3 Reasons Why You Should Plan Your Psychology Career During University

So you’ve worked hard to get the results you’ve needed to get into that psychology course you’ve always wanted to enter, but... 
What’s Next?
For most university students, it is very easy to get caught up in the seemingly never-ending array of tasks required by the course.  This leads to a cycle that doesn’t end until you’ve finally graduated, but then you suddenly realize that your psychology degree does not allow you to do what you’ve always dreamed of doing, such as a clinical psychologist or educational psychologist or counsellor?  This can be a harsh reality check for many undergraduates who have been so focused on their academic pursuit during their undergraduate years that they’ve forgotten to plan for their future careers.  Not fully convinced?  Here are a few reasons why it’s useful to start planning your career as a psychology undergraduate:

1. Many specialist psychology fields require a postgraduate degree
Image Credit: https://www.popularity.sg/do-you-need-a-postgraduate-degree/
To be recognized a practicing psychologist within most fields (the exception being perhaps organizational psychology, although in most cases you still need a postgraduate degree, but this differs from company to company), you need at least a master’s degree or in some cases (e.g., lecturing at the university level) a doctoral degree.  This means a minimum of 2 to 3 years of waiting and studying before you are able to start practicing in those respective fields. Given that most fresh university graduates have little to no practical experience in these fields, it would be even more challenging for one to be able to find a job, even if it was an entry level position, to do a job related to the field they wish to pursue (e.g., research assistant or associate psychologist). 

2. Tougher Competition
Increasingly, the amount of people with the basic qualifications and who possess the same knowledge as you is constantly getting larger, but the amount of available positions in postgraduate courses and psychology related jobs remains the same.  This leads to a situation where if everyone knows the same things and has the same amount of experience;  how are potential schools/employers going to assess the best candidate or candidates for the limited positions available?  The answer may seem obvious, but as harsh and unfair as it may be, sometimes it boils down to the people you know.  
Often people assume that knowing people helps you to win a position because of that person’s influence within the field you are preparing to enter, and this may be the case sometimes, but in general, having someone in the field vouch for you shows the effort you’ve made above and beyond just ensuring you attain the minimum requirements for entry into it.  It shows potential schools/employers that this is an individual who has long known what they’ve wanted to do and is someone who has taken the required actions to increase their chances at doing so. 

3. Networks Do Not Form Overnight
Lastly, and perhaps mostly importantly, networks do not form as quickly and easily as most people think they do.  A professional network is very similar to a social one, it requires effort and commitment to growing it.  This can be especially tedious for undergraduates who may already be struggling to balance their academic and social commitments.  But just like any other network, people will not remember or consider you a part of their network if you do not make the effort to be part of it.  At this point, some of you may be thinking:  "So what if I don’t have an active professional network during my undergraduate years?"  The answer is pretty straightforward and is directly related to the second point.  Having a professional network allows you to meet and learn from people who are already in the field you wish to join.  This allows you to get a behind-the-scenes look at the field and to know how best to increase your chances of becoming part of it.
 Stay tuned to the next segment: 
3 Ways of Carving Your Psychology Career during University!

SGPsychStud: Reflection on choosing a Counselling Framework Certification

Image Credit: http://seanheritage.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/whats-next.jpg
In the last two years when I had a short career switch stint, I asked myself:
"What do I want to improve now?"
I knew my answers instantly, and it was to improve my counselling skills.  Hence I went on a search to better understand the respective frameworks being taught in Singapore.

This website explains it quite well with the therapies being categorised into:
  • cognitive and behavioural therapies, 
  • psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies, and 
  • humanistic therapies
What I wanted to learn more of was humanistic therapies (and this had been always been the same throughout my own psychological journey).

I had a criteria when researching and selecting for these certification courses:
The course has to allow me to be certified and recognised as a practitioner of that counselling framework.
Reason:  There are actually many training courses out there that gives out certifications at the end of the course.  However, the worth and value of these certificates are almost close to nothing, if I am not able to use them in my career or work.  (This is regarding the same question when students ask me if certain degrees are 'recognised'.  My answer is that the industry / employers must "recognise" them in order for the certificates to have value to you.)

