Undercover Psychology Patient

I’ve just finished my Psychology Honours this week. Which is a really exciting achievement. And I’d like to take this time to reflect on my dual role as Psychology student and Psychology Patient/Client.

I often feel like I am an undercover Psych consumer. Sometimes I have felt like I am privy to conversations other consumers would love to hear. These might be about certain theories or how a lecturer recommends dealing with certain conditions.

At times it has been enlightening. At others downright insulting. I have heard how my professional peers think of people like me. I actually heard a lecturer recommend against working with people with BPD because they are just too hard and don’t want to get better.

You may remember from an old blog post, how I was viewed as a novelty in the classroom for having Bipolar. People asked me quite invasive questions, as if I was an experiment. How absurd, a Psych student with Psych issues.

Which is not to say that there weren’t others like me. I’m convinced that the majority of people who study psychology are trying to figure something out about themselves or their family tree. The difference was that I was out. I was unapologetically mentally ill. When teachers asked questions I let my lived experience inform my answers, not just the text books. This is the kind of professional I want to be. But it was often met with sideways glances, whispers and even uncomfortable laughter from my fellow students.

This brings me to something else that erked about being a Psychology student with mental illness. When you’re studying Psychology, you often have to draw from your own experiences. And I often felt out of place. Especially in my Counselling Psychology unit this semester. I remember having a conversation with a classmate where we had to talk about an issue that is bothering us at the moment. The classmate in question literally said “There is nothing going on in my life right now. My life is so good. I have good friends. My family is great. I guess uni is the only thing that stresses me out.” And I can’t quite explain why but that just made me furious.

I guess it was because it reflected the broader trend of privilege in my class cohort. There was one male in my class. I may sound like an arsehole by saying every women in the class looked the same. It was very heteronormative. Only one person over 35. And so many of them kept having this same moment, of not having anything to discuss because there life was so great. Meanwhile I had too much to say and needed to make sure I didn’t go overboard.

This wasn’t just an annoying class dynamic that made me feel out of place for, God forbid, having life experience. But it made me worry for their future careers. Or more so their future clients. How can one be expected to be a good Psychologist if they don’t have any experience of adversity in their lives? Maybe I am just being presumptuous, but from what I have seen and experienced over my 5 years of education, is that I would not want to see any of my classmates as Psychologists.

And this makes me reflect on what kind of Psychologist I will be. And as much as I think my lived experience better places me, it is still something I want to be aware of in my own practice. Which is why I’ve decided to wait 3-5 years before embarking on post graduate study. I want to be well placed enough that I can go into class and not be offended by others lives not being like my own. That I can be far enough in my own recovery that I can talk in class without being triggered or upset or mistrusting of my classmates.

I’m glad to be free of uni and the stress of managing the dual rules of a psych student and psych consumer for a while. And I hope that with time and work I will be able to function better in these roles without getting so irritated by everything I discussed above.

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