Having just completed a conversion PGDip to gain the required 'graduate basis for registration' with the British Psychological Society (BPS), the next logical step for me in order to become a Qualified Forensic Psychologist was to access an accredited MSc.
After perusing the list of possible universities with accredited courses and their postgraduate prospectuses, Middlesex was my first choice. I liked the look of the structure of the programme and its assessment methods, but primarily I valued the fact that the staff on the course had research backgrounds and interests. This mirrored my own interests and I hoped would benefit me in my future research opportunities."
The BPS had accredited Middlesex University's MSc Forensic Psychology course for a whole host of reasons, but I believe one particular reason is the emphasis the course places on demonstrating your ability to practice reflectively.
There was one module on 'Practical Forensic Psychology' where guest practitioners would run a workshop in which they would share their respective experiences and another where you were expected to attend the Crown Court so that you could create a reflective account of your actual experience in the gallery. I really enjoyed getting out of the lecture theatre and being able to be more creative with my writing.
My fondest memories are of my time with fellow students between lectures, whether we got together for a social, a 'reading list' session or a study group. There was always laughter - even through periods of stress, tears and tired eyes! I developed a great social and academic support group who I'm still in contact with now.
Aside from studying hard and leaving with glowing references, an accredited MSc in Forensic Psychology is essential for succeeding on either of the acceptable routes (Chartership or Doctorate) to qualified practice. Without this path of academic achievement I would not have been a viable candidate for the Top up Doctorate in Forensic Psychology. I think that if I had chosen the Chartership route, completing Stage 1 of the BPS Diploma instead of an MSc would have been a disadvantage when seeking a 'Coordinating Supervisor' to support my exemplars and an employed position from which to complete them.
The structure, resources and discipline of the MSc Forensic Psychology course allowed me to build relationships with a wide range of academics and practitioners and a group of like-minded peers who I learnt from and developed with. The staff who taught the course have continued to be supportive and interested since I left and maintaining these types of relationships can lead to further opportunities.
When I was 18 I had a part-time job working with adults and the elderly who had experienced traumatic brain injury or were developing Alzheimer's/dementia. What started out as a job to fund the running of a new car and occasional nights out turned out to be the foundation of my desire to work in a caring profession.
Then as a somewhat naive undergraduate student, my interest in Forensic Psychology flourished with an 'Introduction to Criminology' module, a DVD box set of CSI and some enthusiastic reading of 'The Jigsaw Man' by Paul Britton. I was one of a growing number of 'profiling' enthusiasts who could easily become engrossed in the media's representation of Forensic Psychology. I still enjoy the odd episode of Criminal Minds, but I am pleased to say my academic interests and clinical experience have developed dramatically since then.
Psychology is a diverse field and Forensic Psychology, a sub discipline of the field, can be used in many varied settings. This gives practitioners scope to choose an area of interest to them and enables someone to apply their core competencies to the domain they desire to transfer their skills to. It also makes the field of Forensic Psychology accessible to a wide range of people with varied life and employment experience.
Additionally, the job itself differs from setting to setting: The job of the Forensic Psychologist working in the Prison Services is dramatically different to that of a practitioner working for the NHS, which in turn is enormously different to the role of a Forensic Psychologist working in probation or YOT services, etc.
The main con is that given the cuts being made in all Government Agencies (key employers of Forensic Psychologists), as a result of the current financial climate, job security can come into question at times. Many generic posts appear and it can seem like your roles and responsibilities as a Forensic Psychologist are being lost to other professionals and disciplines or 'watered down'. However, the 'bread and butter' of such a specialist role is exceptionally rewarding as you get to work with many different groups of people that you wouldn't typically get to work with in many other jobs.
The reality of the journey involved in working with these client groups is that it can be extremely challenging and emotionally draining and leaves some individuals cynical or jaded. However, witnessing or being a part of someone's recovery or rehabilitation can give great personal and job satisfaction.
Since my time as an undergraduate student, I have always ploughed energy into gaining work experience relevant to the field. Throughout my MSc I continued my employment as a Healthcare Assistant in Forensic settings, working for an agency to make sure I got a wide range of placement experience. By doing this I networked and built relationships with potential employers, who eventually requested I be contracted for a time-limited secondment.
Upon completion of my MSc, I applied for an Assistant Psychologist post and secured the first one I applied for. I attribute this purely to the combination of an accredited MSc combined with my varied client contact experience. This meant at interview I had enough experience to demonstrate my ability to reflect on a wide variety of situations rather than speak hypothetically about the application or transfer of my skills and academic knowledge.
From there my plan was to ensure the right balance of opportunities required to develop all four of the core roles required to complete my training as a Forensic Psychologist. I therefore maintained my BPS membership; attended conferences and training events wherever possible; took every opportunity to develop my teaching and presentation skills; kept up-to-date with current research and trends in practice; learnt how to get the most out of my supervision opportunities and focussed more on the role of the Forensic Psychologist at an organisational level. This enabled me to thoroughly consider the direction and culture of my field and possible near term employment opportunities.
Personally, I feel very proud to have maintained my links with the Universities I have attended and to have been asked back repeatedly by two of them to provide workshops and training to fellow trainees.
On a professional level I am particularly proud that in recent months I have managed to get a client access to hospital services. As a trainee nearing qualification you can sometimes feel undervalued or like other professions still don't value your experience or opinion. He had been in and out of a custody suite and prison on a monthly basis for years and the many referrals to mental health services had been refused and closed without much question. I looked at this case with fresh eyes, used all my confidence and belief to challenge the system and other professionals with differing views. The outcome was that the courts supported his detention in hospital so that he could receive the treatment and support he deserved. It made me realise that while we need our qualifications to be registered, regulated professionals, your level within a profession doesn't necessarily define your work or value.
Hopefully I'll finish my Doctorate in Forensic Psychology in the next few months and obtain a qualified post in my preferred Healthcare setting. I always want to do my job well, play a role in people's recovery and be a valued member of the unit and organisation I work for.
I would also like to continue to maintain links with the Universities I studied at, perhaps as an associate, and continue to have a foot in the academic world, providing teaching and training for future trainees and being involved in research activities. Eventually, I would like to develop some of my business ideas and provide certain services independently.