I managed to find two institutions that provide such certificates that met my criteria.  Even better, they are quite widely acceptable by the counselling and social work circles, even within the education system and other public services.  They are respectively:
So how did I come to my decision?
I really considered it quite intensely with the below factors:
1)  Price - cost of training can be an issue, considering that I have bills to pay
2)  Duration - How fast I can finish the program, with full-time work
3)  Alignment to my own framework - this is the most important factor for me.
With my psychological training mostly focused on CBT and my preference for Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) and Person-centred Therapy, it is important that I am able to integrate this new training and framework into my existing ones.  Hence I did my further research on these frameworks and asked both of the institutions many questions before I finally made my decision after a few months.

My choice?  Currently, I am doing my CTRT Stage 4: Advanced Practicum, working my way to the final Stage 5: CT/ RT Certification, where I will receive the designation of Choice Theory/ Reality Therapy Certified (CTRTC).  Fingers crossed!
Image Credit: http://www.wgi-kuwait.org/index.php/ct-menu-item-5

Overview on Complementary and Alternative Therapies

From 1999, National Institutes of Health (NIH) created the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) with the mission of investigating the efficiency of complementary and alternative medicine interventions and how they can better improve health (http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/04/ce-corner.aspx).  Since then, many studies have shown the effectiveness of the CAM modalities on various ailments and disorders.

Complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) is being used in practice more often now.  These two words are often used together;  however, they are significantly different from each other.  A complementary therapy is a form of therapy used alongside the conventional medical treatment to cope better with illness.  On the other hand, an alternative therapy is generally used instead of conventional medical treatment.  We will discuss a few CAM modalities below.
Image credit: https://hubpages.com/education/Complementary-Alternative-Medicine-Therapies-cam-meaning-difference
Meditation is commonly and widely used.  It is a process by which people learn to focus their attention as a way of gaining greater insight into themselves and their surroundings.  Research has showed that the meditation program is associated with significant reductions in blood pressure (Rainforth, Schneider, Nidich, Gaylord-King, Salerno, & Anderson, 2007).  In another study by Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt and Walach (2007), they suggested that mindfulness meditation may help individuals with either clinical (i.e. cancer, heart disease, depression) or non-clinical issues to cope with stress level.

Aromatherapy is a natural way of healing a person’s mind, body and soul using the fragrance or smell during the therapy session.  It is believed that using different scents (extracted from plants) and oils are beneficial for different therapeutic purposes, such as reducing pain, anxiety and agitation (Ali, Al-Wabel, Shams, Ahamad, Khan, & Anwar, 2015).  In the study by Domingos and Braga (2015), aromatherapy is found to show the effectiveness in relieving anxiety by decreasing the heart and respiratory rates in patients diagnosed with personality disorders during psychiatric hospitalization.  Chang and Shen (2011) have also found that with the use of Bergamot during the aromatherapy, individuals with moderate and high degrees of anxiety and stress level showed significant improvement in reducing blood pressure and heart rate, hence striking a balance in their autonomic nervous activity.  However, it is also important to note that personal preference on the scents could also lead to different results.

Yoga is a physical practice that unites the body, mind and spirit (Hagen & Nayar, 2014).  During the yoga process, individuals will have slow and rhythmic breathing, which can release prolactin and the hormone oxytocin, lead to a sense of calmness (Toerner, Toschi, Nava, Clapp, & Neumann, 2002).  Besides, yoga can also improve children’s sense of self-awareness, self-confidence and concentration skills (Thiyagarajan Subramanian, Trakroo, Bobby, & Das, 2015).  National Health Interview Survey (2007) showed that yoga was the most favoured CAM practices among children with behavioural, emotional or mental health problems.

Religion and Spirituality
Religion and spirituality are two separate entities.  Religion is institutionized spirituality, hence, there are various religions involves spirituality which are different sets of beliefs, traditions and doctrines (Verghese, 2008).
Brody (2003) found that parents are more likely to have harmonious marital relationships and better parenting skills when they are more involved in church activities.  This leads to the improvement in children’s competence, self-regulation, psychosocial adjustment and school performance.  Tonigan’s (2003) study also demonstrated that spirituality promotes alcohol abstinence by increasing the likelihood of being honesty and responsible.
Religion and spirituality have been integrated into practices among psychologists and psychotherapists (D’Souza, 2004; Verghese, 2008).  Certification is not required to integrate religion and spirituality into practices.  However, professionals should not go beyond their clinical roles and take on the role of clergy.  Education and training should be considered to obtain in order to ensure their clinical competence (Barnett & Shale, 2012).

