Pavlov's Couch

A Psychology Student's Mental Experience

The Long Road

While talking to Sammy I had a major epiphany. I think I know now why I am so miserable in my job…
“I don’t feel like I’m giving any good to the world. Not helping anyone, not making any kind of impact. If I keep in this job I’ll be working for the sake of the money, make no difference to anyones lives, bring no particular joy, and leave no legacy. When I go I’ll just be replaced and no one will care or remember. And I will have done nothing useful with my life.”
With each day that passes I’m thinking more seriously about retraining as a counselling psychologist.
2007-07-23 15:28:00

That was how it started, seven years ago. It took three years before I managed to get out of my debts and build the confidence to leave my job, an then I started doing a degree in Psychology. Four years later, this week, I got and email confirming that I have received a 2.1 classification in Psychology with Professional Development.

It has been a long time, but at the same time it seems like no time at all. It has been an incredible battle, but because I was finally on the right path it has also been the easiest thing I have ever done. But most importantly, I am a completely different person now compared to four years ago. University has taught me so much more than just my academic course. I am more confident, more skilled across the board, and far more driven than I have ever been. Most importantly I also have a whole crowd of excellent friends who I am more grateful for than anything else the University has given me.

This will be the last post on this blog, as this part of my life has now concluded. Thank you all for reading, those of you who put up with the huge gaps between posts and my occasional drivel. Take care everyone, and follow your dreams.

“Dreams stop being dreams when you make them your goals.”

Helping out a budding psychologist

I don’t usually do this but: I’ve been contacted by an American high school student called Trisha whos is looking for participants to take an online survey as part of her Social Science research project entitled Effects of Perceived Responsiveness on Peer Conflict. It actually looks like a pretty well put together study so if anyone can spare some minutes to fill it out, please do!

Mentioned on Infographic

I’ve recently been included in a Top 100 Psychology Blogs to Follow in 2013 infographic 🙂 While I can easily name a whole slew of other blogs that deserve to be on this list more than I, I am honored at my inclusion! I am at position 69 in the list.

Top 100 psychology blogs to follow

An infographic by the team at CouponAudit.

Reading for Research and Other Reasons

As an undergraduate I have got into the habit of reading lots of journal articles for research. When I have an assignment to write, or an essay coming up, I hit the university journal search engine dig out stacks of journal articles about whatever it is I’m writing about. I think I’m actually fairly good at this, I tend to read and cite quite a lot of journals in each of my assignments. Probably too many actually.

Watching and listening to the assistant psychologists on the ward something has sunk in: the importance of reading journals not for the sake of research but in order to keep up with new developments in the field. When you become an assistant psychologist, and very much when you are sitting in the interview for the clinical psychology course, you will be expected to have a good knowledge of what is happening in the field, any changes to NICE guidelines, and so on. From what I can tell knowing the names of prominent psychologists really helps too.

I’m going to spend some of my tube journey into placement reading some journals instead of watching nonstop tv episodes on my laptop (it takes me up to three hours one-way if there are delays!). Reading whole journals rather than just specific articles will be a new experience! Hopefully one I find interesting! Although I have to admit I fully intend to skip some articles if I don’t find them interesting.

Talking about keeping up with journals, I found out today that some of the old Clinical Psychology Forum issues (Currently those before Sep 2010) are available for free to student members of the BPS. Even though they’re not the most recent issues (the newer ones cost a few quid each), they’re worth a read as there are some very interesting articles in there.

Discourse Analysis Essay

Discourse Analysis is one of the qualitative research methods, and is one that I admit I didn’t get on with very well myself. One of my recent assignments was to write a 600 word essay on Discourse Analysis, and I was very pleased to get an A grade for this (a combined grade with another assignment that I will post here soon).

Explain what Discourse Analysis is and why you would use it to analyse your qualitative data. Discuss the underlying theory, the basic tenets, analytical terms, and include a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the method.


