psychology

Masters Update

I thought the first five years of studying psychology was great, I was so happy to learn the content and so excited at the possibility of being a psychologist. So it came as a shock in honours when in the first week, I felt inadequate, poorly prepared, and felt like my future was unattainable.

In the very first class, our tutor asked us what we wanted to do after honours.  I was up first and I said something like “I don’t know…keep studying I guess…” and he said, what would you study? and I said, “not sure, clinical masters I guess”.  Then the rest of the room got their turn, and it turned out almost everyone in the group of ~20 wanted to do clinical masters.  The tutor then told us (almost with glee) that Swinburne would only take about 15 students into clin masters and that most of us wouldn’t get in.  Apparently, to even have a shot at it, we had to have extensive clinical experience, outstanding references, high HD grades, AND ace the interview (if we were lucky to be offered one).

After that class I went straight to a computer lab and started to look up work experience opportunities for clinical roles, and I remember calling Pete in tears and telling him that I’d ruined my life, I had no chance to be a psychologist, I had to quit my job asap and do volunteer clin roles.  Somehow I persevered through the hardest year of studies I’d encountered, and along the way made a friend who was literally the only person who had ever spoken about organisational psychology. Lucky for her and lucky for the lightbulb moment where I realised I love my corporate job, and could actually apply for the org psych masters.

And what a difference one year makes.  I started the masters in org psych in early March, and so far it’s been the best experience of my life.  I’m in a much happier state than I was this time last year when completing honours.

 

First and foremost, the content is fantastic.  I’m still working two days a week, and I find that I can relate almost everything I’m learning back into the workplace.  Deakin and the Aus. Psych Association (APS) also offers additional opportunities to learn and gain experience, which is incredibly useful.  So far I’ve attended a public speaking workshop with the APS and an ASIST Suicide Prevention workshop.  I’m already getting a sense that when I finish this in 2 years time, I’ll have gained an immense amount of knowledge, skills, and experience. Because of this, it’s impossible to not be motivated by the coursework.

Secondly, the quality of our lecturers and guest speakers, and even the motivation of my peers have all been fantastic.  I’m learning a lot from the people around me, but the best thing about the social interaction is that I feel like we all have similar values and goals in life.  I have so much respect and admiration for the other students, regardless of age and backgrounds, they’re the most motivated and hardworking group of people I’ve ever met.  It’s such a joy to go to uni, not once have I wanted to skip class.

 

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Managing stress with exercise

Week 6 of 12 – Halfway through the second semester of psych honours.

Since rejoining the gym, I feel like my stress levels have been pretty low/consistent this semester.  I’m still having moments where it feels like things are falling apart, but I haven’t been too unhappy.  This week in particular is tough, my mother’s in hospital, and although we aren’t very close it’s still quite upsetting.  I also have a big work event coming up, I’m facilitating a strategy day for 40 people, and as an introvert, I’m always a little anxious in the lead up to these things.  On top of that, I have precisely 4 weeks to finish the thesis. And… I really should be thinking about applying for Masters.

But it’s true what they say, endorphins are addictive, and as long as I get my daily dose, it feels like everything is manageable.

My mum is going to be okay.  A last minute trip to India led to her getting malaria, which didn’t get picked up for weeks, but she’s getting the right medication and care now and is going to be okay.

The strategy day will be fine.  I know these people, I know my stuff, it’ll be fine.

The thesis is on track.  Yes I’m struggling a bit with the data analysis, but my supervisor seems happy with my progress, so it’s all good.

Masters.  Hmm.  That’s definitely a source of stress.  So the way psychology works in Australia is that after 4 years, you have to do another two years in one of the following ways in order to be a registered psychologist:

  1. 2 years full-time Masters (with thesis)
    1. Extremely competitive entry
    2. Only a few streams are available in Vic: clinical, organisational, educational, forensic, that might be it?
  2. 1 year full-time Master of Professional Psychology (no thesis) plus 1 year of supervised work
  3. 2 years of supervised work
  4. PhD and/or Masters and PhD combined

I’ve definitely ruled out option 4 – yes I enjoy research, but no I don’t want to end up in research.  I like the practical, applied side of psychology.  The bit where I get to work directly with people and make an immediate difference to their lives.

Option 3 is also out of the question, as the registration requirements are so strict that it’s almost impossible to do this.  Anyway, I like learning too much, I don’t want to start working directly with people without more training.

Right now, I’m trying to decide between option 1 and 2.

