What to expect from the Psychology Placement...

By Heather Moult (Psychology graduate from Bristol University) 

This summer I went out to Sri Lanka for 15 weeks on the psychology placement initially as a volunteer, then a co-ordinator. The aim of this blog is to provide some essential information to new volunteers, to help prepare you for what the psychology placement entails, expectations and how this placement can facilitate a career in psychology.

What does the psychology 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 Half Way Home, a challenging but extremely worthwhile project that provides long-term care for approximately 525 women with from mental illness. During the placement you will also be timetabled into other projects such as teaching, children’s homes and working with special needs. From my experience, being involved with these other projects really complimented the work I did at NIMH and HWH, especially the special needs projects where the types of activities that we were running could also be applied to NIMH and HWH.

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 are 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 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 ward as a team we would often work separately giving individual attention to help increase patients 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 closer 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 what activities we planned.

Working at these projects was emotionally challenging for everyone and as a coordinator I was responsible for giving emotional support to volunteers especially during their first few weeks. I think many a few people think that they 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 to apply 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 homes 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