Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

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HWoody
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Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by HWoody » Sun Jun 12, 2016 9:49 am

Hello

I'm new to posting on this site but I've been reading for a little while.

I'd really appreciate the advice of people who are in the same boat as me who want to change career and retrain to be a clinical psychologist - an older applicant and / or a parent. I've read with interest the existing posts on mature /older applicants but I have a few specific questions relating to my experience.

My background - I'm 34 with a (first class) psychology degree from a top 10 University, but for the past 12 years I've been working in advertising (so not relevant work experience to clinical psychology training). I've recently had time off to have a baby and I'd like to have another child soonish.

In between pregnancies I am soon starting a distance learning mental health course (which will lead to a PGCert / PGDip / MSc, depending on how many modules I do). I have chosen to do this instead of work experience at the moment as it's easier for me to fit around childcare and I hope will lead to a better quality work experience later on (which I know is very competitive in getting).

I'm well aware of how challenging it is to make this change in career to clinical psychology, and being older and having a family means I can't afford (time-wise or financially) to waste time on something where the odds of success are slim.

My questions are for those who are older who've managed to get a place, if you weren't working in a related field beforehand, how many years work experience did you have before you were successful in gaining a place?

Given my age (especially after having another kid) I don't feel I can do more than two years work experience, so I'm wondering if this is enough to have a good chance of getting a place (given that it doesn't seem unusual for people to only get a place after 3 or 4 years of work experience).

My second question is for those who are training currently and who have children, how have you managed balancing what is obviously a very demanding course with being a parent? I've read that it's expected that you will be expected to complete coursework on top of working full time in placements which may be do-able in your 20s with no other commitments but very difficult if you also want to spend time with your kids! I've also read that you're told when to take holidays etc and I've no idea if this is compatible with when school holidays are etc.

I'd appreciate some honest feedback on where I am and realistically how many years work experience I need to allow for before being offered a place on a course.

Thanks for your help!

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workingmama
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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by workingmama » Sun Jun 12, 2016 1:27 pm

Hi,

I can't help with your first question, but as for the second, there are no UK courses that I'm aware of in which you work on placement full time. You get study days, which if you use them properly, should mean that you have no need to work outside of hours. In actual fact, I do do a bit out of hours (final year trainee, viva next week), but nothing like how much extra I did in previous jobs, and I definitely did very little extra for the first two years. I've got three children, one of which is a baby born during the course, and had my partner working/living during the week out of the area for three years, so it's absolutely doable with the support of a healthy dose of letting standards slip (house still clean, but no yummy mummy activities/crafting/yoga/'glow' mummying in this house!).

The course (at least mine) is very supportive of making wee adjustments (I've always asked placement for at least one day working 8-4 to fit round my childcare, for example), and most people understand that you aren't superwoman. Two other mothers in my year group, still breathing to date.

Happy to answer anything else if this helps.

x
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HWoody
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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by HWoody » Sun Jun 12, 2016 9:04 pm

Thanks workingmama for your reply, that is very reassuring, especially that you're managing it with 3, that's great! I was looking at the alternative handbook for clinical psychology courses and reading the comments from universities I'm likely to apply for, and some do talk about doing alot on weekends etc. It looks like you're training in the north east somewhere, I would have to apply to London or Surrey based courses due to where I live and unfortunately I can't relocate. Obviously I'd expect to have to do some extra, but with kids I'd need some work life balance.

It sounds like bring a parent is not as much of an issue as I'd thought once you're on, just need to worry about the application then!

Thanks again for your reply, good luck with the viva! X

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ell
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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by ell » Sun Jun 12, 2016 11:05 pm

This is a holding message as I don't have time to reply to this now, but will try and do so tomorrow.

I have a child and am also third year trainee, and I have some varying thoughts on it all. Bottom line is that I have survived, and I will probably qualify at some point in the next year, but I have some warnings about it all. Not least because the focus in these discussions is so often about managing time, and not so much about the emotional side of things.

Workingmama - I would be really interested in your experiences... do you think your experience of training was affected by being a parent/being pregnant?

I'm thinking of starting a thread in the Trainee section for parents and the specific issues facing them during clinical training... but I have to go to bed now, especially as I have a small human who will be waking me at 7am... and probably earlier!

