I have been in my new job as a clinical psychologist for one month now, so it’s time for a update. I still can’t believe how fast the time has gone, it feels like the day is over before it even began. This is good, since it means that I am engaged. There is seldom a dull moment, and at the end of the day I look back and realize I have learnt something new. Already I have touching moments that I will carry with me until I take my last breath.
I have met many interesting people with a plethora of problems. Some with depressions, one with panic attacks, several with traumatized childhoods and also people with anger issues, AD/HD and personality disorders. Since I still see new patients, I haven’t had many conversations with anyone yet, and for many we are still getting to know each other. Finding the correct diagnosis is important, and we can’t move on before we have pinpointed what needs to be looked at more closely.
But even if we haven’t started on direct treatment yet, this first phase is hopefully already a step in the right direction. Although it’s necessary to go through some surveys and standardized questions, there is room for therapeutic work.
The first phase of therapy is often about stabilizion and education. By getting to know oneself better, the path for change is created. For traumatized victims, learning about how trauma effects the body, is crucial. For people with panic attacks, knowing the symptoms and normalizing them, helps a lot. If you understand what happens, it’s easier to start coping with it. In some ways, fear of symptoms is what many struggle with the most. When we face or monsters in a controlled way, we can finally watch them from afar and act like we want to.
Elizabeth Gilbert described in her book ‘big magic’ how she looked at fear: Fear is always with her, telling her that she should be careful. Prodding her to not take chances, because she might get hurt. She has learnt to thank her fear, because it wants to protect her. At the same time she also tells her fear that it can be there and monitor her surroundings if it wants to, but she must take command. She soothes herself by accepting that she will feel terrified and unsafe, at the same time as she assures herself that she can cope with what comes.
Many of my patients are still afraid. And that’s okay. We all are, often. I will not promise a rose-garden, but I want to explore the area they walk in no matter what is there.
My first week in my new job has gone really well. Already it feels like the day is over before it began, even if I’ve just had three patients. But there has been meetings, conversations with lovely new colleagues and learning new routines. It looks like the patients I will have a myriad of issues that will challenge me in a good way. Since my area of expertise is trauma, my training in treatment models not pertaining to trauma-treatment is somewhat limited. But it still is exciting and probably even necessary. Having just traumatized clients can be taxing, since they require your full attention. Containing their feelings can also affect therapists in the long haul, so treating clients with different problems is advisable. The three clients I’ve met so far, have myriad problems. The first is there for a diagnostic evaluation and treatment of anger issues, the second most likely has Asperger in addition to personality disorders and the third depression and a eating disorder.
I knew it would be good to finally do clinical work again, but it was even better than anticipated. In addition the clinic I am working in is excellent. The employees are highly skilled, and to my utter amazement they are especially interested in trauma. I don’t think it could get better, but my gut feeling is that it will be.
I’m back where I belong and it feels like finally coming home.
Today is my last day at work. I can’t believe that it’s already been a year. In ten days I’m starting working with adults like I did before and I really look forward to it. All though I never found my calling working in the school system, I have still learnt a lot. And I have also been very happy with the people I’ve met here. They have always been nice and comfortable to be around.
We had lunch together for the last time today. I brought two cakes I struggled with yesterday. To my surprise, my leader had made a cake also, and I almost started to cry. She held a speech where she said so many nice things about me, so I really feel like they are satisfied with the work I’ve done here. The rest of the day has been full of hugs and nice conversions, and this evening some of us will go out and have a drink to say properly goodbye.
One year ago, I moved to Bergen to work with children with learning disabilities. This was quite different from what I had been working on until then: Treating patients. I had to work with children for one year to finish my requirements to become a clinical psychologist, and now I am finally here. 6 years has already passed since I started working, and I almost can`t believe it. I still remember my months as a psychologist: Feeling nervous, not ready to help people. I was after all, just one woman. I had my training, like all psychologist, but had never actually worked clinically. Now I had real people sitting in a chair, telling me things they had not told anyone. And how on earth was I supposed to help them? After some time, I was not nervous anymore. Hearing people talk about their fears, opening up when they felt there was so much to loose, felt like a privilege. I understood that my fear was nothing compared to what some of my patients had gone through. It was impossible to think about myself while I listened to their stories. I discovered that I had the best job in the world. Sitting there, talking about what really matters with truly magnificent people, made every day meaningful.
