……there are other ways to support people using your psychology skills and knowledge. This was very clearly demonstrated by Sue Northrop, currently vice-chair of BPS Scotland, and founder at Dementia Friendly East Lothian (among many other things…check out her profile on LinkedIn for inspiration).
Sue was talking to our group of careers advisers who work with psychology students across Scotland about different ways psychologists work to improve life for people with mental health issues, beyond the clinical psychology route. (You’ll find many blog posts on this site about getting into clinical psychology, but this route isn’t for everyone, and there are many other ways your psychology can make a difference.)
Sue, who’s area of expertise is working with older people and people affected by dementia, talked passionately about the critical role psychologists played in changing the way we look at people living with dementia in particular, and people with illness in general, moving from the medical model of the last century, to a much more person-focused model today. This move was widely influenced by the work of psychologists (including Tom Kitwood and Dawn Brooker).
She highlighted different ways psychologists influenced change, including research into:
- what influences people to chance to more healthy lifestyles,
- the ethics of how services are delivered and factors that can support good practice and empathy in working with people living with dementia
- what influences some staff to behave badly towards people living with dementia,
- the contributions of art, music and social activity to on their well-being,
….and so much more.
This influence can be seen in the much higher profile given to mental health and dementia now, the increase in community initiatives such as the ones instigated by Sue and her colleagues in East Lothian, and the up-coming conference Dementia Scotland 2020, among many others.
Sue’s own career history is interesting, and can give you ideas for different starting points for using your psychology. Sue started in public sector research and policy work, focusing on how to support public services and communities to transform services, by working effectively together in new ways and engaging with the community.
She has now taken her expertise directly into the community via a variety of community initiatives in East Lothian.
She stressed the inter-connectivity of services and professionals (MDTs – Multi-Disciplinary Teams – a phrase you’ll come across in many different areas of psychology!). Many of the professions she works with in her mission to enhance and support provision for people living with dementia could be starting points for your own career journey. Sue started with policy and research. You could also start with:
- community development
- HR and organisational change
- counselling and psychotherapy
- public sector audit – eg the benefits of integration of health and social care
- sport and exercise; occupational therapy – exercise and social stimulation are key factors in maintaining well-being.
- mental health / medical social work
- voluntary sector working with mental health organisations – eg Alzheimer Scotland
- Social enterprise and entrepreneurship – identifying gaps in provision and supplying a service eg ‘Brain Gym’ sessions or language sessions to keep minds as active as possible
And if this has whetted you appetite for finding out more about dementia as a starting point to a future career – try the MOOC from University of Tasmania – Understanding Dementia to find out more. You’ll find other insightful MOOCs online too.
And make sure you join the BPS – it’s a great way to connect to a professional community of psychologists, for information, inspiration, collaboration, networking and more.
So – if you’re thinking clinical – also think beyond – there may just be another route to your future career.