Pavlov's Couch

A Psychology Student's Mental Experience

Archive for the category “Personal”

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!

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.


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

Carpé Diem


Your life is going on as usual, your habits and routines pass every day, and then suddenly, without warning, something happens and you have to make a choice. A choice between something new and unknown, or the safety of continuity – keeping to your established life. What do you choose?

Something I was reading today (Metro 2033) made me think about this. The protagonist of this novel was suddenly faced with a vision that made his head rush, something that was slowly creeping into his conscious understanding and he knew he would never be the same once it did so. But the power the vision and the fear of the unknown made him panic and withdraw, and it faded to nothingness. Afterwards he chided himself for stepping back from his experience, knowing that he would never again have that opportunity.

When faced with something new, something different or unknown, how do you react? As strong as human curiosity is, we can also be cautious to the point of being neophobic. No matter what you like to think you are, or how you would like to react, when that one thing appears where you have to make a split second decision – that is when the deepest nature of your personality will show.

After watching Yes Man and re-watching Dead Poet Society I have been working on saying “yes” to all opportunities presented to me. Although, also learning from both films, I am retaining my right to say “no” when I have a good reason to. But is this attitude incorporated into my deeper personality? I believe in the phrase “fake it till you make it” (particularly for self-confidence!), but am I still at the stage of faking it? If presented with something huge will I draw back in fear and miss my chance, or will I dive in head first?

What about you?

All I Know is That I Don’t Know Nothing

I’m a big fan of Stumble Upon. As well as being a great way to entertain yourself when times are quiet, it’s also a great way to discover new things. I made one such discovery today – the Mpemba Effect. While not related to psychology directly, this effect reminds me of how important it is not to make assumptions or believe that we know more than we really do.

Given two equal volumes of water, under equal cooling conditions, with one starting at 30°c and one at 70°c, which one freezes first? The one that starts at 30°c, right?
Not necessarily. The Mpemba Effect, is often summarised as ‘‘hot water can freeze faster than cold” (Vynnycky & Mitchell, 2010). Despite having been known and studied for a very very long time it is still not known exactly why this happens. Have a read of this excellent page for a more detailed explanation of the effect and the history of the Mpbemba Effect.

I take this as a reminder to always question my own knowledge. Even things that you “know” now, may be disproven later or replaced by new theories. Any person, particularly any therapist (which I would one day like to be) who feels secure in the knowledge that they know what’s best, is in grave danger of making some terrible mistakes.

Note: The title of this post is a reference to this song by Operation Ivy

My taste-twisting “party” with Miracle Frooties

I first discovered Miracle Fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) randomly while poking around Amazon, and the idea immediately caught my interest. The berries of the miracle fruit plant have a rather amazing effect on your taste buds – they make sour things taste sweet! The upshot of this is you can suck on a fresh lemon and it tastes like lemonade, among many other strange effects.

Being obsessed with food and tastes as I am, I decided I had to give them a go. And as you know from a previous post, my partner was kind enough to buy me a pack for Easter. Head over to Miracle Fruit World to learn more about them and to find where to buy them!

As you will see in the video, miracle fruit does nothing good for cola or pepsi (as confirmed by two other tasters off camera). It is also known to utterly destroy wine, so bear that in mind if you are thinking of hosting a taste-twisting party! We finally figured out what the taste of the tablets is: they taste very much like multivitamins. As one person said “It’s like sucking on cardboard”. In fact the taste of the tablet was so unpleasant for my two co-experimenters that it put them off the rest of the experience, although I had no such issue myself. I did notice that there is considerable room for individual differences in the way the berries affect you and whether you enjoy the results. I absolutely loved the goats cheesecake, but my fellow tasters were not nearly as impressed. My partner however, who is a massive lover of grapefruit, was completely thrilled with the effect the tablets had on it and said it meant she could eat the grapefruit as-is rather than covering it with three tablespoons of sugar as she normally has to. As you can see in the video the tablets worked well with a number of foods, but there were some it did not work so well with that we tried. Mustard and pickle sauce, olives, feta, and tomato sauce all had minimal difference in taste.

Although the experience was loads of fun, and I would love to repeat it with more people and more variety of foods, there are caveats. The first was that the excessive acid consumption did make my mouth and lips sore as seen in the video. However a bigger problem was that all that acid and those strange foods all mixed together did not sit comfortably in the stomach – despite taking some gaviscon. A friend said she felt a bit unwell all night afterwards. So when you do come to try these, remember that you are still mixing all these things together and no matter how tasty they may be and how large the temptation to try everything, it may not settle well.

The key ingredient of miracle fruit is something called miraculin, which to be honest sounds like something from a Harry Potter novel but it seems to do the trick. Apparently molecules of miraculin bind with your taste buds and distort the sour taste buds to respond to sweet instead. Or something. There is an article on Wired that explains the science a bit better.

In America it has become quite a craze in certain trendy circles. Taste twisting parties are being thrown, where a number of people are invited to come try the berries and presented with a buffet of assorted foodstuffs. The craze isn’t entirely unknown in the UK either, with Miracle Fruit appearing on both the Richard and Judy (YouTube) show and Graham Norton (YouTube).

Image source: Wikipedia

There’s an interesting history behind the product as well. Robert Harvey founded the Miraculin company in the 60’s after seeing the massive potential it had in the marketplace as an artificial sweetener that had the potential to allow us to enjoy sweet treats without the calorie-laden sugar. However just before the product was to receive FDA approval and be released a suspicious break-in occured at the company, and although nothing was stolen important documents were found laid around the floor (as if for photographing). The next day Harvey received a phone call from the FDA who had done a complete u-turn from indicating that the product was going to be approved to rejecting it. In the economic climate of the time this was a death bell for the company and it folded. “I honestly believe that we were done in by some industrial interest that did not want to see us survive because we were a threat. Somebody influenced somebody in the FDA to cause the regulatory action that was taken against us.” You can read more about this potential conspiracy in an article over at the BBC website– it certainly makes for interesting reading!

