Kiran Bains is taking a professional Doctorate in Health Psychology (DPsych) and she also works for City’s Careers Service as an Applications Adviser.
Like most people, it turns out, on my undergraduate psychology course I started off wanting to be a clinical psychologist. Then I went into my final year, where we got to choose which modules we want to take and I took one in health psychology, and it grabbed my interest. I wouldn’t say that going into the DPsych Health was like a romance novel, this is ‘the one’ for me, but health psychology was a field that interested me a great deal. It seemed to be ‘global’; the interplay of physical, social and to a point, mental health. It’s also relatively newer, so I felt a greater sense of opportunity to put my stamp on it in a wider context and make an impact. And finally, I was introduced to critical health psychology, which helped me think about how health and identities are constructed, and how the way we make meaning of these topics can feed into social inequalities.
My career journey
I did not rush into this career choice, but my path has been like a series of stepping stones where I decided on each move as it came. I volunteered at university for the Epilepsy Society and , then worked with them as support worker after graduation. I then moved laterally to work with people with learning disabilities (there was an overlap with my clients). I found myself rethinking a lot of what I took for granted, around topics such as their communication and understanding, as this varied so widely. This helped me think critically when I did my masters in health psychology, and have an end purpose in using and applying my knowledge. After my masters I worked as a research assistant in a diabetes screening and prevention project aimed at adults with learning disabilities. I also did some work in LGBT research, and both of these areas informed parts of my training for my doctorate. It’s easier to understand social inequalities when you work with disadvantaged minority groups. Before I applied for my doctorate, however, I went back to the social care organisation I spent a significant amount of time working for on and off for several years, having patiently built up my experience with varied clients and getting to know staff in various settings within the company, and suggested doing some research into and planning of a health promotion intervention around healthy eating, physical activity and sedentary behaviour with adults with learning disabilities. They agreed with the idea, and Yarrow Housing Ltd. became the place where I did my placement.
The DPsych Health (Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology)
A professional doctorate in Health Psychology is a competency based degree involving a minimum of two years (full time) supervised practice to become a practitioner health psychologist. You need to build up your skills in research, teaching and carrying out interventions. You are also a representative of the profession and develop skills to work in different organisational contexts through consultancy, and it is important to keep developing and being reflective about your work, through keeping a log and attending training and conferences. A PhD in Health Psychology, however, is a pure research degree. That said, the DPsych does involve doing a piece of original research, but is not a portfolio of research studies, unlike the latter. I do think it’s a bit more versatile, potentially, because you can move more into research and academia if your thesis contributes strongly to the field.
My main work is on understanding healthy eating, physical activity and sedentary behaviour in adults with learning disabilities, using a theory based approach. I am now using my research findings to run healthy eating workshops and making accessible cooking resources, and disseminating these through the internet, as budget can be an issue for this group, and lack of representation on social media platforms of adults with learning disabilities. I am planning on training staff where I work to support their clients effectively with these areas, and have lectured masters students about my work. I also went on the radio earlier this year to deliver talks on preventing and managing type 2 diabetes to a south Asian audience as my consultancy work. In a social care setting, you can get a lot of autonomy, but you need to be creative and persistent about getting funding, and learn to manage your resources well. I’ve used crowdfunding, applied for grants, asked other people for their help and involvement when appropriate. It’s important to talk to other people doing other things, because you can share knowledge and inspire each other, and who knows, you might end up one day working together.
The difference between health psychology and clinical psychology
A lot of people also get confused between clinical and health psychology. The boundaries can sometimes be blurred between the two, but broadly speaking health psychologists use theory and research to understand and change health and illness behaviour, by working with individual clients, groups and organising larger scale programmes. We also train professionals on how to support their user base more effectively to change their behaviours. A clinical psychologist uses their therapeutic skills to work with people on helping them manage mental health issues. So for example, if I was working with a client who had diabetes, and in assessing them I found out they had clinical depression, I would refer them to a clinical psychologist or IAPT to help them manage their depression, whilst I would seek to understand their beliefs about the causes and treatment for diabetes so I could help them to manage the latter effectively.