Jessica Eaton | VictimFocus | @JessicaE13Eaton
I left school with some GCSEs and a baby on the way. I had actually stopped attending school a year earlier but decided to turn up to my GCSEs and have a bash at them anyway. That was 2007. It’s now 2018 and I have a successful business in forensic psychology, a mental health centre, an international role in the psychology of victim blaming in sexual violence and abuse, two book deals, a resources store and a string of publications – with more exciting things to come.
There are some things I want to tell you.
If you’re working class, you can still kick ass
As the first in my family to go to university, a teenage mum from rape who spent most of my time knocking around a council estate that I had a love/hate relationship with – I was never really meant to end up with a PhD or as the Chair of the Parliamentary Conference on Violence Against Women and Girls. Or anything really.
If you are reading this from a poor background or a difficult upbringing and you are striving to get your qualification to become a psychologist – please remember that your working-class experiences will be a huge advantage one day. Right now, whilst you are studying, holding down four part-time jobs whilst worrying about paying the nursery fees and whether your phone bill will bounce this month, it feels understandably difficult. That’s because it is. Working class students at university face lots of extra difficulties. But your life experiences will make you an excellent psychologist one day if you can just remember these experiences and hold them in your mind when you are working with clients in the future or interviewing people for your studies.
This field can sometimes be guilty of pathologizing the lower classes, minority groups and their traumas with clever-sounding disorders and labels. It is no coincidence that trauma histories are usually intertwined with poverty, debt, homelessness, addiction, unemployment, eviction, oppression and discrimination.
You can use the skills you have learned as you have grown up to relate to, communicate with and support people who are struggling to be heard. Be proud of your roots, be proud of your accent, your dialect and be proud of the fact that you mispronounce words you have only ever read in books. Remember that traumas don’t define you and don’t allow anyone to bring you down. You’re on your way to something brilliant.
Get experience as soon as you can
Ah this one is definitely important. Get experience in psychology, crime or support services of any kind as soon as you start higher education. Volunteer your time with Victim Support, Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid, Probation Trusts, Youth Offending Panels, Magistrates Courts, Police forces and Prisons. Volunteering is the best gift you could possibly give to yourself, others and wider society. You receive excellent training, free qualifications and you give your time for free to people who really need you. Not only that, but you learn unique skills that you can carry into psychology practice and research.
This is exactly what I did. I started at 19 years old as a volunteer court assistant for Victim Support. It was my job on a Friday to look after the witnesses and victims of domestic abuse trials. I completed numerous training courses for free and learned the intricate workings and politics of the court room.
That role led me directly to becoming the Vulnerable and Intimidated Witness Manager for 2 crown courts and 5 magistrates courts just a year later – and kick started my career in forensic psychology. It also lit the fire in me about victim blaming. A fire that was sparked from months of watching victims of crime being discredited and bullied by defence solicitors, police officers, social workers and other professionals who blamed victims for everything from their phone being stolen to being raped.
Experience will make you more employable, absolutely – but more importantly, it will give you months of experience of working with real people with real difficulties in forensic environments. That is worth its weight in gold.
If you are not in a position to find a volunteer role or job role, write! Write a blog, start a campaign or make YouTube videos about your favourite psychology topic, research using your library access and forge a role for yourself out there in the world. You’ll build writing and speaking skills as you go!
Practice and research cannot stay separated
If I could raise a new generation of psychologists, this would be my core principle. One of the reasons I am unique in my field is that I have stayed in practice whilst also staying in research. I’m not a pure academic. I’m not a pure practitioner. I’m not a pure business leader. I’m not a pure activist. I’m all of them at once. It’s a glorious place to be.
One of the worst problems in the field of psychology is the way research is not taken into practice to change real people’s lives – and the way practice wisdom does not get back into academia. Sometimes, academic research will come up with a brilliant finding or vital evidence and yet no one in frontline practice knows anything about it. Sometimes, things are happening in frontline practice that academics have no idea even exist. This is the ultimate consequence of academia’s traditional role of elite education – it doesn’t filter down easily to the people who need that evidence.
By taking on volunteer roles, keeping your hand in practice, getting involved in campaigning and activism you can pledge to yourself that you will bridge that gap between practice and research – so that education and academic research does not get stuck in those upper echelons of society. Make free videos, websites and blogs about your research or studies – share knowledge with the world.
Change the world
Yep. Psychologists have a vital role to play in making the world a better place. You might work with people who have been trafficked, abused, bullied, harmed, imprisoned or have committed great harm to other people. You will learn such amazing (and sometimes difficult) things about humanity and psychology. You will watch politics and governments with a different perspective. You will notice when people are being manipulated or lied to. You will realise when interventions don’t work the way people say they do. You will report people who are putting clients at risk. You will campaign against poor practice or bad policies.
Use your education, skills and experience to lead change. Don’t be scared of activism. Psychologists can change the world. Psychologists dedicate their lives to humans, and therefore human rights. Get involved or just read about as many humanitarian issues as possible. Learn about trauma. Learn about oppression. Learn the history of humans. When you get that qualification on your wall, and you have that title, and you have that dream job, wake up every morning and think:
‘I have the power to change the world today, whether that is for one human or many.’
Jessica Eaton – 25/01/2018
Reblogged from PsychAssist