Discourse analysis (DA) is an umbrella term for a number of qualitative research methods used to understand the cognitions of an individual through analysing the language they employ. Gee (2005) described language as serving two functions: “…to support the performance of social activities and social identities and to support human affiliation within cultures, social groups, and institutions.”  DA addresses these functions both in terms of the conscious and unconscious goals of the speaker, and analysing discourse as a constructing the social world. DA also looks at how power, inequality, and other social goods are shared and attributed through language.

As a qualitative research method, DA allows the researcher to take advantage of naturally occurring data as well as collected data.

Basic Tenets

One of the tenets of DA is and examination of the function of language. Functions can be direct such as a request, or they more global such as social promotion by disparaging another (Potter, 1987). Function is sometimes abstracted and can only be understood in context, for example an elderly woman complaining about a sore back on a bus is implicitly requesting a seat.

DA explores how language is used for construction of different versions of the world. Gee (2005, p.11) elaborates this by defining seven areas which are said to be simultaneously built by any communication: significance (endowing meaning or value onto things), activities, identities, relationships, politics (the distribution of social goods such as responsibility and power), connections, and sign systems and knowledge.

Particularly over time, an analysis of language can expose variation; an individual may give different and sometimes contradictory accounts. While it is often explored as an element of its own, variation is both tool and by-product of language serving different functions and constructing different realities to support those functions. For example choosing a certain subset of available characteristics to describe someone dependent on your opinion of that individual (Potter, 1987).

Analytical Terms

Interpretive repertoires have been described as the “terminology, stylistic and grammatical features, and preferred metaphors and other figures of speech” (Willig, 2008) which are used in the construction of objects in the text. They are different ways of talking about an object, which are used to construct different realities. For example in one context “youth” may be described as unruly, criminal, and resistant, however in another instance “youth” may be described as disenfranchised, abandoned, and helpless.

Lived ideologies are the “beliefs, values, and practices of a given society or culture” (Edley, 2001), which, in contrast to intellectual ideologies, are not necessarily mutually compatible.  Ideological dilemmas occur when an individual can accept two conflicting sides of an argument. The resulting internal conflict can then be played out through language.

A subject position is an identity that is constructed through language. For example through the language used a woman may identify herself with mother, sister, professional, or lover subject positions in different contexts, however discourse can also position others. Edley (2001) wrote, for example, of wartime posters positioning the reader as “British” with the text “Your country needs you.”

Strengths and Weaknesses

By working so closely with the data and being flexible DA allows the researcher to open up new areas for research that would otherwise not have been apparent, and the established analytical terms provide a powerful tools for mining the text for meaning. Unlike quantitative methods, DA can open up new areas of interest for research.

DA has some disadvantages; it is highly labour intensive and can only be employed on a small scale, usually only considering single cases. DA remains unclearly defined, with multiple and occasionally contradictory explanations of the method and process. This makes it difficult for new students to master, and means that different cases cannot be compared. Also by restricting focus to the texts being analysed, DA overlooks “the influence of who the speakers are and the broader social context in which the texts are produced” (McMullen, 2011) when compared to some other qualitative methods.


Coulthard, M. (1985), An Introduction to Discourse Analysis (2nd ed.). Essex: Longman Group UK.

Edley, N. (2001), Analysing Masculinity: Interpretative Repertoires, Ideological Dilemmas and Subject Positions in M. Wetherell (Ed.), Discourse as Data: A Guide for Analysis, (pp.189-228). London: Sage.

Gee, J . P. (2005), An Introduction to Discourse Analysis Theory and Method (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

McMullen, L. M. (2011), A Discursive Analysis of Teresa’s Protocol in F. Wertz (Ed.), Five Ways of Doing Qualitative Analysis (pp. 205-223). The Guilford Press.

Potter. J. (1987), Unfolding Discourse Analysis in J. Potter & M. Wetherell (Eds.), Discourse and social psychology: beyond attitudes and behaviour (pp.32-53). London: Sage.

Willig, C. (2008), Discourse Analysis in J. Smith (Ed.) Qualitative Psychology: A Practical Guide to Research Methods (pp.160-185). London: Sage.

