses do. Most of the courses were through the universities themselves except for one, which was through UCAS. This incurs a cost that you have to pay yourself. My application with Swansea was through the university and required a personal statement, employment history, predicted bachelors grade, and then referees. I received a conditional offer of a 2:1 grade (it usually is) and when I got my official grade awarded to me, I sent the proof to the university. That was it. I was in and later that summer I enrolled and sorted out my halls of residence. I was good to go. 

A Masters isn’t for everyone. Everyone has their reasons to do one. For me, it was to gain extra experience and develop a more detailed understanding of clinical psychology. Much of the time, depending on your undergraduate, you get a general overview of what clinical psychology is. Logistically, it’s impossible for your lecturers to go into real depth about different illnesses. So, you may cover things like depression, psychosis (namely schizophrenia), anxiety disorders, and CBT and pharmacological treatments. 

However, at Masters level, you delve much further into clinical psychology. It may not seem like it but you’ve way more time and way more opportunity to do so. Seriously. I learned about disorders I hadn’t heard of it as well as new therapies. Learning about the latter became very handy in terms of how it took into my HAP post. We did a module in psychotherapy so had been learning about a third wave therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It just so happened to be a therapy used within that post. It meant I had an idea of what was going on such as the theory behind it, its steps and its benefits. It’s incredibly important to see things in practice and not just in theory, but for me I find it a very safe and comforting thing to have the knowledge first.   I like to have the idea of knowing what’s going on first. I mean, I like being thrown in at the deep end in some regard but not without some kind of general idea of what’s going on. Classes like psychotherapy (offered in my course) gave me the chance to learn the ins and outs so I could understand how the therapy was meant to go. Being a HAP let me see how the particular therapy actually aligned. Both experience and education work in harmony so I really think it’s important to have them both.

Now, you may be thinking: it’s only one year. How can you learn so much material in so much detail? This is when a Masters can be pretty intimidating. You can have longer days, longer classes, and more modules. Everything feels crammed and it can be extremely overwhelming. In my undergraduate, I did three modules a semester and those were spread out evenly across the week in one or two hour classes. Some days were busier than others, sure, but a Masters is something else altogether. I never saw a class that was less than two hours. In fact, my first real day at Swansea, contained a four-hour class on psychopathy. And it was intense. There was no: this class lasts one hour and only talks about the syllabus. We had that day at the beginning and that covered all the classes. It was literally: welcome to Personality and Sexual Disorders. Okay, so this is the Hare-Checklist and this is what is used to identify someone with psychopathy. I mean, it wasn’t exactly like that but there was no holding back any punches. Sure, it seems like I’m trying to scare you off but I promise that’s not my intention. It’s just really important to know that you are going a course that is short in length but heavy in material. You’re going to have a lot on your plate. You’re going to be involved in complex and detailed material. It’s tough and, at times, completely exhausting. I think I went through those emotions at least 17 times within the first semester. 

It was worth it though. I promise you even after that little scared-straight style paragraph there. I certainly don’t regret doing my Masters in the slightest. My learning experience was fantastic and it really opened my eyes to a lot of different mental health difficulties and the variety of treatments made available. You just have to be prepared for how intense it can be. 

Preparation is key to surviving your Masters. That’s a given, but it can really be the difference between feeling mildly stressed to your room being a catastrophic mess with notes spread out everywhere and in no particular order. It’s not always going to be plain sailing but if you’ve got some form of organisation in your life then you’re going to feel a little more weathered for the rough seas when they appear. Get your notes into a folder. Or type them up on your computer as soon as possible and put them on a pen drive. Email these notes to yourself. I don’t know how many times I’ve cursed myself for not emailing my notes over. My pen drive went missing numerous times. And usually at the worst times i.e. an essay due that week and two exams to study for as well a dissertation meeting and my first dissertation participant. That was not a fun day.

Speaking of emails. Keep on top of them. Your course’s administrator will be emailing you a lot of information. As will your dissertation supervisor, your module co-ordinators, the university… Your inbox fills up pretty quickly and most of the emails contain important information whether that’s right now important or that’ll be important when I’m literally minutes from submitting my dissertation and can’t find the coversheet. Keep note of dates in a planner. Deadlines. Meetings. Get your lecture timetable printed out and their times and dates in the planner until you’re confident of them. Utilize electronic planners like on your mobile phone and laptop as well as paper planners. Get all dates and important information recorded so you can refer back. Start early on things. Learn to split your time effectively. You might have a lot going on all at once and it’s easy to get absorbed in one module whilst simultaneously ignoring the other. Read extra. If they’ve given you reading, read it. A lot of lecturers might not do this for you. Masters is a lot more independent work than you think. It may seem like your lecture materials are enough but exams and essays rely on that independent research that you have committed to yourself. Journal articles are important. Get familiar with sites like EBSCO and even Google Scholar. Scientific research is very essential to understanding a lot of things in your masters and separating you from the student who just wants to get by and the student that stands ahead of others. 

Oh, and accept that there are going to be times where you are stressed and that’s okay. The course is a lot and no one can be expected to feel top-notch throughout the entire thing. There was at least one person in my entire friendship group who stressed at one time. 

Personally, being part of a Masters course gave me a great opportunity to learn more about the field of work I wanted to be employed in. It also gave me more confidence and a chance to make new friends in another park of the UK. Being at university, I was always surrounded by people of different cultures and countries. But I was never a stranger where I went whereas, even though it was still part of the UK, I got to have a bit of an adventure. Maybe not as much as I’d hoped but that’s the literal price of being a student i.e. I couldn’t afford to travel too much. I wouldn’t have changed doing my Masters for anything. Alongside my HAP post, I got to see that clinical psychology was, and still is, something I’ve always been interested in. It opened a lot of opportunities, and, I think, it’s worth researching it as something to do after your undergraduate.

Thank you so much Adrienne once again for featuring on my blog. As an MSc student myself right now I think it’s amazing how you’ve got so much from your masters and I hope I can take away the same amount of joy you have (however right now, I’m finding it hard to see the positives). I hope that you as readers are also informed by Adrienne’s experiences – do let me know how these blogs shape your path. Best of luck x

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