Option 1

Pros: Great work experience in large organisations, may be able to pursue a career in org psych at my current workplace, long term prospects to work in defence (which has always been an interest of mine), this stream allows you to specialise i.e. get additional training and supervision in the stream you choose, so in my case that would be org psych

Cons: They only take 16 students per year in Victoria.  2 more years.  My god.  And another thesis. 😦

Option 2

Pros: Practical experience counselling people, this would mean I finally get to do some one on one work, only one more year of studying, no thesis!

Cons: At the end of this route, you can’t specialise in a specific psych stream.  If I ever want to specialise in my life, I would have to go and do a 2 year masters.

So…I have no idea what I’ll be doing next year.  Applications close in approx. 1 month, so in the meantime, I need to apply for Masters of Org Psych, and Masters of Professional Psych and see what happens.

Did I mention I hate uncertainty? I think that’s why I’m so grateful for the gym.  Even when work and uni are stressful and unpredictable, I can do my workouts like clockwork.  Same classes, same time each week, and I’m in control.

Life goes on

I have survived an entire semester of Psych Honours, woo! With (some) of my sanity intact.

Last semester was exhausting.  The workload was intense.  I missed most family events, skipped all work socialising, didn’t see my friends, cancelled the gym membership and basically lived the life of a hermit.  Fast forward to midyear, and I’m over it, I can’t live my life like that again.  Yes, grades were good, but I don’t think it’s worth my sanity.  So I’ve made the decision to not apply for masters next year, and it feels liberating.  Even this semester, I’m increasing my hours at work and have rejoined the gym, because all work and no play makes Jhil go cray cray.

The midyear break has been fantastic though, I’ve started to live my life again.  Highlights include:

Batman: The Killing Joke – took my husband to see this as an early anniversary surprise and we loved it.  Aside from the bizarre Batgirl plot (wtf?!), it was exactly what I hoped for – dark, complex, and a little bit ambiguous.

The Cure – this band got me through teenage angst, and I’d never seen them live, so this was a big deal.  The gig itself was incredible, ran for 3 hours and had about 5 encores.  Robert Smith still sounds amazing, and I was transported back to the 80s.

Lots of binge watching Netflix/TV

  • Stranger Things – LOVE! Can’t recommend enough.  80’s nostalgia ❤
  • Marcella – I love a messed up female protagonist who still manages to kick arse
  • Game of Thrones – FINALLY found the time to watch it, had read the books previously though

However, all good things must come to an end, and classes resume today.  Here’s hoping I can balance my life a little better this semester.

3 months can make a difference

The last 3 months have been emotionally taxing.

I finished my final exams and felt some sadness at having to leave this university.  Unfortunately, they only offer psychology honours 2.5 hours away from where I live, so studying there wasn’t viable.  But that said, I wasn’t guaranteed to be offered honours anywhere else, so I was quietly worried that I’d have to accept an offer from RMIT and either commute massively each day or move houses.

On top of this, I was burnt out from studying all year without a break (studied overseas midyear).  I managed to have 2 full days off work where I lounged around and played Fallout 4 to my hearts content.  This brief bout of lazy happiness ended, and I increased my work hours to full-time.

 

Soon after,  I was offered a secondment in what seemed like a normal role, but I eventually realised it was much more difficult than I expected.  I was leading a team who appeared to be fully functioning and well skilled, however it turned out that they had just passed through the forming-storming phases, and were yet to norm.  These meant many issues, technical errors, and arguments about the best way to do thing.  3 months later, this role has come to an end, and I’m hopeful that I’ve helped them transition and left them in a stronger position then when I began.

During this time, I also graduated.  I can’t describe the joy I felt from receiving the certificate and celebrating with loved ones.  After going through high school imagining I was dumb, hearing similar comments from my mother, it was a huge relief to have that piece of paper that proves otherwise.  I received my final results soon after, and although they weren’t as great as I would have liked, they weren’t bad at all.

Then the worrying began.  Were my results good enough to get into honours? Each university only takes in approx 20-60 honours students, so it’s incredibly competitive.  I began to doubt my own abilities, and when I received the offer from RMIT I immediately accepted.  Then the other offers started to come in, and instead of it being a relief, it actually became a lot harder to decide what to do.  The first offer that came through was from a lesser institution, so I declined.  The third offer was also a less credible institution, however I accepted, to ensure I wouldn’t commute 2.5 hrs each way each day.  More offers, more changes.  It was exhausting.  It was only in the last fortnight that I finally received an offer that ticked all the boxes – credible institute and decent location (45 min travel time) but I was still hesitant to cancel all other offers because the next hurdle had to be surmounted.