Dance Therapy
Dance therapy is a psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of individuals (American Dane Therapy Association, 2012).  It is believed that by focusing on the body, one should be able to affect his or her mind and therefore relieve a variety of symptoms by enjoying the pleasure of creating rhythmic motions with the body (Barnstaple, 2016).   Studies have also showed that dance therapy can help with symptoms associated with dementia (Verghese et al., 2013), depression (Koch, Morlinghaus & Fuchs, 2007) and a variety of physical disabilities, as well as to promote overall well-being (Burgess, Grogan & Burwitz, 2006).
Debates are still on-going with regards to the effectiveness of dance therapy.  For instance, Meekum, Karkou & Nelson (2015) have found no significant impact of dance therapy on individuals with depression.  On the other hand, Harris (2007) revealed a reduction in anxiety, depression, intrusive recollection, elevated arousal and aggression symptoms among a group of former boy combatants.

Music Therapy
Music therapy uses music to promote healing and enhance quality of life.  It provides distraction from anxiety, pain and depression (Mettner, 2005; Petteron, 2001) by directing the listener to soothing and comforting music (Lane, 2005).
Music therapy has been widely used as a complementary therapy along with other cancer treatments to help patients cope mentally and physically with their diagnosis.  Studies have showed the significant improvements in cancer patients’ state of well-being such as decreased level of cortisol, increased level of relaxation and more positive emotions (Burns, Harbuz, Hucklebridge & Bunt, 2001; Hirsch & Meckes, 2000).

Art therapy
Creating art is found to be helpful in the healing process as individuals can slowly walk through their painful or traumatic experiences hidden in their subconscious mind by creating a painting or drawing (Eaton, Doherty & Widrick, 2007; St. Thomas & Johnson, 2002).  Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of art therapy in various health issues such as asthma, depression, cancer (Beebe, Gelfance & Bender, 2010; Thyme, Sundin, Stahlberg, Lindstrom, Eklof & Wiberg, 2007; Svensk, Oster, Thyme, Magnusson, Sjodin, Eisemann, Astrom & Lindh, 2009).  Results showed that art therapy can reduce anxiety, improve quality of life and self-concept, reduce depressive and stress-related symptoms and increase in coping resources with regards to the health issues.

Limitations on CAM
Research on the effectiveness and underlying mechanisms of the many CAM modalities has greatly increased in recent years.  However, psychologists should be aware of the potential limitations associated with some of this research such as the recruitment sample, ways of grouping the participants and sample size.  In fact, many CAM studies have samples that are smaller than 10 subjects (Kunstler, Greenblat, & Moreno, 2004).  These limitations, thus, lead to the generalizability issues.  Although many findings have provided helpful information for understanding the efficacy of various CAM modalities, lack of longitudinal studies remain (Tonigan, 2003).  Despite the limitations mentioned, it does not mean that CAM modalities are not useful.

Ethics Principles
Psychologists should comply the ethics principles when practising the CAM modalities.  For instance, psychologists should possess the needed knowledge and skills to be able to practice effectively and to not practice outside areas of demonstrated competence (Barnett & Shale, 2012).  Further, psychologists are required to maintain their competence through ongoing professional development activities that include keeping informed about recent developments in the field.
Another point to consider is that several CAM modalities are appropriate for psychologists to integrate into treatment with their clients when appropriately trained and credentialed to do so.  Yet administering process may constitute an inappropriate multiple relationship and a boundary violation.  Psychologists should be especially sensitive to boundary issues when a CAM modality is implemented through physical contact, such as with massage therapy, chiropractic and Reiki.
Image credit: http://www.pbdmauritius.org/journal-of-alternative-and-complementary-drugs-the.html

In summary, psychologists need to recognize when it is appropriate to integrate a specific modality into a client's psychological treatment as opposed to making a referral to a CAM practitioner, and knowing how to do this effectively are essential components of each psychologist's competence.  Psychologists must also be aware of when clients should or should not continue with a CAM modality that has been previously implemented.  Hence, remain educated and up-to-date on the field of CAM well as the various modalities and their diverse uses are crucial.

