February 16, 2023, by Jackie Thompson
Becoming an Assistant Psychologist
By Dafinah Azman, BSc Psychology from the University of Nottingham
We asked Dafinah to talk about how she secured her role as an assistant psychologist which included gaining essential work experience, and the unique skills international students can demonstrate during the recruitment process.
My current role and what it involves
I am currently an assistant psychologist (AP) within the Specialist Perinatal Inpatient team in Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Trust. As an AP, A am supervised by a clinical psychologist and can undertake a small caseload, conducting one-to-one low-level psychological interventions. This is for example using different therapy models and working in this way. For example, if am currently working with the Compassionate-Focused Therapy model, my role would be to introduce the concept of self-compassion. I also am involved in group therapy programmes and can help facilitate these. APs are also involved with monitoring the database, research, service evaluation, and audits.
My journey from student to assistant psychologist
My journey into this role started while at university. I took any and every opportunity to immerse myself in the career opportunities that the School of Psychology offered. I applied for the Psychology Internship (2020) and Psychology Insight Scheme (2021). These schemes offered me a sense of what it was like to work within mental health, utilising psychological knowledge. In my third year, I also worked part-time as a support worker, which allowed me direct contact with patients and clients, a crucial aspect when applying to AP roles.
I am currently on a Graduate visa (introduced in summer 2021). This visa allows you to stay in the UK for up to two years and makes you eligible to work without the need for sponsorship. You have to apply for the Graduate visa while you are on your Tier 4 Student Visa, and I would recommend doing this closer to when your Student visa is expiring. I would leave two months’ leeway just in case.
The Graduate visa is still relatively new and so when applying for jobs, most recruiters won’t understand what this is. It’s important to clarify with them that this visa entitles you to work in the UK for two years. It would be helpful for you to see if they are willing to sponsor you on a Skilled Worker visa during the recruitment process.
Challenges and advice as an international student
In my opinion, the biggest challenge is trying to get sponsorship (Skilled Worker visa) from companies. Within psychology, this has been difficult but it’s not impossible. The introduction of the Graduate visa has alleviated some anxiety but then there is always the background of what happens after it expires in two years. The challenge of being an international student can often feel like you are on a time limit because of visa constraints and having to figure out your next moves in advance.
I felt this and piled my plate high during my third year. But I think it’s important to note that my third year was all online because of the pandemic; this meant that I had the flexibility to do lectures and exams at home and work part-time. This helped me a lot as I was able to gain experiences so that I could maximise my Graduate visa for being an AP.
As things start to become back to normal and lectures and exams are in-person, this might not be possible. But if you feel like you can and if being an AP is what you want to do, it might be helpful to do bank hours or zero-hour contract positions as a support worker to gain some skills. Also, use all the opportunities that the School of Psychology offer (especially the Insight Scheme as this exposure made my application unique).
To end, coming from an international background comes with a unique skill and when applying, sell yourself on these! You will have experiences of resilience and independence from moving to a new country by yourself and integrating and understanding new cultures. Rejection in the psychology world is a friend, but keep persevering – it will come.
We have lots of helpful advice on our website whether you are studying psychology, exploring psychology as a career option or you’re looking for employment or work experience in the UK as an international student.
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