How I came to study Psychology

I began my BA through UNISA (University of South Africa) WAY back in 1994. The intention at that stage was to become a teacher, so my major subjects were English and History. As part of my first year papers, I had to select some filler-upper papers (electives), and I quite fancied the look of the psychology paper, so I enrolled in that. And the rest is history…

The End.

Just kidding. I absolutely LOVED that psychology paper. It was exceptionally broad, and while I learnt a lot from it, I learnt very little about what the practice of psychology entailed. But it did pique my interest in the subject, so I dropped History as one of my majors and replaced it with Psychology. My progress through my degree was SUPER slow because during my first year I became quite ill, and studying was really difficult. But I trudged along, life happened, I moved to Johannesburg (during which time I took time out from my studies), I had my first child (single parent), and then I took up my studies again to try to complete my degree before the time limit prevented me from finishing it.

I enrolled in 12 papers one year (6 in the first semester, and 6 in the second), and wrote 11 of those exams – the 12th I just could not do! I was absolutely exhausted by that stage, and I knew that if I had written the exam I would’ve failed it… And I don’t do failing well…

Then I met my husband, so studies took a back seat again. We got married, had a baby, and then our baby died when he was 12 days old. Studying still on hold. Major panic disorder with agoraphobia ensued. It was an horrendous time for us, as I’m sure you could imagine. I was not coping well at all, and as one does when feeling the way one feels during these episodes, I wanted to run away. So we ran away to New Zealand. As we’re all aware, running away from ones troubles, particularly if they’re of a psychological nature, does not work because they just keep following you!

Six months into our new life, I needed another escape route, so I decided to pick up my studies again. Being a permanent resident, I was entitled to an interest free student loan from the government, which you only have to start paying back when you get a job one day… I made all the necessary arrangements – contact UNISA for my academic record and outlines of all the papers I had done so that my new university could cross-credit some of my papers so I didn’t have to start from scratch. Well, that was the theory anyway… In reality, I had to just about do the whole degree anyway! I started that in 2010, and graduated in 2012. Yeeehhhaaaa!

But having a BA (or even a BSc) in Psychology doesn’t qualify you to do any sort of work in a psychological capacity, so I had no choice but to further my studies. Not that I was complaining, because I LOVE studying. I am currently doing my MA (Psych) – all my papers are finished, and I am currently doing my thesis (which is due in June 2016). My thesis is on the representation of a feminine hero in media, and I am doing a case study on Jes Foord ( My supervisors are AMAZING! My primary supervisor is this fierce wee woman – phwoarrrr! She is just brimming with brilliance. And my co-supervisor is another ex-pat South African. He is also awesome! I honestly feel so lucky to have them both supervise me.

But wait! There’s more! You guessed it! Not even a Masters degree gets you a job as a psychologist! Nope. You have to do an internship first… So more studying in my future… But I don’t want to be just any old psychologist. I want to be a Clinical Psychologist, and THAT requires another three years of study after the MA. Fingers crossed I get into the training programme, because its not that easy!

So what have I learnt? A lot. I’ve learnt that there are many, many fields within psychology. It is such a diverse field, that going into it, its difficult to know which papers to choose if you aren’t already 100% sure of which pathway you want to take! At one stage I thought I might be interested in Forensic Psychology… That is, until I bought the textbook and almost died of boredom. Its an interesting field, but its nothing like you would expect it to be – its nothing like CSI dude. Nothing! Nobody is walking around in white lab coats, profiling (what do they call them on the TV shows?) un-subs???? Yeah, nah. That’s not how it works. These psychologists work in Corrections. They work with offenders who have already been caught. A very interesting, and noble career, but its not for me. My anxiety precludes me from pursuing that particular avenue…

What else have I learnt? I have learnt that I have a heart for the hurting. I understand mental distress – I experience it most days. I want to be involved in the process that gets someone onto the road to recovery, however that may look for them. Just to quickly expand on the notion of “recovery” – what I take that to mean, is that it is a life-long process. Recovery does not mean “cured”, or “in remission”. It means, for me, aiming for the individuals aspirations for their life, whatever those may be. I wrote a blog about a woman, Dr Sarah Gordon, who is such an inspiration to me. You can read it here. Dr Gordon does a lot of research on a recovery model, which I am very keen to learn more about… So I’ll update you one day when I know more about it!

One last thing I’d like to share. I’ve learnt that Neuropsychology, as sexy as it sounds, is not so sexy. But its what I would like to specialise in, among other things! In order to “do” neuropsychology, you have to train in Clinical Psychology – there is a lot of assessment-ing (I know that’s not really a word – you’re probably thinking, “Oh dear. Look at the future of who will be looking after our brains!”), and the client base is mostly people with traumatic brain injuries, and dementia patients.

Sorry, I lied… One last thing – for real this time! I have also learned that I am capable of far more than I ever expected I would be, and I’ve also learnt to take action when I feel overwhelmed by my circumstances. I reach out to my lecturers (my family, sadly, are less equipped to help me when I need them to! They just don’t “get it”), and it is as a result of one of these instances of reaching out that I actually eventually got some help (and by “help” I mean “medication”).

And FYI: I didn’t do maths in matric (or Std 8 & 9) – when I dropped Maths at the end of Std 7, my father said to me, and I quote verbatim, “You will never get anywhere in life without Maths” ;-) My response now is, “Oh izzit”

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3 responses to “How I came to study Psychology

  1. Pingback: How I came to study Psychology | Lola Bipola·

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