Jerry O.: World Mental Health Day 2017 - Mental Health Concerns at the Workplace

Image Credit: https://www.wfmh.global/wmhd-2017/
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in September 2017, more than 300 million people globally suffer from depression, with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of anxiety.  The WHO has found that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

Unemployment is a well-recognized risk factor for mental health problems, while returning to, or getting work is protective.  However, a negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity.
Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains (WHO, 2017).
With the incidences of mental health issues like Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other mental health concerns like depression on the rise in the workforce - a fact that is usually overlooked because these disorders tend to be hidden at work.  In countries like Singapore, the stigma attached to having a psychiatric disorder is such that employees may be reluctant to speak to anyone or seek treatment (especially in the current economic climate) out of fear that they might jeopardize their career, or lose their jobs.
As a result, mental health disorders often go unrecognized and untreated — not only damaging an individual's health and career, but also reducing productivity at work. 
Adequate treatment, on the other hand, can alleviate symptoms for the employee and improve job performance.  But accomplishing these objectives requires a shift in attitudes about mental disorders concerns and the recognition that such a worthwhile achievement takes effort, time, and a lot of support from the organisation.

A healthy workplace can be described as one where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety and well-being of all employees.
A recent guide from the World Economic Forum suggests that interventions should take a 3-pronged approach:

  • Address mental health problems regardless of cause.
  • Protect mental health by reducing work–related risk factors.
  • Promote mental health by developing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees.

Interventions and good practices that protect and promote mental health in the workplace include:
  • implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices, including identification of distress, harmful use of psychoactive substances and illness and providing resources to manage them;
  • informing staff that support is available;
  • involving employees in decision-making, conveying a feeling of control and participation; organizational practices that support a healthy work-life balance;
  • programmes for career development of employees; and
  • recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees.
Organizations can take various steps to facilitate a more conducive work environment for colleagues who come with mental health concerns, without compromising productivity.  Steps organizations can take to create a healthy workplace, includes:
  • Awareness of the workplace environment and how it can be adapted to promote better mental health for different employees.
  • Learning from the motivations of organizational leaders and employees who have taken action.
  • Not reinventing wheels by being aware of what other companies who have taken action have done.
  • Understanding the opportunities and needs of individual employees, in helping to develop better policies for workplace mental health.
  • Awareness of sources of support and where people can find help.
If someone you know is affected by a mental health issues, getting support from friends and family can make all the difference to their recovery. If your fellow colleague is showing signs of a mental health concerns or reaches out for help, you could offer support by:
  • asking how they are
  • being available to listen
  • acknowledging how they are feeling
  • asking what you can do to help
  • choosing a good time and place to talk, when you are both relaxed
  • being sensitive, positive and encouraging
  • keeping the conversation relaxed and open
  • talking about other topics too - don’t let a mental health issue become the centre of your relationship
  • being informed - read quality, evidence-based information and become familiar with the signs and symptoms of their mental health issue
  • starting slowly - try small actions first, such as going for a walk or visiting a friend
  • encouraging them to get enough sleep, eat healthy food and exercise
  • discouraging them from self-medicating with alcohol or drugs
  • inviting them out, and encouraging other people in your lives to do so too
  • offering practical support, such as doing their shopping or cooking meals
  • encouraging them to seek help immediately if they are at risk of suicide or self-harm
  • explaining why you’re concerned and offer examples
  • using ‘I statements’, such as ‘I’m worried…’ or ‘I’ve noticed…’
  • providing information, such as books or brochures for them to read in their own time
  • offering to make an appointment with a doctor or mental health professional on their behalf, and offering to take them
When someone you know is struggling or has a mental health issue, it can be difficult to support them – despite your best intentions, some comments may do more harm than good. Here are some things that are best left unsaid and the reasons why. It is important not to:
  • make unhelpful or dismissive comments like ‘snap out of it’, ‘cheer up’, ‘forget about it’, ‘pull yourself together’, or ‘I’m sure it will pass’ - these comments can make a person feel worse
  • saying ‘I know how you feel’ when you really don’t, because this invalidates their experience
  • point out that others are worse off - this is dismissive
  • blame anyone for changes in their behaviour, especially when you feel tired and frustrated
  • avoid the person
  • make fun of their mental illness
  • pressure them, if they don’t want to go out or to discuss their issues with you
  • think of mental illness as a personal weakness or failing
  • define your colleague by their mental illness (labelling them)
  • use words that stigmatise, like ‘psycho’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘siao’
  • get frustrated or angry
  • feel guilty if you didn’t know your colleague has a mental health issue - the changes can be gradual, and people often hide their symptoms from close friends, colleagues and family
The WHO has advised that Mental health interventions should be delivered as part of an integrated health and well-being strategy that covers prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation. Occupational health services or professionals may support organizations in implementing these interventions where they are available, but even when they are not, a number of changes can be made that may protect and promote mental health. The key to success is involving stakeholders and staff at all levels when providing protection, promotion and support interventions and when monitoring their effectiveness. (WHO, 2017)