Miracle fruit has had some attention in other areas, including in dieting (The Guardian) as a substitute for sugar, for diabetes sufferers (Phytotherapy Research Journal), and for chemotherapy patients – it seems to help fight the metallic taste that many patients experience “The berry seems to work differently with chemo patients. Instead of turning sour foods into sweet ones, it simply restores the normal flavors of food to patients.” (Wired).

In closing I would like to say once more that I really enjoyed the experience – being able to chomp on raw lemons and limes and them taste so deliciously sweet was just surreal! I will certainly be taking these along to my next social gathering, although I have yet to decide if I will hand them out to friends to try or use them secretly in a bet that I can suck on a Toxic Waste sweet without flinching 😛 I would also like to thank Miracle Fruit World for sending me out a free large pack to try, and I highly recommend you check out their miracle fruit recipes (some interesting cocktails!). You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter so get over there and start talking about this very weird berry!

Being an Ambassador

I have been a Student Ambassador for Widening Participation pretty much since my first week at Brunel. I was introduced to the scheme by the ambassadors that facilitated Head Start Week that I attended in my first year (a week before freshers week where certain students have the opportunity to come in, experience various lectures and seminars, and get to explore the campus and services). As a ambassador for widening participation I get to talk to younger students from under represented backgrounds about the benefits and experience of higher education. I give short talks on my experience as a student, take groups on tours of the campus, and try to fill young students with an interest and enthusiasm for higher education that they might not otherwise have.

And there are days like today, where I am at a higher education fayre at a college. I am here to talk to students and parents and there are a lot more practical questions to answer (most groups on campus are primary or middle school so much more general interest).

I love this work, I love having the opportunity to encourage people from a more difficult background (like myself) to aim higher, to believe in themselves and aspire to be better than the opportunities given to them. And as a student I have to admit that, being paid work, the money is certainly welcome!

Study Technique

Studying can be a real bitch. Especially with a reading-heavy course like psychology, and doubly so because you have a mix of facts, dates, names, theories, and more abstract things to remember. So developing a good study technique is key to survival. I am only now starting to get real study technique down, for the first year there really didn’t seem any need since we could wing it and revise hard near exam time.

The biggest change this year is the sheer quantity of reading we have to do. Some modules are worse than others of course, and a stark example of that is that our Developmental Psychology reading for the last lecture amounts to more than almost the entire reading for Individual Differences. When the term started I began by doing all the reading and taking notes on the reading before the lecture, then taking notes in the lecture, then if possible re-reading the relevant parts after the lecture. What I have realised is that although it is still important to work hard, you can also work smart and lighten the load significantly. So this is my current plan:

-Skim the reading. I don’t mean read fast, this is quite literally a skim over the text, just noticing the way it is structured, maybe a few words that jump out, any headings, and possibly vague topics.

-Speed-read the text. There are a lot of pages online that give the basics to speed-reading, but quickly they are: use a finger underneath the line to follow (or lead) where you are reading. This helps you stay focused, maintain speed, and prevent regression or jumping (going back and re-reading things and jumping around the page reading words at random); have a good environment free of distractions; do not worry if you miss something, keep going. There are more but these have been the most useful for me.

-At the end of each section summarise what you have read in your head.

-Take printed slides into the lecture and make notes on the slides.

-Re-read only the relevant parts of the text, this time taking notes and combining that with your notes from the lecture.

-Return later and test yourself then re-read your notes. I have read a study (which I do not have the details of to hand) that found that constant revision of something is less effective at committing it to memory than revising with increasing gaps. I believe it was optimal at something like a day after first learning, a week after that, three weeks after that (don’t quote me on this!). Various studies and theories also claim that it is more effective to study in a small group (obviously not the reading parts) because even explaining things to others helps you remember and understand it better and may highlight weaknesses in your understanding that you were not aware of.

I did look into memory techniques too, but although there are some fantastic techniques for remembering long number sequences, remembering theories, names, and dates remains quite tricky. Having said that some time ago I watched a fantastic video about brain anatomy memnomics (how the hell do you spell that?!) that I will have to post here.

If anyone has any other effective study tips please let me know!


Life Goal

I have been thinking recently about my life, about the choices I make, about the things I do. This has raised the question in my mind: why?

What exactly am I aiming at, what do I want from life? I know I want to help others, that I want to be some kind of therapist, but again I ask myself why. What makes me want to help others so much? Is there something, some goal that when I reach it I Will feel fulfilled? Some psychologists believe that all our behaviour is driven by a core desire; to be famous, to be loved, to be rich, to have big family, that kind of thing.

It is important to have goals to drive you forward. Having a definite goal is especially important when working on a degree because it is what will motivate you to work harder, to get that good grade you know deep down you can. But if you want to be a therapist you have to look deeply at exactly *why* you are doing it. Because your motivations, whether you are consciously aware of them or not, can have an affect on the therapy you provide for your clients. One example motivation is to become a ‘rescuer’, playing out anxieties from childhood where you have lost someone close to you. This can be very damaging for the client as it forces them into the ‘victim’ role. But if you are aware of it you can manage it and prevent it from interfering.

Heck, I have even heard anecdotally that some training therapists have abandoned their new career completely once they uncovered what was motivating them.

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