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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by workingmama » Mon Jun 13, 2016 8:44 am

Hi all,

I don't usually self-edit too much, but on this occasion I've decided to remove this post, and to PM my reply to ell and to the original poster. I decided to do this as the themes spoken about felt very personal to me, and I realised that I probably wasn't feeling robust enough to be as open as I would usually aim to be to debate my personal experiences (too little sleep this week, viva in three days - you can imagine!).

Hope this makes sense,

WM
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Last edited by workingmama on Mon Jun 13, 2016 11:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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MarkM
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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by MarkM » Mon Jun 13, 2016 9:48 am

Ahhh. Ok disclaimer: I'm not a parent. I don't want to offend anyone and it feels a bit weird to be posting in this but I just really want to highlight that training in its own right is difficult, no matter whether you are a parent or not. I know you're looking for advice specific to being a parent, so my post probably won't be helpful in that way, other than stressing the fact that training is meant to be a challenge.
HWoody wrote:I've read that it's expected that you will be expected to complete coursework on top of working full time in placements which may be do-able in your 20s with no other commitments but very difficult if you also want to spend time with your kids!
There's hardly anyone (regardless of age and relationship status) with 'no other commitments'. Yes, being a parent of course complicates things, but training is difficult either way. The fantasy that being a single twenty-something means it's all plain sailing isn't accurate. I do genuinely appreciate that it is easier, no doubt there. However, life throws all sorts of things our way, whether we are parents or not.

@workingmama, sorry to hear you feel socially isolated, that must be quite tough... Are there (m)any other parents in your cohort? In mine there are a few parents and they seem quite well integrated, so I guess this really depends on how the cohort is as a whole? Hmm. I remember in the early days they would bond over being parents but others (whether aspiring parents or just curious people) would take an interest in hilarious/cute stories just as well, so it didn't seem to create any divide. o:

As for your second and fourth points, I know they were just fantasies/what-ifs... and I'm not saying they are not valid, buuuut I think it's worth bearing in mind that most other trainees feel just the same, whether they are parents or not. We all feel out of control in one way or another, we all feel drained, and I think we've all ended up skipping social outings due to feeling drained... I don't want to sound like I am invalidating your points - obviously being a parent makes it harder. But what I am trying to say is that it's normal to struggle either way. Part of the human condition, and what not. And I can see what you mean about missing out on interesting opportunities, but even if you're not a parent there may well be other things leading to the same outcome... Plenty of us have missed out on something in some way, for various reasons. Oh and most people would want to use those lovely weekend hours doing something else, but can't (or feel guilty for doing so)... so it would still feel like missing out on one thing or another. It's the same with reading or doing things you enjoy. I love reading but I haven't really read anywhere near as much as I would like to lately... Perhaps I'm just really bad at managing my time but believe that training is just generally very time- and energy-consuming.
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lakeland
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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by lakeland » Mon Jun 13, 2016 11:33 am

^ While I feel this is helpful advice, I think it doesn't really fit here, and does feel invalidating.

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workingmama
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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by workingmama » Mon Jun 13, 2016 11:38 am

MarkM wrote:
@workingmama, sorry to hear you feel socially isolated, that must be quite tough... Are there (m)any other parents in your cohort? In mine there are a few parents and they seem quite well integrated, so I guess this really depends on how the cohort is as a whole? Hmm. I remember in the early days they would bond over being parents but others (whether aspiring parents or just curious people) would take an interest in hilarious/cute stories just as well, so it didn't seem to create any divide. o:
Thanks for the bonding tips. I probably didn't make it clear that it isn't that I don't know how to bond (despite much personal evidence of social ineptness! :lol:), but that it is hard to forge the same level of emotional intimacy/depth of relationship if your relationship-time is restricted to breaks in occasional teaching (we meet quite infrequently in final year here - sometimes not for a few weeks at a time, comparative to every day, full-time in first term in first year), compared to a three-year stretch of being taught together, starting together, and having evening and weekend social opportunities.

And you'd be surprised how many parenting of my stories are less on the 'hilarious/cute' side of the spectrum compared to 'oh my sweet jesus, he got up at WHAT o'clock??!' :lol:

I'm glad to hear that your cohort parents seem well integrated. For myself, I noted a real difference between being able to socially integrate when you have a partner here for childcare and with older children of, say, older than 4 (and being physically able to go out), and being on return from maternity leave and not wanting to leave a very small baby in childcare with a partner in another country. That made a large difference for me in my perception of capacity to integrate, and level of energy to do so, although I will concede your point that other parents may be making a much better hash of the whole thing than I.

