University Psychology Students Venture Overseas For Much Desired Experience

Around 20,000 Psychology Graduates will apply for a Clinical Psychology Doctorate in 2015. There are only 550 spaces. This means under 4% of applicants will be successful and, in many cases, this will not be the first year that they have applied.

University students; Asha Patel, Hannah Johns, Sophia Scholtes and Celine Portello know first-hand how difficult gaining a place on the Clinical Psychology doctorate course can be. With such fierce competition in Clinical Psychology, work experience carries as much weight as academic achievement, if not more.

The problem is that finding hands-on Psychology Work experience is not always easy, so these students decided to venture further afield to gain the crucial experience they needed, travelling to the Island of Sri Lanka to participate in a Mental Health Placement. For 5-12 weeks last year these young adults shared their skills at Psychiatric Hospitals and ran therapeutic activity sessions at centres for individuals with various specific needs. This placement was organised by SLV, a volunteer organisation founded in 2010 by Psychology Graduates in a similar position to Asha, Hannah, Sophia and Celine.

Mental Health Care in Sri Lanka is in its infancy. The stigma for those with Mental Health issues is still widespread, and with just one Psychiatrist for every 500,000 people, there is still a long way to go.  In the past 5 years, over 1000 Psychology students have joined SLV to dedicate their time to supporting people with mental health issues in Sri Lanka to reduce the care deficit by boosting the existing resources in place, and offering stimulating therapeutic activity sessions for service users during all stages of their recovery.

The SLV Mental Health Placement is partnered with the King’s College London Resource Centre for Trauma, Displacement and Mental Health. Asha, Hannah, Sophia and Celine were trained and supported by Sri Lankan Mental Health professionals to help equip them with the skills to work sensitively within the Sri Lankan culture, and in thoroughly under-resourced facilities and challenging environments.

Asha Patel- I spent 6 weeks in Sri Lanka after graduating last summer and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I made some friends for life whilst out there and learnt a lot about mental health abroad and the way in which it is treated, something which I appreciated as my undergraduate course did not have a practical element. It was a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to volunteer abroad and have the chance the travel around Sri Lanka.

Celine Portello- In this country and on the placement I learnt more than I ever could have imagined! I met wonderful people and discovered a completely other way of living, all of it surrounded by beautiful landscape and tasty food.

Hannah Johns- “To anyone who is about to graduate in psychology and has some spare time before they start a job, or maybe they are unsure of what to do next, I highly recommend this for you. You get to explore a magnificent country at the same time as getting some truly hands on experience helping in hospitals and schools in a completely different culture to your own. Even if it doesn’t end up helping towards your career goal, believe me when I say that interviewers will be incredibly impressed! As well as working in Sri Lanka, I thoroughly enjoyed learning all about the incredibly different culture.”

Sophia Scholtes- “Joining SLV gave me the opportunity to gain relevant experience working in mental health, with a unique cultural perspective. To me it highlighted greatly the impact of stigmas towards patients coming into contact with mental health care. Among like-minded volunteers and locals, we aided at a variety of projects with children, youths, and adults. Besides hands-on work at the psychiatric facility and rehabilitation center, projects also involved supporting individuals with special needs and teaching English. Optional workshops and field trips, along with the opportunity of first-hand patient contact, gave valuable insight into psychological practice. Volunteering with SLV provided context for theory and research learnt during my degree and the chance to develop professional skills.”