FAQs and answers adapted from a previous Clinical Psychologist trainee who experienced the UCS placement:
Who are the clients?
Your clients will be students of the University of Warwick – from any course (undergraduate, Masters and PhD), in any year of study.
The variety of presenting problems, as with any placement, is vast, so every day will be interesting and varied. There is a large international student base at the University and this is reflected in the counselling service so there will be lots of opportunities to work with clients from lots of different cultural backgrounds. In addition, because the clients are mostly self-referred students, they are often keen to engage in the counselling process and are very motivated.
Client work will be individual (1:1) but, you will also undertake a small project as part of your placement which can be negotiated with your supervisor. If you have a specific interest in teaching or facilitating a workshop, there is scope for this to be accommodated into your placement at the counselling service.
Why this placement choice?
The service is a counselling service and therefore offers a refreshing alternative to other clinical psychology placements. The supervisor worked from a Person Centred philosophy and, as a result, supervision is based on the psychologist's developmental needs and is trainee led. Similarly client work is based on the needs of the client and client led, to a greater degree than maybe other placements.
I chose this placement because I wanted to reflect on the type of therapist I was, to explore a person centred approach, and to focus on process issues and my core counselling skills within therapeutic relationships. I found the work really engaging and refreshing. To rely completely on a person centred approach in the clinical setting was quite difficult at first and I often found myself wanting to dip into other approaches and techniques. However, I learnt that, although useful, different approaches and techniques are not necessarily what produce change in people and I learnt to trust in the process of therapy and the therapeutic relationship. I learnt how different therapeutic approaches and techniques could be used integratively to facilitate the therapeutic work rather than using them as if they were the work.
This placement offered me the opportunity to learn to “be” with a client whilst they are in distress rather than to ‘treat’ the client. This placement has really helped me develop skills in building therapeutic relationships with clients and given me hands on experience in realising how important this is in any therapeutic work."
Other trainees have used this placement to enhance their core counselling/therapeutic skills, to work more with process issues in therapy or to focus on developing their understanding of a particular theoretical orientation. The department offers a wealth of expertise and experience so its worthwhile chatting over the potential learning experiences offered by the department informally.
What’s a typical day like?
The day is very structured. Appointments are offered to clients at set times. This in turn means there are set coffee breaks and a lunch hour (the team are very good at making sure they look after themselves so they are supported to carry out their work to a high ethical standard). The counsellors generally spend lunch and coffee breaks away from their desks. Trainees are included in this and are made to feel part of the team.
The day is split into 6 appointment slots. However, you are responsible for your own diary within these times. Most counsellors book in one admin slot per day and use the other slots to see clients. This may seem daunting to start with, but it is surprisingly manageable and is great practice ready for when you qualify. As you are responsible for managing your diary, there is also flexibility in your caseload to accommodate your individual learning needs.
Client appointments last 50mins, leaving you 10 mins to write up notes etc before your next appointment.
I was worried that I would not have enough time for my own CPD, to read and meet other course requirements, but this was not a problem. As clients are self-referred you do not need to liaise with other professionals (e.g. GP’s etc, unless there’s a (rare) “emergency” of course). There is also no need to write reports or letters, attend meetings, or plan sessions (because of the therapeutic approach) so you can actually manage your time easily.
The department has electronic diaries which can seem a little daunting at first. I was anxious about not having ownership of my diary and my time but I soon realised that I did. Diaries can be viewed by the team so that others know when you are with a client and your diary can be accessed by the departmental secretary so that appointments can be made for you on your behalf, but nothing is added or deleted from your diary without your permission. You inform the secretary when you have appointment slots available and she will try to fill them accordingly for you.
What’s the place like?
You will be based on the Westwood campus at Warwick University. Westwood House has been recently refurbished to house the UCS and Occupational Health and DARO. There is a calm atmosphere in the building and each room is well equipped. You will have your own room where you see clients and work in between client work. You will have your own computer, with internet access, printer, and a telephone.
You’re about a 15 minute walk from the University of Warwick Psychology department and the library. You can obviously access the library intranet whilst in your office as you’re on campus, which is great for your literature reviews when you have a DNA! The service is a 5 minute walk from University House where there is a pleasant cafeteria etc; there is a café and a small shop on Westwood campus; there is a microwave and a fridge in the small kitchen for staff use.
Check out the short film which shows you around the UCS and introduces the range of services: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/counselling/welcomedvd/
Who do you work with?
The counselling service is made up of 8 counsellors and a Head of Service, plus two Administrators. All the counsellors are really friendly and have a wealth of knowledge and experience in lots of different therapies between them. You may also have the opportunity to work with counselling trainees if they are on placement at the same time as you, as well as Associates (recently qualified) counsellors.
Whilst on placement I received an hour and a half of supervision every week.
My supervision was process focused and approached supervision in a person centred way. This meant that the focus was on what I brought to supervision. There were also opportunities to reflect on the more personal aspects of the work as well as clinical progress/work.
My supervisor used a variety of techniques in supervision to help me to think about aspects of the therapeutic relationship and to help me to enhance my internal supervisor. Skills that will be particularly valuable when qualified. Trainees are also encouraged to tape at least one session with a client for discussion in supervision. This proved to be a very useful learning tool, even though I avoided it for a while.
Supervision styles and approaches can be negotiated with the supervisor at the beginning of the placement and the supervision needs of the trainee are considered important. Time is also allocated to reflect on and evaluate supervision at points throughout the placement.
Any training opportunities?
I was invited to training events whilst on placement with this service. These are sometimes held jointly with Coventry University Counselling Service. Team meetings take place on Tuesdays but I was given copies of the minutes to ensure I was informed of issues and changes in the service.
I was involved in the team ‘away day’ before Christmas. I presented a small project I had done for the department and also had opportunity to hear other counsellors disseminate information gathered from training courses or conferences that they have attended.
Urban myth clarification:
1) No referral information - The tales you may have heard are correct! At the initial appointment you know very little about the clients you are about to meet because they have usually self-referred. Therefore, the key information you have is their name, age and their subject of study.
This prospect seemed daunting at first; however these fears were soon put to rest once I saw my first client. Having no information allows you to enter the therapeutic relationship with very few preconceived ideas about the client which could shape the interaction. It is also great for developing confidence in your abilities as a therapist because you begin to realise that you are quite competent at this stage and really can think and act on your feet without preparation. It may seem obvious, but it was good to learn, that it’s not a referral letter that makes for a good initial session but the skills and qualities you bring to the interaction (and that stands for the rest of the sessions too!).
2) Large caseload – As with any other placement your case load is negotiated with your supervisor taking into consideration both your learning needs and the service’s needs. In addition, you are responsible for managing your time appropriately. That said, your caseload is likely to be larger than you have experienced on previous placements. However, it is also very manageable when you consider that preparation for therapeutic work takes place in supervision and there are no reports or letters to write and it is very rare that you will need to liaise with other professionals.
Another thing that makes the caseload manageable is that the counsellors in the department are very boundaried. Clinical work is separated by regular breaks, admin time, and other projects you may be pursuing. Plus there is plenty of time when you factor in DNA times.
Through both supervision and client work, I feel that I have learnt a lot both professionally and personally which will be invaluable in my future clinical work. It has been challenging at times but really worth while! I can highly recommend this placement.
Adapted from a previous trainees' experiences.
because the clients are mostly self-referred students, they are often keen to engage in the counselling process and are very motivated"