I think that discussions on specific challenges of parenting as a trainee don't assume that people without children have it all easy, but perhaps acknowledge that parents still have most of the challenges of non-parents, but have an additional challenge to manage on top of this. Thanks for your comments generally, I think opinions on parenting are valid whether folks are parents or not. I certainly have opinions on UKIP, and I don't intend to vote Farrage for prime minister anytime this week.
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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by eponymous85 » Mon Jun 13, 2016 11:57 am

Position statement ( :lol: ): I am a parent now but wasn't when training, and in all honesty I didn't think I could do both at the same time. But then I had the luxury of age and opportunity on my side, having decided early on what I wanted to do and getting there at a reasonable pace*, so I was able to wait until qualifying to have children. Who knows if I would have been able to manage it all; I think this is a really individual thing. Some days I feel I barely manage to be a parent and hold down my part time job, which for the most part I get to switch off when I close the office door. I hope the advice given already does give you some food for thought, but I really think it is only you who can decide what you can manage.

A few points I did want to make:
I've also read that you're told when to take holidays etc and I've no idea if this is compatible with when school holidays are etc.
It almost certainly would be compatible, as the restrictions are around not missing teaching days (i.e. in term time)
Given my age (especially after having another kid) I don't feel I can do more than two years work experience, so I'm wondering if this is enough to have a good chance of getting a place (given that it doesn't seem unusual for people to only get a place after 3 or 4 years of work experience).
I think it's great that you have thought about this and have set yourself a deadline. If you read around the forum you'll see that length of work experience is hugely variable, and beyond the minimum requirements of the courses, success is far more related to what you have learned and are able to reflect on than time served. There were a few people in my cohort who were parents of kids in teens and early 20's who still got places and qualified, so age needn't be a limiting factor in that sense (depending on personal circumstances of course)
(house still clean, but no yummy mummy activities/crafting/yoga/'glow' mummying in this house!).
what on earth is glow??
4. I fantasise that the experience would have been enjoyable, having all those lovely weekend hours to take my time reading, to loll around enjoying peripheral books of interest etc (dies laughing at idea of being able to read a whole book right now).
(dies laughing at the idea of doing this whilst a trainee of any sort; despite not being a parent at the time I barely even kept up with the minimum required reading)
I remember in the early days they would bond over being parents but others (whether aspiring parents or just curious people) would take an interest in hilarious/cute stories just as well,
That's all well and good, but many parenting experiences, in my experience, are not so much hilarious/cute as ohmygodkillmenowwhydidiruinmylife, which is far less relatable & entertaining if you don't have kids.

*and don't forget all that lovely white middle class privilege that helped me on my way
Last edited by eponymous85 on Mon Jun 13, 2016 12:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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workingmama
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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by workingmama » Mon Jun 13, 2016 12:01 pm

eponymous85 wrote: That's all well and good, but many parenting experiences, in my experience, are not so much hilarious/cute as ohmygodkillmenowwhydidiruinmylife, which is far less relatable if you don't have kids.
I hear you, sister.
eponymous85 wrote: what is glow??
For your own good mental health, please don't even TRY to find out what this is. It will only make everything much, much worse! :lol: If it really drives you batso, PM me and I'll send you the link. Perhaps when your kids are grown up.
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eponymous85
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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by eponymous85 » Mon Jun 13, 2016 12:08 pm

I've PM'd you, because I can't help myself and get a perverse enjoyment from feeling awful about my sub-standard parenting :lol:
The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by any invader. The mind is a complex and many layered thing.

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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by MarkM » Mon Jun 13, 2016 12:37 pm

lakeland wrote:^ While I feel this is helpful advice, I think it doesn't really fit here, and does feel invalidating.
Hmm I am sorry; that wasn't my intention :/ Honestly I admire parents, it is the most difficult job on earth. And I'll be the first to admit that I don't think I would be able to cope with the additional challenges of parenting at this stage in my life.
workingmama wrote:And you'd be surprised how many parenting of my stories are less on the 'hilarious/cute' side of the spectrum compared to 'oh my sweet jesus, he got up at WHAT o'clock??!' :lol:
That's all well and good, but many parenting experiences, in my experience, are not so much hilarious/cute as ohmygodkillmenowwhydidiruinmylife, which is far less relatable & entertaining if you don't have kids.
Haha fair enough... I'm not surprised actually and I should have thought of this myself... whilst I am not a parent I have a large extended family and have lived with toddlers in my household, so I am reasonably aware of this... and so I'd find it relatable, but I realise I may be in the minority there.