The last year has not been the same. Instead of clinical work, I have written reports where I have to figure out of the children get what they need at school. I have observed teachers, talked with worried parents, and tested children with the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children. I have written referrals to psychologist so that the children can be diagnosed with AD/HD or anxiety. I have given advice on how teacher can help children with autism or different disabilities. Although I have learnt a lot, I have often felt that I am out of my depth. Writing reports has not been my forte either. It has been difficult to judge if one child needs special education or not. My knowledge about teaching, has not been sufficient. I have sat in meetings, not being able to contribute much.
There has also been interesting cases where I got the chance to be a psychologist again. When I had the chance to talk about traumatized children, and what adults should do, I have loved my work. Me and a woman I work with also had the chance to guide school personell on how to help a child with oppositional defiant disorder. We talked about how important it is to realize that all children would chose to follow the rules if they could. That some children never have the chance to learn how to regulate their emotions, that they try their best but sometimes need help from grown-ups to calm down.
I have also met a lot of wonderful people where I work now. They are kind and dedicated to helping children. I have talked with teachers who walks the extra mile, seen special educators help children with dyslexia and talked with parents who does everything for their children. But I still have not found my place. I have learnt a lot and know I have done important work, but I have also missed my previous work.
In March I will start in my new job. I will work with adults again. I will be a therapist. And hopefully, I will continue doing clinical work for the rest of my life.
To find what you love to do, is important. We can get interested in different things, but usually we need to devote our lives to something that really engages us.
Yesterday I was at a school to talk with teachers and watch some students with learning disabilities. While waiting for my first meeting, two employees sat talking about a school-event they had been on the day before. It was an event for parents, students and teachers where they talked about eastern and religion. When there, one of the teachers started to say that Jesus was still alive! In addition to that, they told me it felt like she was preaching. While I listened, I automatically started to validate their feelings of annoyance. But after a while, I realized that I was actually participating in something I rather not be involved in: Judging a person I did not even know based on hearsay. After realizing this, I did manage to ask what they thought was the reason for her behavior.
Afterwards I was observing a child with behavioral problems. I could see how his class-mates responded when he was close. They automatically drew back a little, and he ended up sitting alone. The only time he got some attention was when he was angry, or when he was making jokes about something or someone.
Afterwards, we had a meeting to discuss what I just had seen and the teacher told me about another meeting they just had. The meeting was about children with behavioral problems, and she told me how touched she was when she heard other teachers talking about what they recently had learned on a course: That there are no “problem” children. There is just a person, struggling to adjust and be happy.
We so easily categorize things as good or bad, and everything becomes black or white. Luckily we stop every now and then and realize that we must try to adjust what we think. To see all sides of the equations. But that is not enough. We must be able to speak our minds, when we see that something is one-sided or biased. This is really difficult, though. Right now I am motivated to be able to transfer what the teacher told me, to different schools. But I have been at schools where frustration takes hold, and the teachers rather just want us psychologist to fix the problem. I just hope I am brave enough to speak my mind and not fall into the black-or-white trap.
Right now I am struggling to adjust. A new job means thousand small differences that all must be brought together in a new way. My room-mate told me: the people who manage to survive, are those who are able to adapt. Some of the differences I have to adjust to, is more tasks of a different kind. I also must learn to work with children and the system, instead of long-term therapy with traumatized adults. I must learn to remember more practical information, like when the children got extra help in class and which subjects they like and dislike. I must learn to use different types of questionnaires and tests and focus on school instead of how they suffer psychologically. This also mean that I must put aside time to reflect and rest my head, like I do when I write. Instead of rushing from one task to another, making mistakes along the way as I forget things, I must take a breath and ask myself questions: what did I just learn? How can I remember the phone call I will have to take? How did it feel to feel a bit stupid since I couldn’t answer a question about what a dyslexic child needs?
By giving myself time, I am able to enjoy what I’m doing. I can appreciate the newness of it all by realizing that this is a chance to broaden my knowledge-base and understand even more about the complexity of our minds. Learning new things can be so frustrating, but the reward when we finally get where we wished we were from the begin with, is even higher since we had to struggle a bit with it. And the best of all: by being mindful about the process I’m going through, I’m more able to understand how it must be for children with different cognitive disadvantages to learn something new.