Thin – A Documentary

Thin (2006) is a documentary about four women in Renfrew eating disorder clinic in Florida, and provides an insight into the pain and struggle of battling eating disorders as well as a glimpse of what the inside of an eating disorder clinic is like. A number of my current and past friends have struggled with eating disorders in their past, including my partner, and one of my good friends spent a few years working in such a clinic, so I found this documentary very interesting and informative. It is also powerful.


Memory Experiment

Yesterday and today I took part in an experiment that looks at memory. I can’t go into much detail because the experiment is still being carried out with other participants, but I would like to give you an idea.

At the start of the experiment I was read twelve words, then asked to recite them. If I missed any I was reminded of them then asked to recite the list again until I could reel off all the words twice without missing any. I actually used a memory technique to help me remember: I turned the list of words into a story which I visualized in my head.

Next I was shown a series of pictures, each depicting an object. I think there were about fifteen to twenty. Once I had seen them all I was shown another series of pictures and for each one I was to indicate whether I had seen the presented object in the previous set or not. I got a perfect score on this one, once again helped out by a bit of storytelling. Next this was repeated with faces and I didn’t do as well – I didn’t “recognise” any I hadn’t seen but I did fail to recognise several I had seen!

Up next came a drawing task. I was shown a drawing, something called a Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure which was designed as a test of “visuospatial abilities, memory, attention, planning, and working memory”. First I cold copy out the figure while looking at it, then I had to do so from memory, and finally again after performing another task in meantime. I would love to learn more about this test and how it is scored!

The final test on that day was based on memorising objects and positions. A 2×2 grid was laid out on a table and two chairs in front facing diagonally on to the table. I was then asked to sit in one of the chairs and close my eyes while two objects we’re laid out somewhere on the grid. I was then instructed to open my eyes and was told what category the objects fit into such as “kitchen” or “animals”. This was repeated a number of times with different objects, categories, positions, and with me sat in a different of tho two seats. At the end I was given a category name and asked to remember what the objects were, where I was sat, and where on the grid the objects were placed. I did surprisingly well at this, managing to remember everything for almost all the trials and even remembering a lot of details that were not necessary, such as “there was a green and black tractor there with a man inside wearing a blue and black outfit” or “there was a Palmolive Naturals hand soap there, milk and honey”.

The next stage of the experiment came the next day when I was fed into an fMRI scanner (which had been upgraded since my last visit!) this time I was shown photos of objects on the 2×2 grid taken from the position of one of the two chairs, and I had to indicate whether it was the same as I had previously seen, and how confident I was in my answer. Despite being so tired that day that I actually fell asleep in the machine and missed at least one question (I suddenly woke up to see the screen asking me how confident I was in my answer when I hadn’t consciously seen any scene!), I did rather well.

The strange thing is I am sure I have a poor memory. I forget a LOT of things, and have particularly poor retention for faces, names, and dates. Yet for objects and scenes, particularly in short term or working memory, I seem to perform fairly well. I think part of it may come down to focused attention – I was actively trying to notice and memorise details whereas usually I wouldn’t even notice them.

It got me thinking about my memory quite a bit. And it doesn’t hurt that I earned £15 and get a copy of my brain on disc!

Personal Tutors

I wasn’t too happy with my results at the end of last term. I set myself high standards, driven in part by the knowledge of how competitive it is – an insane 15% acceptance rate last year! So having a C and a C plus in my grades at the end of term was obviously not something I was happy about. I realised that I need to put more effort in this term – and dropping out of all societies and such last term didn’t help the way I expected it to. In fact I suspect it made things worse, because it allowed me to be less organised which soon descended into plain disorganised and lazy!

One of the things I have decided to do this term to improve things is make more use of my personal tutor. I am generally pretty good at sorting my own mess out so speaking to my PT has, in the past, tended to be him confirming that am already doing the right thing or me just saying everything is fine. So I haven’t made much effort to keep my PT up to date in the past, only seeing him at the start of each term. But I am going to make an effort from now on to keep in regular contact.