Edited to add: Regarding holidays during term-time, some courses allow you to take a certain number of teaching days off, so it really depends on the course. o:
Last edited by MarkM on Mon Jun 13, 2016 12:43 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by AnsweringBell » Mon Jun 13, 2016 12:38 pm

Though I'm a trainee, I didn't go into it with a career change, and don't have any kids - so I won't weigh in with my own experiences of challenges during training as I don't think it's what you're asking for. :wink: :wink: :wink:

Saying that - after the advice you get from people with experiences akin to what you're asking about, say you DO decide to go forward and give this a go - please look into the courses you choose very carefully. You only get one go of training, and it does seem like there can be quite a difference between courses in terms of how flexible they are with parenting responsibilities and maternity leave.

Also, in terms of holiday... this is worth looking into as carefully as you can as well. I know that for my course, sometimes school holidays actually don't link up perfectly with teaching obligations and we have zero flexibility for having time off when that's the case. Also, we have pretty strict rules on how much annual leave you can take per placement (I don't think this is unique to us necessarily)... but I know it can be a struggle with wanting to take a lot of time off when your kids aren't at school. I get it in terms of meeting the requirements of the placement and building your core competencies... but I know that can be really difficult for parents.

So. I assume with a family, you might be limited geographically with where you might be looking to apply... so if you decide to give it a try, your best bet may be trying to chat to trainees at the places you'll be choosing to talk to about it all. That might be the best way of getting more specific, helpful info in terms of parental flexibility and holidays in particular at the places you'll be thinking about.

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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by ell » Mon Jun 13, 2016 1:22 pm

Firstly, some practical points in response to the OP. Placements are not usually full-time, and you are given study time for the academic work. How much you could limit your work to 9-5, 5 days a week, is up for debate. Some people do actually manage it! However, it's rare as I understand it, and so you are likely to need to work some weekends or evenings. Some courses are very supportive, but I have also heard experiences of other parents who have not felt supported. Annual leave arrangements also vary between courses, but on my course (and probably many of them) you can take annual leave at any time other than on a teaching day (which are mostly only during term time, so would be compatible with school holidays).

So the rest of this post is about my personal experiences and thoughts, so feel free to skip it if you only want facts/practical info. It's going to be long, sorry about that, but I wanted to portray all the different aspects of it, not just the 'how do you fit in the reading?'. I also think a lot of these experiences are not exclusive to parents and will also apply to being a carer, or having a long-term health condition, or chronic pain, or anything similar.
MarkM wrote:Perhaps I'm just really bad at managing my time but believe that training is just generally very time- and energy-consuming.
Yes. You are completely correct, and this is the crux of the matter. Regardless of your position or circumstances, training has the potential to be this way (I say potential, because I acknowledge that everyone has different experiences).

Now imagine throwing in something else that is very time- and energy-consuming. Except you can't take time off, you can't call in sick, you can't take a break from it if you really need to, your emotions are constantly being drained, you are being woken in the night, you constantly feel guilty... Being a parent while training is really really hard.

Some painful honesty... I find myself getting really cross/angry around this issue. I am with the loveliest, most supportive cohort you can imagine. They constantly show interest in my child, they frequently tell me how amazing I am for doing training with a child and that they can't imagine how I do it. They respect my opinion on things as a parent, they listen to me moan endlessly without judgement or impatience. I would not still be on training without their support. BUT. When I hear my fellow trainees moan about their lack of time to do things, my blood starts to boil! I sometimes just want to scream at them "you have loads of time, what are you talking about?". I find it hard to understand how they think they don't have enough time, when they have the freedom to work weekends and evenings (not a fun or good idea of course, but at least there's the *choice*). I'm not proud of these thoughts. I feel terrible and guilty for having them really, because of how wonderful my cohort is. But they are just thoughts, and I don't say them aloud because at the end of the day everyone has their own stress and stuff to deal with (and it would take me a long time to list all the things that my cohort have had to cope with/are still coping with while on this course). Being a parent on training makes training harder, but that doesn't mean training without having a child is easy.

Fitting everything in is made all the more harder if you 'fail' a piece of work... or in my case two pieces of work. It's all very well saying that you can work during the study time, but if you have to rewrite two pieces of work, you have to find the extra time from somewhere.

