The World’s Rapidly Growing Need for Mental Health Professionals
The demand for mental health workers is rapidly increasing all over the world. The types of assistance many people need start at the survival level. As defined by the first two (which organizes needs into levels of importance with physiological needs on the bottom and self-actualization needs on the top), these are physiological needs and safety needs. Mental health workers can use their skills to help guide clients in meeting these as a foundation for further treatment. The advocacy organization United for Global Mental Health speaks about rapidly increasing awareness of mental health’s importance on a global basis, but with a local focus. Each nation, and each community, is facing both universal challenges and local crises, and today’s psychology students will be graduating into this complex treatment environment.
Learning to Help Others, with an Important Omission
Due to demands of complex treatment environment, psychology students undergo an intense education. But one thing their curriculum overlooks is self-care. In a note to faculty, the American Psychological Association (APA) addressed students’ strong tendency not to turn their focus on themselves. Psychology students, they note, have heavy loads of responsibilities, both academic and personal. Their mentors, both academic and in clinical placements, don’t often teach self-care as part of their training.
Empirical Study of the Psychology Student Self-Care Problem
Studies have been performed to analyze the levels of self-care psychology students display. A meta-analysis conducted at Idaho State University in the USA found that self-care behaviors among psychology graduate students were linked with increases in self-compassion and life satisfaction, and a decrease in psychological distress. At the US Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, higher levels of self-care were connected with improved self-reported progress in doctorate-level psychology graduate programs.
The Labyrinth of Specialization and Certification European Psychology Students Face
In Europe, students in psychology face complex systems of education and qualifications with diverse language and cultural challenges. The EuroPsy certificate system provides basic standards to meet, while each country has its own standards for licensing, and certificates such as the EFPA’s psychotherapy and organizational psychology specializations have varying training requirements and limit access to a subset of the European psychology student community. In other words, psychology students find themselves facing the decisions of training and specialization, within a complex framework of qualifications that make planning a specialized career a particular challenge.
Practical Tips for Psychology Students
Here are some tips for preparing for the modern world of psychology practice, followed by an outline that will serve psychology students well in organizing their self-awareness and self-care.
Prepare for Trauma Informed Care
Trauma is a fact of life for many clients, but infusing recognition of patients’ specific needs when they have a history of trauma is only recently becoming part of the standards of practice. Trauma-informed care, often combined with ,(in which the caregiver and patient work together towards and outcome that draws on the patient’s strengths and assets) can be important tools to look for, even if your coursework only touched on them along the way.
Telehealth Can Be a Positive Opportunity to Use Technology, But Social Media Has Its Risks
Using technology in the clinical setting and creating appropriate boundaries in the diverse world of social media are both important skills for mental health workers who are rendering services in today’s world. Telehealth offers enhanced access to services for people who need to stay at home for reasons from lack of transportation to a global pandemic. It also cuts down travel for providers so they can help more people and have the flexibility to work from home when needed. But keeping grounded in personal reality during telehealth sessions in a virtual world needs special awareness and visual cues such as hand gestures or a relaxing background image.
Shadow Professionals to Understand the Applications of What You’re Learning
Learning from experience, especially without the pressures of academic evaluations, can ground you in the realities of the material you’re studying. Shadowing professionals in medical fields to learn about the nature of providing healthcare services, especially in diverse cultures, can help you identify your own style of communicating and get expert advice from someone in the field. Shadowing is also an excellent opportunity to challenge your preconceptions about your future patients, cultures, and difficult clinical situations.
Define and Employ Boundaries in Your Diverse Educational Roles
Create your own daily structure including time management, meals, and self-care. Be proactive instead of reactive in your time commitments, scheduling work rather than taking on others’ burdens under pressure. Also, don’t use the pressures of one role to keep the demands of another role in check as your educational path proceeds, such as using a role as research assistant to reduce your commitment to a study group. Make each commitment on its own merits and your own needs. Remember, what you do now to define your process will benefit your future: it’s not just about survival right now.
Let Go of Dysfunctional Coping Skills, Even if they Helped Before
If you find it difficult to set limits in your various roles as a psychology student, you may find that you’re “burning the candle at both ends” and looking for substance-based support beginning with stimulants to get going and using chemical depressants to take a necessary break. This is especially true if these habits got you through the early years of your university education. For those who test their own limits, quality professional care for addiction and substance habits can help you recover and learn new ways to cope. An essential part of the downward spiral is loss of perspective, so objective, experienced care is needed.
Prepare Your Research Skills for Lifelong Learning
Even if you’re not going into research and teaching, as a psychology professional, you’ll need to understand the importance of research in your field from decade to decade. The skills you learn now will help you be efficient and effective in critically reading journal articles and other sources and including new information in your work.
Employing Diligent Self-Care, a Reiteration
Another APA note for US-based psychology students covers the basic elements of self-care in a clear and helpful way, similar to wise parental advice:
- Learn to assess yourself
- Exercise at least 30 minutes per day
- Eat well, perhaps with extra time for a Sunday meal
- Rest well, and learn about “sleep hygiene,” which emphasizes a set sleep schedule
- Talk it out, relying on other students to get advice and support, and boost your motivation
- Treat yourself with activities you love, and remember that disinterest can be a sign of developing depression
The World Needs More Healthy, Well-Balanced Mental Health Professionals
Your years of education are an opportunity to develop skills that will serve you well in life, whether you’re in private practice, a community clinic, supporting business and industry, or traveling to places where the need is greatest. Take good care of yourself, live in the moment with mindfulness, and your future will be all it can be.
unitedgmh.org Mental Health in 2022: From Global to Local
nlm.nih.gov Routes for Specialization in Psychology throughout Europe
chcs.org What is Trauma Informed Care?
ku.edu Hospital Shadowing in Spain
med.fau.edu Time management for health professions students
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com 30-Day Treatment Programs
wagner.edu Skills of a Psychology Major
apa.org Survival of the fittest