So I started already. This week I had a very good session with my PT who was kind enough to put up with me for almost an hour and a half rather than the traditional fifteen minutes! He made a very good point after listening to me list the things I think I did wrong and how I’m trying to fix them: I need to be careful that I don’t get so caught up looking back at what I did wrong last term that I am stop paying attention to this term! Especially since I am so critical of myself I can get caught up thinking that anything less than perfect is a disaster!

Other than supporting you and giving you advice through your degree, personal tutors do something else for you possibly even more important than that: they write your reference at the end of you degree! If you haven’t kept up with your tutor, if you haven’t built a relationship and got to know each other, then that will show in your reference. So yes, it’s important to meet with your personal tutor regularly even if everything is going fine.

The Road Ahead Is Shrouded in Fog

“The future you see is the future you get.”
-Robert G Allen

This year at Head Start Week the group of new students that I am responsible for are Occupational Therapy students. Normally there is nothing course-specific in Head Start Week but OT is the exception to that. While students for all other courses are mingled together for their sessions, Occupational Therapy students get to head off separately for a couple of sessions that are run by their lecturers and tailored to their course. This is in part due to OT being a vocational degree and one that is funded by the NHS.
This means that I get a glimpse into Occupational Therapy and get to learn more about what it involves. Something that I get quite animated about is my annoyance that although, at Brunel, psychology students share a module with Anthropology and Sociology and get to learn about what those degrees/professions involve, we have absolutely no interaction at all with Occupational Therapy and Social Work. Considering we are much more likely to work with people from those degrees, especially within NHS Multi-Disciplinary Teams (MDTs), I have always found this to be a bit of a thorn in my side. It means that many psychology graduates have very little, if any, idea what Occupational Therapists actually do!

The extra insight I have gained this week has reinforced something that has been growing in my mind: Occupational Therapy is another possible future for me. I know I want to help people who need it and make a difference in people’s lives, and I can imagine few other professions that exemplify that as clearly. Occupational Therapists work with people daily to improve their lives.

There is another future path that has been appealing to me recently too: mental health nurse. In particular the kind who work with patients in an outpatient setting and try to help them make progress and improvements in their life and their battle to overcome or live with mental health issues. Although I am not sure I would want to be a mental heath nurse for the rest of my life, I have seen that the skills and approach developed in this profession can be a brilliant addition to anything else I would like to do. I have seen therapists, psychologists, and Occupational Therapists who have had a background in mental health nursing and those individuals have really stood out for me.

So once again I am contemplating what I will do after my psychology undergraduate. The options are:
-Clinical psychology (if I get the very high grades required)
-Therapy (a whole new undergraduate degree)
-Occupational Therapy
-Mental Health Nurse (before going on to do one of the other above)

It is like I am standing on a path and I know it forks ahead of me, but I am looking at a wall of thick fog that blocks my view. The fork is already there, the right path for me. I just can’t see it right now.

Hopefully when I get closer I will.

“It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.”
-Winston Churchill

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time”
-Abraham Lincoln

Head Start Week 2012

Brunel University Entrance photoThat time of year is here again when a lucky group of new students gets to take part in Head Start Week – a week of lectures, seminars, fun events, and generally learning about the university. The week is designed to get students who have been out of education for a bit used to university life, both in terms of the academic side and the practical side. The lectures and seminars cover everything from time-management to statistics, essay writing to critical thinking. Through the week each group also prepares a presentation which they deliver at the end of the week.

I took part in Head Start Week when I started university, and by the end of the week I found that I was a hell of a lot more prepared for university study, not to mention familiar with the campus and university itself. Last year I had the pleasure of being on the other side of things and worked as a student ambassador for the week, introducing new things as is my style, a Facebook group to promote the social side of things and a pdf booklet that captured all the questions and answers and other useful stuff from the week. This year, starting Monday this coming week, I will be returning to that role and my additions from last year will be re-appearing also.

I love Head Start Week, both as a concept and as something to get involved with. As well as being an extremely valuable week to prepare new students it is also incredibly social, and the friends new students make in this week will most likely be friends for life. It is such an experience to be involved in that and to give these new students the confidence to start their course on a strong footing. I honestly can’t wait for Monday and to meet the new group – in fact I have even met a couple already at open days and other events!

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