But it's not just about time. Since becoming a parent my emotional tolerance for upsetting material regarding children has plummeted. Before child, I was able to tolerate listening to all sorts of things about the mistreatment of children, but now I get tearful easily over anything that resembles this, to the point where I am unhelpfully overwhelmed by the emotion. This had made teaching more emotionally charged for me on more than one occasion, and *for me* that's been really hard and a big change. I've also become much more aware of all the ways in which I could possibly screw up my child, or have damaged my child already. Sitting through lectures where post-natal depression pops up as a predisposing factor/precipitating factor/whatever other P it's meant to be, leaves me frequently panicking about how much therapy my own child will have to pay for because of my own mental health issues. I'm also doing a psychodynamic final year placement... and yeah, going down that path is a great way to make you feel worse for your various parenting flaws (which we all have).

A word on guilt. Apparently, being a parent means guilt. I feel guilty for taking an evening off parenting so that I can get more work done at uni. I feel even guiltier for enjoying not being at home. I feel guilty for working full-time and not having a part-time option, and therefore missing out on so much time with my child. I feel guilty for being glad that I don't have to spend all that time with my child. I feel guilty for relying so much on my amazingly supportive and present husband. The husband who has had to take a massive cut in the attention he gets, because he has lost me to both child and training.

There are positives. It's great being able to leave placement at 5pm and not feel obliged to stay longer. "I have to go collect my child" means no option to stay later in the way that so many of my peers do. Being able to relate to clients and families in a different way is really helpful in furthering my understanding, though I do have to be careful not to always ally myself with the mother in families. Relating to colleagues as someone other than yet another 'young girl trainee' is made much easier. I usually will mention my child as early on as possible in my first interaction with team members (many of whom are middle-aged women, it is the NHS after all) - you can see the change in which they relate to you, and suddenly you are respected and one of the team a lot quicker (I also am pretty good at integrating myself into teams generally, but child is specifically useful). It also helps with priorities - you are forced to live a life beyond training (some of my cohort work way too hard outside of hours), and you know there is more to life than just training.

Another positive, and this is going to require some honesty on my part here. Having a child is an indisputable, credible, respected reason (hell, excuse), for not getting things done as quickly as might be expected. I feel for my fellow trainees who need to make a strong case for not doing something, or for struggling with something, or for getting out of something they don't want to do, while I can just play the mother card. It's been helpful in getting placements close to home. Don't get me wrong, I'm not playing the card in a fun way. It's a card that is necessary to play sometimes, and I don't take pleasure in it. But I NEED that card, and it is useful. Of course, all that predisposes that you are on a supportive and understanding course. I am blessed in that regard.

I'm a third year trainee, and I won't be qualifying this year. That is mostly due to non-child related reasons, but I can't deny that being a parent has made it harder to complete training in time while balancing the issues that mean I haven't been able to do everything in time. One thing that's kept me going is the knowledge that people with children qualify as CPs every year! It's completely doable (look at Workingmama about to do her viva, and she's got more than one of 'em).

If you want to do clinical training with a child in tow... or you want to raise a child with clinical training in tow, then that is an individual choice. I share my experiences, not in order to scare people off, but to highlight the tension points so that you can make sure you have what you need in place to make it a bit easier. That might be making sure your partner/family/friends are on board and know what they might need to do for you, it might be about lowering your expectations about reading time (everyone needs to do that to be fair!), it might be about choosing a course centre that will be supportive to you.

What I always say to my fellow trainees - if you want to have a child, do that. If you don't want a child that much, if you are doing it because you feel you should do and society/family expects it because you are of that age, then don't. Just don't. You might want to consider timing issues around training, but at the end of the day, you can do training in more time than the 3 years, and it's possible with a child. It's just a job, and it shouldn't get in the way of you living your life nd doing what's best for you and your family.

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Re: Advice for mature applicant / parent starting out

Post by Beryl » Mon Jun 13, 2016 6:25 pm

Wow. Thank you Ell for your honesty. As a full time working mum to two boys, about to start my first year as a trainee, I can totally relate to those feelings of guilt. For me, that is far harder than balancing the practicalities of parenting/ working. I really don't think I would even consider training without the support of my husband who takes on the parenting role as much as as I do since I went back to work. Yes, I am anticipating that training is going to be exhausting, (there will be tears) and I hope that my boys won't suffer too much as a result. But, they are my inspiration, and I wouldn't have even considered training before I had them. I also want to show them that you can do difficult things if you want it enough and work hard. So while children can complicate matters, they can also put things into perspective and make everything that bit clearer...I might not feel so positive this time next year :shock: :shock:

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