Getting the right supervisor is tough at the best of times, and it requires students to really put themselves out there.  You have to somehow figure out what you’re interested in (hard when undergrad only gives a shallow understanding of many topics, with no opportunity to get in-depth with anything), find supervisors at the uni you’ve been accepted into who not only match your interests but are also experienced, well qualified, and can give you the support you need, and then convince them that they should supervise you for the next 12 months.  It was even harder for me, because by accepting this offer late in the process, I had very limited options of available supervisors.

Somehow it all worked out in the end.  Earlier this week I met with 2 supervisors who sounded great, and in person, one clearly stood out as having a similar work ethic as myself.  The relief I felt when she confirmed that she would be happy to supervise me was MASSIVE.

 

Now the next part of this journey begins.  I’ve heard that honours year in psych is quite literally the worst year of most people’s lives.  Worse than undergrad, masters, PhD.  Apparently I should expect ~3 hours sleep at night and zero social life.

With it starting in less than 2 weeks, I’m now hoping to manage people’s expectations.  I’ve reduced my work hours even more, warned family I might not see them weekly anymore, and now I need to break the news to my friends that I’m probably not going to be around this year.  Other than that, I’m trying to do all of my favourite things.  Socialising, cooking, video games, vegging on the couch, gym.

I imagine this will be a year for a lot of sacrifice.  Hopefully I survive with my sanity intact.

 

My uni experience – the people I couldn’t do without

I’m almost at the end of my undergrad degree – all coursework and exams are finished, now it’s just a matter of time until results are released and I get to graduate.  When I decided to do this as a mature age student, 4 years ago, I had no idea what I was in for.

I look back on how I thought and felt over the years, particularly the earlier years, and in hindsight, I can see that I was arrogant.  Yes, I expected to learn new concepts, but I didn’t expect to change as a person.  I thought at the age of 27 I was a very well developed person.  I had a career, a house, and a husband.  But I didn’t have confidence in myself, and I didn’t have direction.

Since studying, I have so much conviction in what I think and do, and a clear purpose in life.  Not just when it comes to psychology, but even things like health and fitness, and continuing to try new things and grow.  I’ve come to accept that I experience a certain level of fear and uncertainty, but that when I push through, I can do incredible things.  Like public speaking, train and develop large rooms of semi-strangers, and go out of my comfort zone to do new activities like boxing and capoeira.

I still have moments of self-doubt, but the more examples I have of overcoming these, the easier it gets.  So as I’m approaching the end, I feel a sense of joy and excitement.  I’m happy in the knowledge that I made it.  I survived, and not only that, I exceeded all of my expectations.

To be honest, I never imagined I would have the opportunity to go to uni, let alone do so well. I’ve lived out of home since I was about 18-19 and learned the hard way that you can’t count on people to help you in life, not even family. It’s really up to you to succeed.  Despite this cynical mentality (and the barriers I’ve put up as a result), I’ve had support from multiple people and honestly couldn’t have achieved this without them.

First up, my best friend Ness, who somehow manages to know my most secret and strongest wishes, never once stopped asking me why I wouldn’t consider studying psychology. She had faith in me when I needed it most.

Secondly, and to my ongoing surprise, I’ve had a series of amazingly supportive managers. Because of them, I’ve not only managed to keep working productively, but I’ve grown, developed in the role and had some incredible opportunities over the years. And because of them, I am always truly happy to work there, even though it hasn’t always been related to my degree.

Along the way, I kept myself separate of the other uni students.  I just didn’t feel like I had much in common with them, being an adult and having all the responsibilities that come along with that.  But to my surprise, I found some genuinely lovely people who had the same drive to succeed as I do.  I also encountered some inspirational and motivating lecturers and tutors, who kept my interest alive.

And finally, I can’t put into words the amount of support I’ve received from my husband…but I’ll try. He has been there for me every single step of the way. Early mornings, late nights, deadlines, cancelling social events, cramming for exams, tears over grades, outrage over perceived unfairness, he’s been there for it all and hasn’t complained once. I went from providing a full time income to 40-60% of my salary, and he did not mind in the slightest. Partway through my 2nd year I floated the idea of applying for honours (so… not returning to full-time work anytime soon) and he’s backed me 100%. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I do know that that’s what love is – being completely and utterly invested in the success of another person.  Along with him, comes his family. More people to talk to and share this journey with.

So yeah, I used to think I had to do everything by myself but somehow, somewhere, I found some incredible people to help me.