Happy World Mental Health Day!!!
Image Credit: https://www.wfmh.global/wmhd-2017/

Jon: World Mental Health Day 2017 - Personal sharing by Individual with Dysthymia

Image Credit: https://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/world-mental-health-day/
In commemoration of World Mental Health Day 2017, we have a series of posts on mental health issues lined up for you!  The first will be a sharing of a personal case of an individual who has been through mental health issues and for the sake of this post, a pseudonym will be used to protect the identity of the individual.  This post is essential because it will give insight into the world of the mentally ill from their perspective as compared to what we often learn from the internet or books.  Without further ado, please enjoy this short question and answer style post!
Image Credit: https://ucf.campuslabs.com/engage/news/79643
Q:  What mental illness did you have and how long did you live with it?

I was diagnosed with dysthymia when I was 15 and I have been living with it since I was 8 or 9. I can’t really recall.

Q:  What is living with a mental illness like?

Dysthymia is a milder form of depression but it’s also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder because it goes on for an extended period of time.

Imagine feeling depressed all the time, from your waking moment to when you finally fall asleep.  While I don’t necessarily have suicidal thoughts, I live in such depression every day.  Being in a melancholic state, coupled with my low self-esteem, I tend to overthink every single action and word of people I interact with on a daily basis.  It gets extremely tiring when every micro-expression makes you feel as though a person hates you or finds you a terrible company to be with.  Even when I receive compliments, I feel greatly uncomfortable as I can’t help but think they are just lying to me.

As an extrovert who enjoys being around people, I get exhausted by the end of the day because I have to use a lot of energy to not think about how others see me or that I am worthless to the people around me.  It gets in the way of me enjoying time with people.  Sometimes, I feel so drained, I’d stay in bed the whole day just crying.

Q:  What do you wish for others to know about mental illnesses?

Unlike media portrayal, a large majority of us aren’t violent or perpetually weeping away.  We look just like you, except we are ill.  I hope people will understand that mental illnesses are just like physical illnesses and can be treated overtime with medication and therapy.

I also hope people know that mental illnesses come in different forms and on a spectrum.  Just because someone may not be diagnosed with a severe form of mental illness or may appear stable to you doesn’t mean you can invalidate their experiences and what they are going through.  Nothing hurts more than receiving dismissive comments and knowing someone understands is so important to one with mental illness.

Q:  What advice would you give to people who have friends/family that suffer from mental illnesses?
Be patient.  
Sometimes, we may do things that makes no rational sense or get upset with things that appear trivial to you.  Instead of telling us how we should feel, being a good listening ear goes a long way in letting us know you care.  Personally, talking to people who tries to understand what I am going through motivates me to stop skipping my medication and focus on recovery.

Q:  What do you hope to achieve by sharing your story with us?

While what I say may not be representative of my fellow mental illness fighters, I hope people understand that it is excruciating to live in our heads all the time, just like it’s painful to live with a cold for a period of time.  I hope people will be more aware of the different types of mental illnesses but at the same time understand that everyone has a different experience.  Just because someone may have for example, anxiety disorder, does not mean he/she has the same symptoms as another person with anxiety disorder.

I also hope my fellow mental illness fighters know they are not alone and we are all fighting together.
Image Credit: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/67/9b/d9/679bd92983293bfd219d786569e44bbe.jpg
[The above interview was curated by Jon, SG Psych Stuff team member.]