What to expect from the Advanced Mental Health Placement...
By Heather Moult (Psychology graduate from Bristol University)
This summer I went out to Sri Lanka for 15 weeks on the Advanced Mental Health Placement initially as a volunteer, then a Peer Mentor. The aim of this blog is to provide some essential information to new volunteers, to help prepare you for what the Advanced Mental Health Placement entails, expectations and how this placement can facilitate a career in psychology.
What does the Advanced Mental Health Placement involve?
My Timetable: Along with everyone on the placement, I was timetabled to work one day a week at the 800-bed psychiatric hospital. As a team we worked in rotation on Acute, Forensic, and Occupational Therapy wards, running physical and creative activities with patients. Additionally, I was scheduled to run sessions at a rehabilitation home, a challenging but extremely worthwhile project that provides long-term care for approximately 525 women with various mental health concerns.
During the placement you will also be timetabled into other projects such as teaching, working with children and with people with special needs. From my experience, being involved with these other projects really complimented the work I did in the psychiatric facilities, especially the special needs projects where the types of activities that we were running could also be applied to other projects.
Workshops: With the team, I attended Psychology workshops run by clinical psychologists and psychiatrists in conjunction with Samutthana; the Kings College resource centre for trauma in Sri Lanka. Some of these workshops are included in the programme but we were also invited to evening seminars run by people working in the Mental Health Sector in Sri Lanka. These seminars had an additional cost of Rs1000 (approx £5). Eight of us were also invited to observe how mental health is treated and managed within the community and shadowed a leading psychiatrist on a community outreach programme.
My advice for what to expect
What first struck me is the difference in facilities to what we are used to at home and due to cultural differences, the treatments and therapies felt unfamiliar. The language barrier at first was very challenging, but soon we learnt to run activities that focus on behavioural rather than offering emotional support. Though at times the impact of our work felt restricted, our main aim was to improve the quality of life for the residents by together providing enjoyable physical and creative activities to enhance their mood. Though we worked on the wards as a team, we would often work separately giving individual attention to help increase service users' self-esteem, enhance their social skills, communication and help them to master new skills.
I primarily worked with patients suffering from Depression, Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorder, though we were not provided with much of their medical history. Some of our team felt that they wanted the opportunity to work more closely with the doctors at the hospital, but we were careful not to impose on any of the staff as the hospital was understaffed. On a day-to-day basis at many of the projects it was up to us to plan and facilitate the activities.
Working at these projects was emotionally challenging for everyone and as a Peer Mentor I was responsible for giving emotional support to volunteers especially during their first few weeks. I think many people did not expect it to be as hard as it was at the beginning.
What can you gain from this experience?
Many people working with me on the placement have applied, are about to apply or are considering applying for their clinical doctorate. Though there is no replacement for experience gained in the mental health sector in the UK, as a team we felt that we gained a great deal of experience that matches the criteria for the Clin Psych application. Below is a summary…
Experience working and interacting with patients suffering from a variety of disorders: I became familiar with real life presentation of these disorders symptoms, e.g. pressures of speech or delusions in psychosis; lack of enjoyment from everyday tasks in depression.
Applying Theoretical knowledge in a clinical environment: For example in the children’s development centres we focused on ‘positive reinforcement’ to develop more helpful behaviours.
Develop Skills including:
• Non-verbal communication skills: Due to the language barrier, which is also an essential skill to posses in a clinical environment as some patients may have communication issues.
• Resilience to emotionally challenging situations.
• Assertiveness and diplomacy skills when working with clients suffering from a range of challenging emotional difficulties
I certainly found my time on placement worthwhile, so much so that I extended my time in Sri Lanka twice and am looking forward to returning in the near future. If you're looking for challenging but rewarding experience in the mental health sector at the same time as living and working in a unique culture, this is the placement for you!