Mental Imagery and Goal Setting

Ah, another week, another random task I have to do for my Happiness & Positive Psychology class.  I’m really enjoying it – I have this natural instinct to always want to try something new and this class is meeting that need.

This week the focus is on hope, optimism and mental imagery.

I’ll do a proper reflection later on, but basically I’ve set myself daily food and exercise goals for the week and I’m going to be using mental imagery to imagine success (both short term and long term).

The goal for the week is as follows.  It’s not super healthy, but if I can stick to it, then I’ll be happy.  My goal is baby steps – if I can keep doing something like this for more than a few weeks, then I might start thinking of proper fitness meal prep.

Wish me luck. 🙂

Exercise and Food Plan

Biological and Cognitive Aspects of Depression

It’s mid semester break, and I’m meant to be catching up on all of my readings for my subjects, but it’s tough.  One of my subjects, Psychopathology and Models of Intervention requires 6-8 hours of reading per week (with 6 weeks worth of reading so far) and I can’t seem to stay focused for that long and retain the knowledge.

All week I’ve been trying to wade through the readings on depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, suicide and schizophrenia.  It’s rather bleak, and every now and then I’ve had to take breaks to go out in the sunshine and workout at the gym.

But I figure another good way to procrastinate… I mean.. get perspective, is to share some information here.  So here are some things I’ve learned about depression.

Cognitive Aspects

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that depression is as a result of cognitive processes – so the way we think and perceive the world.

A precursor to depression is a tendency to think negatively about life, and to interpret daily events in a negative manner e.g. imagining the worst in every situation.  As this occurs more and more often, it starts to become a  negative schema .  A schema is a framework or template of thoughts, opinions, values, ideas, etc. that allow us to interpret situations quicker.  So if we have a an unpleasant upbringing, or experience a lot of negative events, over time we might develop a negative schema about ourselves, other people or the world around us.

When this negative self talk is coupled with the belief that we’re a failure and that there’s no hope for improvement, we can fall into the trap of learned helplessness.  The theory of learned helplessness has been observed in animals as well as people who (through experience) perceive they have no control over their lives.  So animals that are punished for no reason, at unknown times, without any opportunity to improve their situation have been found to just give up.  The same has been found in people – if they feel that the bad things will happen to them irrespective of what they do, they lose hope.

So although this wasn’t covered in the textbook – the key thing I took away from this is that, coupled with neural plasticity (the theory that our brain continues to develop throughout life, new connections between neurons form and existing ones strengthen as a result of our experiences and thought processes), it is important to build positive schemas and consciously stop yourself ruminating negatively.

Studies mentioned in my textbook (Alloy & Abramson, 2006; Alloy, Abramson, Safford, & Gibb, 2006; Abela & Skitch, 2007; Haeffel & Hames, 2013) demonstrated that people with negative schemas (i.e. dysfunctional attitudes_ are 12 times more likely to suffer a depressive episode than those who have a more positive or realistic attitude, and this poor cognitive bias is contagious – if you live with someone who thinks negatively, it is likely to rub off.

Biological Aspects

Okay so there are actually a lot of biological factors involved in depression and mood disorders (including genetics, hormones and the endocrine system), but I’m sharing this one because it was news to me and it fits in with my strongly held belief that exercise is good for mental health.

Depression is linked with high levels of cortisol, which is called the stress hormone (it is released during stressful situations, so fight/flight, and alongside this our autonomic nervous system prepares us to respond, and our immune system is dampened).  High levels of cortisol for long periods of time has been found to cause a reduction in volume of the hippocampus.  A smaller hippocampus region has been found in people suffering from depression and those at higher risk of having a depressive episode.

The key thing is…

  • Some studies have found that the effects might be able to be reversed by increasing the volume of the hippocampus.
  • One way of increasing volume of the hippocampus found in experiments with rats is exercise.

What makes me sad is that this is a catch 22 – side effects of depression include fatigue and learned helplessness, so it’s unlikely people suffering from depression will actually become active.  But I think if therapists combine CBT (cognitve behavioural therapy – helping clients change their schemas) alongside physical activity, it would be hugely beneficial.

Every psychology student knows that you have to take a holisitic view when helping people, (i.e. consider the biological, social and psychological factors), but I wonder how therapists can help clients get physically active when therapy is restricted to the clinician’s room.

Reference:

Barlow, D. H., Durand, V. M., & Stewart, S. H. (2014). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach. Toronto: Nelson Education