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  • Sam T

Reflections of a Trainee Clinical Psychologist

Therapy room at Socrates Psychological Services

I’m Sam, a trainee clinical psychologist in my final year of training and I am currently on my last placement at Socrates. Training requires that you complete core placements in child, adult, older adult and learning disability placements but the final placement is the one we get to choose, and I decided to come back to Socrates to consolidate my knowledge around working with children and young people. I felt that this would be a fantastic way to conclude my training, as Socrates was my first psychology related job and it felt ‘complete’ to finish my doctoral training where it all started.

Training has been a bit of a whirlwind and it feels like I’ve been training for half of my life and five minutes all at the same time. I started in 2020 with the majority of my experience being in neurodevelopmental (autism and ADHD) assessment teams, working with both adults and with children. I soon realised that I had a depth of knowledge and interest in this area that will likely continue to shape my career going forward, however whilst depth is useful in some ways, breadth is also useful too, and that’s what I didn’t have. I remember my first placement in an adult secondary care community mental health team, a placement that was primarily working to engage adults with complex mental health needs in therapy. Safe to say that the lead up to this placement had me full of apprehension and anxiety, purely because I had no experience of therapy other than what I had read in books. Trying to manage my own anxiety and my own feelings of self-doubt, I met with my clinical supervisor for the first time (a clinical supervisor in clinical psychology is a lot of things... a mentor, a manager and someone who pushes you to think differently and grow as a clinician). The meeting helped to set me at ease and helped to normalise my feelings, we set up a plan for how the placement was going to look and thought about some reading that I could do in advance. The whole thing was supportive and understanding and the relationship with that supervisor helped to set me up to tolerate all of the uncertainty to come.

Therapy room at Socrates Psychological Services

In general, I think that I have found that supervisory relationships are the things that make-or-break placements. Having experiences of working across different services, with totally different populations is what makes training both interesting and stressful. For me, what shapes the experience, regardless of the work is not only how supportive and present your supervisor is, but also the ‘vibe’ you get from them and whether you feel as if your goals for the placement are aligned. Experiencing several different supervisors across training allows you to develop an understanding of how you want to be as a supervisor following qualifying. I have certainly experienced really helpful and some not-so-helpful supervisory interactions over the last few years and from what I can tell from my colleagues, their experiences have been similar.

Aside from the more practical placement based clinical work, there is the academic and research side to the clinical doctorate too. We are assessed through case reports, clinical audits, exams and service development projects. There is also a requirement to conduct a piece of novel research and write this up in the form of a thesis, which is also assessed in an oral examination called ‘viva’ in the final year. I think one of my main reflections over the duration of the course is how challenging it is to be ‘the wearer of many hats’. By this I mean that one day you’re a researcher, the next you’re a therapist, then an assessment practitioner, then the next day you’re sat with your exam hat on, but trying to squeeze in some reading for a session you’ve got with a client the next day. Trying to work three or four roles into each working week is a real challenge, and one that at times I enjoyed..and at other times felt totally overwhelmed by. Looking back, now that I am coming to the end of final year, I suppose I would say that I am looking forward to having fewer hats.

Therapy room at Socrates Psychological Services

I have just completed my viva exam and the lead up to this was perhaps the most nerve-wracking experience of my professional life so far. This is saying something, as I have previously had a career in catering which involved looking after people on their wedding days, helping to organise proposals, hosting celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert DeNiro and running very busy restaurant operations. For some reason, the viva scared me more! Now, I didn’t have a smooth ride in viva and the oral examination did not go the way that I had hoped, however when I was in the moment, I actually found that I wasn’t stressed and that I was there to do my best, regardless of the outcome. I wish I could have told myself this beforehand and I am sure that if other trainees read this, it won’t help settle their nerves much either. All I can say, is turn up, do your best, and it will be over after an hour! I’ve still got some corrections to do to get the thesis over the line, but actually this doesn’t seem like too much work in the grand scheme of things.

With the final year being perhaps the most intense, I am happy to be back working at Socrates as it feels like being part of a big family and values of the organisation have always sat parallel with mine. The wealth and variety of expertise within the organisation makes it the perfect place to finish training, as you can pick up skills from clinicians with so many different backgrounds. On top of this, is the bonus of being able to work across different teams within Socrates, allowing the opportunity to develop varied skills, which I feel is important when you are thinking about what you might want to specialise in following qualification.

A final message to any trainees or anyone thinking about pursuing a career in clinical psychology… It’s a rough road at times (and I haven’t even mentioned the difficulty of securing a place on the course) and the process will challenge and push you to be a better clinician. Gather up all of your best hats and keep pushing towards your goals.


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