How Volunteering With SLV.Global Enhances Your Clinical Psychology Doctorate Application

What the SLV.Global Mental Health Placements involve:

Included in the Mental Health Placement is one day per week working in a psychiatric facility in Sri Lanka or Indonesia. The individuals you work with are at varying stages of their recovery, which means that some service users are quite acute and immobile while others are high functioning and seem to be capable of independence.

Within the psychiatric facilities you will be running sessions in teams; the main aim being to improve quality of life by providing enjoyable activities, increasing their self-esteem and helping them to develop skills (e.g. cognitive, motor, communication).

Due to the language barrier, the interventions we provide are largely focused on behaviour, not emotional support. However, the two are not mutually exclusive and mood elevation is often noticed during or after your visits.

How you are helping service users:

  • Improving self-esteem and self-worth through providing individual attention and helping them to master skills.
  • Improving mood through physical exercise and social interaction.
  • Enhancing social skills and communication.
  • Modelling to staff the benefits of patient interaction.
  • Developing cognitive skills e.g. by using card games and puzzles.

*We encourage you to be imaginative in session planning and try to consider how your sessions are supporting the service users in these ways. Colouring books and friendship bracelets serve a purpose, but to do that every day is a bit monotonous and can become repetitive for the service users.

What you can gain from participating in a SLV.Global Mental Health Placement:

The SLV.Global Mental Health Placement is a unique opportunity to gain valuable psychology work experience abroad in a new and exciting culture as well as share your skills in a community that values your knowledge.

The skills detailed below are directly quoted from the list of essential criteria for the clinical psychology doctorate and can help you with your Clinical Psychology Doctorate application.

“Experience of working with people with psychological needs, either in a paid or voluntary capacity.”

  • Most of the service users you will be working with have depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. It's unlikely you will be told what each person's diagnosis is, or if you work in forensic units, what offences have been committed. However, we feel this helps you to see service users as individuals, not defined by their diagnoses.
  • Although diagnosis can remain a mystery, you will become familiar with real-life presentations of symptoms e.g. pressure of speech or delusions in psychosis; lack of enjoyment from everyday tasks in depression.

“Ability to apply theoretical knowledge of Psychology to the practice of Clinical Psychology”

  • Use positive reinforcement to encourage service users to develop more helpful behaviours. This is a core skill that all psychologists use. Smile and encourage service users who pick up a new skill. Ignore unhelpful behaviours - never criticise.
  • Recognise the importance of self-esteem in recovery. A vital part of this is supporting service users to be as autonomous as possible: they will get a better sense of self-worth if they complete a task themselves, however slow or basic. For example when bracelet making with someone who has lost the use of one hand don't make it for them- let them choose the colours and tie the knots as you hold the thread.
  • Try to recognise their individual talents e.g. ask them to teach you something from their culture. 
  • Treat the service users as you would like to be treated if you were in their position.

“Evidence of potential to exercise both appropriate assertion and diplomacy according to the particular situation...whilst working with clients with a range of challenging emotional difficulties.”

  • Oversexualised behaviour: If service users try to hug or kiss you, move away and distract them.
  • Violent behaviour: Quite often this is displayed towards another service user. Do not get between them, but do get help and try and integrate them back into the activity if they are unhurt.
  • You may see other behaviours that are harmless but make you feel uncomfortable (e.g. nudity). Use your judgement here but please do not embarrass the patient – it might be better just to do nothing.
  • Delusions: Service users may talk to you about their delusions, the best approach is just to change the topic. Challenging/arguing with them may distress them, continuing the conversation may reinforce their delusions.
  • Avoiding personal disclosure: Service users may ask you to disclose personal information e.g. your address or phone number, in these situations remain friendly and tell them you are not able to do this.

“Evidence of potential to tailor communication in a manner which is congruent with the needs of the recipient, including the needs of clients...who have difficulty in communicating or understanding”

  • Working with people across a language barrier requires you to craft skills of non-verbal communication. This mirrors situations that you will face in the UK, as service users with schizophrenia, learning disabilities and other disorders often have impaired speech or communication.
  • Please never assume that service users do not understand English and keep conversations around them professional.
  • Always assume competence instead of assuming impairment. Service users come from all backgrounds and often understand much more than they let on at first.

“Ability to function well in the context of unexpected or uncertain outcome, or in the absence of guidelines or in novel situations”

  • SLV.Global provides you with a rare opportunity to independently plan and lead sessions as a team. There will be situations where your session plan is unsuitable and you will therefore need to be ready to adapt (e.g. if service users do not wish to engage in a planned activity). This freedom allows you to develop skills of flexibility, leadership and initiative, which are vital for a career in clinical psychology.
  • At times you will arrive in a ward where there were five people the week before and find twenty service users. You will need to think on your feet and adapt your activity plan to suit fewer or more individuals.
  • You will not be shadowing nurses or doctors. You are responsible for planning and running your activities. Sometimes there will be little or no interest in what you have planned. Change it up and don’t get annoyed with the service users.

“To work in a highly emotive atmosphere, frequently encountering highly distressing problems and circumstances and maintain[ing] a high degree of professionalism at all times.”

  • You will often encounter situations that may be emotionally distressing, e.g. poor living conditions of some service users, staff attitude towards service users. Some coping techniques that you may find helpful are:
  • Remember that by being there you have the potential to really improve their quality of life. Focus on making this one session really great.
  • Avoid thinking too much about their distress, it is not heartless, it makes you better at your job.
  • Step out of a session if you are overwhelmed and always speak to a coordinator afterwards.

“Evidence of a capacity to reflect constructively on all aspects of own performance (academic, clinical and professional)”

  • We encourage you to have team debriefs, particularly after sessions you have found challenging. Consider why you found them challenging and how you would improve this next time.
  • Keep a journal. It is a standard procedure in psychology and will help you reflect on your sessions at a later date so you can learn from them.

“Evidence of ability to form empathic relations with a wide range of clients in a variety of settings.”

  • A current hot topic in clinical psychology is an awareness of culture and diversity when working with clients from different backgrounds. During your placement you may come across opinions and practices that you do not agree with (e.g. staff talking flippantly about service users' conditions, terminology that is outdated and can seem cruel, smacking a patient).
  • Try to understand their perspective; staff training is very different to that in the UK, and cultural beliefs heavily influence mental health treatment and how communities respond to mental health problems.
  • West isn’t always best. There are many ways in which an Eastern approach is more beneficial for the patient e.g. family involvement in recovery, more exposure the alternative therapies like horticulture and art therapy

The SLV.Global Mental Health Placements are challenging, but are massively rewarding both personally and professionally. We are always happy to answer further questions, should you have any. Please call the office and we can chat through anything else you can think of or pop us an email.

JessicaJess