Lea Opatz from Hannover, Germany, is studying the MSc Clinical and Abnormal Psychology. As part of the course, Lea completed a voluntary placement at the Service for High-Risk Eating Disorders (SHED) at Whitchurch Hospital, Cardiff, where she started as an intern and progressed to an assistant psychologist. Lea secured this placement via the extensive research collaborations of the Health and Clinical Research team, who run the MSc Clinical and Abnormal Psychology course.
Why did you choose to go on placement?
As my previous experience had been within general psychiatrics and research, I was interested in learning more about how a specialist psychology service operates. Eating disorders are a very complex illness and understanding them better could only be beneficial for me and my future career prospects.
Describe what you did on placement
The clinicians took me along to appointments with patients and professionals meetings, where I could sit in and listen to the discussions about diagnoses, care and treatment plans and the progress of the patients. I was also given tasks such as developing spreadsheets about how many inpatient admissions had occurred during certain times, how many patients completed several group therapies that are offered by SHED, how much people profited from these therapies and giving an overview of why some patients dropped out of these groups and how this could be counteracted. My statistics and literature research skills were put to the test as applying them in a real life environment presents much more difficulties than in university student studies.
I helped with service evaluation and audit projects, such as the inpatient admission spreadsheet mentioned above, which is now being used to discuss the need and feasibility of installing a specialist eating disorder inpatient unit in South Wales.
I also analysed the attendance for a motivational contemplation group therapy, monitoring how many people stopped coming when and why, and what the people who completed the group went on to do afterwards (ideally starting behavioural therapy) and whether their illness improved at all. This has been the basis for a submission to the International Eating Disorder Conference where the clinicians from SHED will discuss the importance of motivation and contemplation.
What did you enjoy about it?
I enjoyed working with professionals and specialist clinicians during my course and my placement. It was great to see the everyday work of a fully qualified and experienced psychologist in a clinical setting, being able to observe their manner with patients and other professionals and taking in some of the strategies they use. It was also fascinating to see how the pathways within the NHS work, how a patient can progress through many different services throughout the years, and how many different professions work together.
I liked being able to see the running and everyday work of a busy mental health service, to meet other psychologists, to get to know patients, and to get involved with some of the background research and evaluation work that goes unnoticed by outsiders and even patients.
What were the highlights?
I am really proud of the fact that I was able to do the statistical work and literature research needed to get the data that the service had been collecting over time into a usable format, so that it can now be used in conference presentations and publications. I am also happy to have used this data for my own dissertation and to be able to give back to the service by showing them the issues and influencing factors I identified in my analyses. They can now help to shape more targeted interventions for some patients, making their journey to recovery easier for them.
What did you learn from the placement?
How to work and behave professionally within a clinical service was probably the first and most important thing to learn, but I also learned about mental illness, and about people suffering from a psychological disorder. This is something that no book about mental health care could teach me.
Through the applied research methods training, and expert academic and clinical supervision on this course, I have also learned how to deal with issues such as missing data and the differences between questionnaires that are used for research purposes and, as is more common, those that clinicians use as a starting for what to work on with their clients. The reality of psychotherapy is a lot more multi-professional than studying psychology leads us to believe, and every profession brings their own unique and important part towards the patient’s path to recovery. I have obviously learned a lot about eating disorders, many more details than I was aware of before, the specific difficulties of long-term eating disorders, and I can now navigate the labyrinth of NHS policies and referral pathways a little more.
How will this placement help your career?
Having worked within a NHS and mental health environment will definitely look good on my CV when I apply for jobs as an assistant psychologist and other similar positions. My research experience in this field will also be beneficial when trying to engage in further research and obtaining funding.