Clinical Psychologists apply scientific psychological principles to understand, assess and treat people with significant mental health needs.
A clinical psychologist may work in hospitals, or in the community, they might be part of a rehabilitation team working with people with brain injuries or neurological disorders or in a paediatric setting. Choosing a career as a clinical psychologist offers a range of employment opportunities from private practice and industrial psychology to government departments such as Corrections and Child Youth and Family.
Dr Luci Falconer
From an early age Dr Luci Falconer was fascinated with how the mind works. “My mother was in a rehabilitation/community support type role and the way she talked about her work really sparked my interest.” Dr Falconer started doing psychology when she left school but soon found it wasn’t quite what she’d expected, “I was interested in the ‘why’ side of things and it wasn’t addressing that for me.”
She completed a Degree in Spanish and Anthropology then worked in the insurance industry. It was then she decided to travel and spent time in Latin America, the UK, and Asia thinking seriously about what she wanted to do. Taking this time out sharpened her focus “I had always been interested in psychology and after having a bit more life experience and being that much older it seemed more appropriate, I really had a passion for doing it at that stage.”
Dr Falconer undertook Post Graduate Training in Psychology at the University of Auckland followed by an internship. During her training years she worked in a Child and Family Unit as she felt it was important to get a sense of what it would be like to work in this area. “It gave me an opportunity to be ‘hands-on’ and know what an inpatient unit was like.”
“My internship year was at the Kari Centre. After my supervision period I stayed on.” She says it was an easy decision “the Kari Centre is innovative and has great management. The people are nice and I really enjoy working with children and adolescents.” She says it addresses her desire to do something meaningful, to make a difference. “It’s a service that makes you grow as a psychologist, there’s always something new to do.”
She’s particularly passionate about Tu Tangata Tonu which is a project she and colleague Seema Woollaston established. Its aim is to support children in families where there is parental mental illness.
Most days Dr Falconer meets with families and works with young people on things they might be finding difficult. Sometimes this would involve schools, getting everyone involved in making things better. Her work with Tu Tangata Tonu might find her running a group for parents around parenting and mental illness, or meeting with other services, helping them to develop programmes for children. “Tu Tangata Tonu is an exciting project, people haven’t thought about dealing with kids in this way before. We advocate for kids, and we want adult services to know about us so children with a parent who is mentally ill can be appropriately supported.”
Dr Falconer says mentally ill parents are often fearful that their children will be taken from them. Through the Tu Tangata Tonu project she can reassure them and give them information on what they can do to look after their children. “We always ask them what their kids have gotten as a result of having a parent with a mental illness that is good, it’s great to see them realise they can contribute positively to their children’s lives.”
One thing that Dr Falconer wishes she had known before she started her training was how much she would love what she does and how much it would take out of her. “Thank goodness for internships where you get to be protected and adjust personally to what is required as well as attaining the knowledge and skills.”
The most rewarding aspect of her job she says is “saying goodbye to young people who are feeling better about their place in the world.” She enjoys meeting people, getting to know their stories and sharing their journeys. “It’s a privilege to have people put their trust in me so we can try to make a difference in their life.”
As a Clinical Psychologist you have to learn to look after yourself. Dr Falconer recommends keeping good people around you. “You’re not always going to get back as much as you put in. If you are doing your job well, the people you work with aren’t always going to be aware of your efforts so it’s important to learn to recognise your successes and take your reward from that.”