Updated: Sep 9, 2020
For our very first feature article, we spoke to Mauricio Alvarez who completed Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at University College London in 2019. In this article, Mauricio opened up about his experiences as an international trainee from Mexico and how he navigated the training journey.
Tell us about yourself
I am originally from Mexico and I was part of the 2016-2019 cohort. I am currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Netherlands. I am in charge of evaluating the implementation, effects, and sustainability of Peer-Supported Open Dialogue in the country. My research is somewhat of a continuation of my DClinPsy thesis (fidelity measurement for complex mental health interventions) however this time I am focusing more on the process of recovery of people with severe mental health difficulties in the context of dialogic practice.
What are you doing now that you’ve completed the clinical doctorate?
At the moment, I work almost exclusively as a researcher because I am still in the process of setting up my own private practice. Learning to work in a new country, with a different language and a different mental health system has made it all the more interesting but at times a confusing and pretty bureaucratic endeavour.
Interesting! What helped you to navigate the system in Netherlands then?
My experience as an international trainee in the NHS made it much easier to navigate new systems and overcome some obstacles that have emerged thus far.
Fortunately, my biggest concern –the licensing and professional registration– turned out to be solved pretty seamlessly given the high-quality training received in UCL.
Ideally, I would hope to see myself as a full-fledged scientist-practitioner sometime next year, with about 70% of my time dedicated to research and 30% to clinical work with clients from the UK, Netherlands, and Mexico.
On Being An International Trainee
How was your training experience?
Thinking back about my training as an international trainee had many ups and downs; however, I have mostly good memories of the whole process.
For starters, I always felt at home with my cohort and that was a blessing. Perhaps we were very lucky but I think there is something about the profile of people that are taken into the UCL course each year that –even though it is a massive group– they are all very friendly, kind, and open to international trainees. It was also very nice to see other international trainees in the group as this made me feel part of a community of people that I could share my experiences with.
Another highlight was the vast amount of extracurricular activities available at the university and some extra training possibilities available at some of the trusts I worked in (I even had a chance to join free psychodynamic seminars and workshops at Tavistock!).
I found that being international made it easier for me to ask around and learn more about my placements as I had no previous experience of working in the NHS nor assumptions of what is and isn’t expected from trainees.
On Challenges, Sacrifices & Lessons Learnt
What were the challenges you faced in training?
Being an international trainee does involve a certain quota of minority stress. I was fortunately never a target of discrimination but I did hear a few complaints from fellow course mates that made me reflect on how hard things can sometimes get for us. I encourage new trainees to not be afraid to reach out to their tutors and/or supervisors about this and to raise your voice whenever you feel unsafe, disrespected or discriminated against.
The biggest hardship we face is our financial situation. I cannot stress enough how difficult (and dare I say, unfair) it is for us to undergo training without payment despite the hard work, high expectations, and the amount of bureaucratic obstacles we must overcome throughout the training; plus, living in London is very expensive and trainees have very little time to find part-time jobs to make ends meet. What is more, clinical training is quite physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding, requiring trainees to find ways to relax and distract themselves from work. Not having enough money greatly reduces the amount of options available for us and therefore we need to develop tougher skin and build some character as we go through training in order to push through.
On Finding Inspiration and Self-Care
What helped you through the challenging moments of the training?
My personal formula to make it through the challenging moments of training was: friends, exercise, novelty, and rest. I was very lucky to have studied my MSc in UCL, which allowed me to already have a few close friends in the city that always there to encourage me, listen to my rants, and make me laugh when I most needed it. In terms of exercise, I found yoga (which I had been practising for many years already) and CrossFit to be key at managing my emotions, releasing stress, and also helped me feel better about myself.
During the third year I started going out for long bike rides around the city and finding new places to work and focus on my research/thesis. This turned out to be very convenient as part of my research involved visiting different Trusts around the country, so it was the perfect excuse to wander around on my way back.
I cannot stress hard enough to REST. I know you will think there is not enough time, but there certainly is. Make time for a good nap, try to sleep early when possible, give yourself time to do NOTHING and just watch a good TV show, catch a film, or even get yourself a massage. I tried to do something relaxing at least once a month and it worked wonders.
What was the defining moment(s) that shaped you into the clinical psychologist you are today?
I am particularly grateful for having done my first year-long placement in a personality disorders service. Although it was incredibly challenging and demanding (both mentally and emotionally) it was key in helping me validate and appreciate my own skills and personal qualities. Plus, I had an amazing supervisor that helped me to find ways of turning my insecurities into clinically-helpful tools.
I also found the family therapy training I received during the last year-long placement to be essential in helping me integrate all the clinical skills and knowledge I had amassed from previous placements into my own clinical style. Finally, I would certainly not be where I am right now in my research career had it not been for my research supervisor and his valuable feedback and lively conversations about life beyond training.
What would you like to tell the incoming trainees who got into the course?
Congratulations on making this far!
Your hard work has paid off so please… believe in yourself, your skills, and your knowledge. Trust the process and embrace the uncertainty that will come and go throughout the adventure. Get used to not knowing but find ways of asserting that you also know enough to make it through. Work hard but don’t stress too much about it, after all, you got a long way to go and a lot to learn. Make friends with your fellow trainees and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Try not to take work to the lunchroom, there are other things in life beyond clinical conversations (leave that to your supervisors and tutors!).
Also… trust your supervisors but don’t be afraid to voice your concerns with your clinical tutors, they will always make an effort to help out. Study hard for the exams… but accept the fact that you WILL NOT remember everything (it is just not humanly possible), so find fun ways of making sense of things instead of memorising them; I personally found mind maps to be a useful way of wrapping my head around models and big topics.
Enjoy the training and learn as much as you can, ask many questions, join the role-playing tasks, be the group guinea pig, have the courage to disagree sometimes, make a fool of yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously. I really hope you make many mistakes during training as this is certainly the best time to make them and that’s when you’ll learn the most about yourself, about how to make things right, and how to move past your mistakes. Finally, HAVE FUN! You are already there so why not enjoy the ride? This is just a new beginning…
Whether this is your first time being away from home, or someone who has been living in London for a while now, navigating Dclinpsy journey can sometimes be scary and overwhelming.
The Dclinpsy International Trainee group seek out existing trainees and alumni to offer their two cents to the curious. Look out for more features in the coming months. Stay tuned!