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What I learnt from working at the Bond Psychology Clinic

Written by Master of Psychology (Clinical) student, Brendan Barr.

Hi there, my name is Brendan Barr, and for the last eight months, I’ve been working as an intern at the Bond University Psychology Clinic. This is a part of my Master of Psychology (Clinical), and the placement encapsulated two subjects of my master’s program – in total, I was fortunate enough to work independently with clients for over 120 hours!

This was such a valuable experience that really supported my studies and helped me to develop key skills that I’ll take with me as I work toward becoming a registered psychologist. If you’re studying psychology, or are considering it, a placement like this is invaluable.

During my face-to-face hours in the clinic, I worked in two roles: delivering psychological intervention to clients, and administering, interpreting and feeding back psychological assessments. I found that the opportunities to learn and gain hands-on experience were plentiful during my time at the clinic, and I’ve finished my internship with some great learnings. Here are five that really stand out.

1. Life isn’t like a textbook

One of the first things I learned during my time at the Bond University Psychology Clinic was the significant difference between applying knowledge to real-life clients, compared to case studies in assignments or exams. While my coursework did a great job at preparing me to work at the clinic, I found that when I first started on placement, I was looking for clues to place clients into a box psychologically (e.g. anxiety, depression and so on). I realised I had to reframe this mindset and shift away from how I’d approach an assignment to a more holistic, patient-centric view that rejected the idea that real people can fit neatly into a specific category. Consequently, I’ve started to focus less on the categorisation of clients, and more on the problems they present with and really concentrating on the person in front of me.

Brendan Barr undertook an eight-month placement at the Bond University Psychology Clinic

2. You can do hard things

A really confronting lesson I learned while working in the clinic was this: the best way to develop your skills is to target those areas that you struggle with. While I was presented with ample opportunities to speak to and connect with my supervisors about my strengths, I found that the greatest gains occurred when I sat down for my regular supervision hour and spoke about the areas I was really struggling with.

This might seem obvious to some, but being new to delivering psychological services felt a little daunting, so it was valuable to check in with someone experienced to determine where I was performing well and where I could grow. My advice to anyone starting out in psychology is to implicitly trust what you know you’re good at, and focus your energy on targeting the weaknesses you can identify in yourself – however hard this might seem. It’s honestly where I saw the greatest gains in my clinical skills, and is a huge part of what I took away from the internship experience.

3. Your peers will be your greatest resource

One of the best aspects of my time working at the Bond University Psychology Clinic was my cohort, comprised of the other 19 Master of Psychology students working in the clinic at the same time. Given the time we spent together and the experiences, learnings and resources we shared, teamwork became a hugely important aspect of my time at the clinic. Whether we were discussing new tools and approaches to use with clients, spending countless hours together writing reports, receiving help from one another or just heading to a café for a snack and a debrief, I really valued the extra time spent with my new colleagues, and quickly learned that teamwork was integral to making it through this experience. From this experience, I now have a network of 19 emerging professionals in psychology, which I know will assist me in my career moving forward!

Brendan's peers within the Master of Psychology became not just colleagues, but learning resources, friends, and his professional network

4. With pressure must come compassion

Balancing coursework, a thesis, and my time working in the clinic, I often found myself operating under lots of pressure. In total, I wrote and submitted over 20,000 words worth of assignments and reports over just three weeks, which left no hour without haste! It was crucial that I practiced what I preached to my clients throughout this period, so I made sure to implement self-care strategies, approached my work with a level frame of mind, and leaned on the people around me, especially those in the same position as me. These strategies, among many others, allowed me to successfully complete this intense period of work, and more importantly, left me with coping mechanisms that I’ll take through the stressful times in my future career – especially as big global events like COVID-19 continue to put pressure on psychologists and the mental health care system. This was an important lesson to learn, and I’m grateful I was able to do it in a supportive environment like the Bond clinic.

5. Everything is an opportunity to learn

After a little while in the clinic, I began to realise that I was learning quite a lot from my sessions, in more ways than one. The chance to apply my skills independently for the first time meant that I was able to learn so much from each session, and it often seemed I was learning just as much (if not more) from my clients as they learnt from me. This was a strange feeling – after all, most of us decide to enter the psychology profession to help others, not really thinking about the personal lessons we might learn from our clients. Everything – and everyone – can be treated as another way to grow, evolve our thinking and take away valuable lessons.

Overall, my time at the Bond University Psychology Clinic prepared me for subsequent placements and taught me a variety of skills that I will carry throughout my entire career and into my daily life. It is difficult to comprehend just how much I have learnt over the last eight incredibly rewarding months in the clinic, and I look forward to seeing how much I develop as a psychologist over the final two semesters of my master’s degree.

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