As graduation season ends, I always love to see how people have progressed in their journeys and what they have pursued in psychology. There are many different roles that people venture into and this months blog is from Kieran Carty, a CBT therapist in IAPT sharing his experience and tips with those of you who may follow the same path.
My journey from outside the Head teacher’s office to being taught by leading experts in CBT.
I’m currently a qualified CBT therapist working within primary care (IAPT) but it’s been a long journey. Growing up, I dreamed of being involved in sports or music from a tiny council block flat in South London. I spent most of my time in a studio or running around a grass pitch. But after several strong words from my mum (often prompted by letters and phone calls from school about my mischievous antics), I decided that my success was mostly likely to come from my education. I struggled with several learning and mental health difficulties through school but my curiosity of wanting to know how these things affected me, led to an A-Level in psychology. From there, psychology has always been part of my academic journey, contributing to completing an undergraduate, masters, and two post-graduate courses (Low Intensity and High Intensity CBT).
Graduating from Psychology
This was probably the most challenging time for many of my peers and I, as we graduated at the end of the 2000’s (just in time for the recession). This put huge limitations on finding jobs even with a shiny new degree. Being the first in my family to go university, I also struggled with knowing the best way to a desired graduate job in my sector. It was a difficult journey and that ended up with me working several door to door sales jobs, in a cookware shop, and then recruitment for the first two years. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed any of these, though selling cheese cutting tools to the late Bob Hoskins was a highlight. I often found myself getting frustrated and disheartened as the constant message from school was that having a degree was a game changer and would open all the doors. This might have been the case for my teachers, but the game changed. I wish someone had been there to encourage me to:
- Save a little bit of money during my university years and after (I worked throughout university so would have been achievable)
- Get relevant work experience in the summers (even if it’s a fortnight of volunteering within the industry)
- Network with lecturers and volunteer for research projects, especially with personal tutors (these are crucial for references later on for an kind of further studying)
- If you’re on a course with a placement year, try to get something within an NHS trust
- Make the most of anyone who offers any type of mentoring support (even if you use it infrequently, we don’t mind)
Masters and surviving
I got nowhere near any assistant psychologist or research jobs for reasons that would become clearer later on when meeting the general type of person who seemed to get these roles. The recruitment environment also significantly clashed with many of my values and morals and I grew tired of having to constantly bite my tongue at some of the racial slurs that were often passed off as ‘banter’. I went back into education through a Sports Psychology masters, given it was something I was interested in and hoped to pursue a possible career in. I saved hard for just under 18 months and squeezed on to a course. I also managed to find a job as an Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) tutor, which involved working with children diagnosed with Autism. To this day, it is still the best job that I did. I worked 3.5 days and did my masters full time (1.5 days). It was a great experience, but in hindsight I would recommend:
- Taking a break after doing your undergrad or any other course (this allows you to get some work experience and take a breather from studying. I enjoyed my course much more as a result)
- Doing the masters part time to help with managing the workload and finances
- Live at home if possible to help with finances
- Speak with an impartial friend/peer/mentor within the industry to ensure you course is properly accredited (I was misled during my interview and ended up turning down a course which had the correct accreditation for one that didn’t)
- Make use of any mentors before, during, and after to help reflect and bounce ideas about your career path
Getting into Primary Care
After passing my masters, I shortly picked up a position in HR. I decided against a career in sports psychology as my course was not properly accredited (even though I was informed it was during my interview). After further research, pursuing this industry was not financially feasible, while it would have involved redoing another masters or a significant number of modules on an undergraduate followed by a long period of unpaid work. It was also made clear that I would get little support progressing further within sports psychology in regards to gaining a supervisor (this was crucial at the time), in comparison to other people on the course who knew the supervisors better.
I moved on to working on a recruitment project within a HR team, before continuing within HR for a children’s charity where I managed and developed the sickness policy. Here I became more and more exposed to the impact of mental health challenges, curious about what support people receive when struggling with their mental wellbeing. Having come across the Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) role, I felt that this was a much better fit for me, especially as I was always keen to interact with people rather than be stuck behind a desk. I applied three times for the course before getting on, leaving my role in HR to gain some experience within a mental health hostel (secondary care) as part of the process. I also did some voluntary befriending for someone struggling with mental health difficulties. Hard work and persistence eventually paid off, and these are the things that helped or things I wish I knew at the beginning:
- Get experience of working within secondary care as quickly as possible. It was challenging but enlightening, especially in understanding the clinical and political side of mental health
- Keep applying for roles (don’t give up!)
- Get someone who has experience in recruitment (or has been successful in applying for roles you are interested in) to look at your applications
- Practice your interview technique with someone who has been on an interview panel or had several successful interviews in the past
- Speak with someone who has done the role you are applying for first to get a good insight into what the role involves (including any training)
- Use a mentor before and after to help with motivation and guidance
Staying in Primary Care and the Future
I worked my way through the ranks at low intensity within IAPT from the trainee to senior PWP role within 3 years. This helped me understand how the setup of IAPT worked and kept my role varied. I also moved services, being fortunate to have worked at some of the highest performing and more developed services. This has allowed me to vary my approach, get involved in a range or different projects, and use the expertise of the supervisors that I was allocated. I moved on to the High Intensity CBT training and will continue to practice this form of therapy in future. The training itself was fantastic and I was thrilled to have earned the chance to learn from some of the leading experts on mood and anxiety disorders.
This whole journey has allowed me to have a host of options going forward, but like many of my peers, it has allowed me to combine them to do the things I am passionate about. This includes writing a fiction novel based on a mental health setting and my experience of working within this sector (Consequences of Ignorance; Owen Aldin), supervising others, being a mentor, and working in a range of settings (e.g. at the job centre). But my curiosity will never stop. I want to explore other modes of therapy alongside from CBT to allow me to become a more diverse and adaptable therapist, supervisor, peer, mentor, and be more involved in supporting my community get to the hard to reach services.
I have also observed many issues around barriers for people from particular backgrounds trying to get into psychology, especially primary care. Although this is too big a debate to discuss here, it has encouraged me to be more vocal in offering support and mentoring for free so I can pass on any knowledge or tips. But for now, these are the last few tips I would suggest for things to consider in general:
- Look after your wellbeing. There is plenty of time to get experience and qualifications, you don’t have to do it all before you’re 25, 30 etc as this will probably lead to you getting unwell and being forced to take a break anyway
- Get a hobby or two. Do salsa, painting, sports, write, etc. Whatever it is, give yourself something to do away from your profession as this will keep you refreshed
- Learn how to take all kinds of feedback. Once you get good at this, you will always see a rapid improvement
- Find a mentor that gets you and agree on how you will both use that partnership. I cannot stress this enough. There are lots of us that have been there and want to share what we know so you don’t have to go through the same struggle if you need support
- Once you start to make progress, pass on what you know to others (keep the doors open)
- Don’t be afraid to move around, especially if you have been stuck in one position for 12-18 month and wish to progress
- Get a second qualification of some sort after you graduate if possible. This is not essential but will give you an advantage
- Get a good academic reference and maintain your academic relationships. If you’re struggling with this, volunteer to help with academic research trials even if for one day a week. Again this means maintaining relationships with anyone you’ve come across who has helped you in some way (even a quick text to check in)
I hope you find this useful.
Thank you so much to Kieren for blogging on his experience and sharing so many useful tips. From my experience, I can honestly say that these are some of the tips I also share with others but also some that I wish I knew before myself.
Psychology is always deemed as competitive and as we know, how far you get quickly is not always the best way. Take your time with your journey and enjoy where your going.