Postgraduate Psychology Careers and the Impact on Mental Health

Guest blog by Eleanor Holmes

Graduating and psychology careers

Graduating from university can bring a wave of relief and excitement for many psychology postgraduates. This is especially following a term of dissertation projects and final-year exams. However, this can be closely followed by the competitiveness and stress experienced when trying to kick-start a psychology career. Be it careers within the realm of clinical psychology or contributing to public policy, many postgraduates come to the realisation that getting the job they want straight after graduating can be very difficult. It can even feel unrealistic. One common example is Assistant Psychologist vacancies. It’s a very popular role many graduates apply for, only to be turned down in many cases. This can be very frustrating and stressful.

To add to this, COVID-19 has made job-hunting over the last year much harder. Research projects have halted and clinics have experienced funding cuts. As a result, the number of jobs available within Psychology have dwindled significantly. Those with more experience and advanced academic achievements (such as a Masters) have been prioritised.

With or without the struggles of a pandemic, building a career from the bottom is, of course, no small thing. It can be very daunting, especially as it is a new experience for those recently graduated. Experiencing this part of life for the first time, coupled with initial rejection can be disappointing and a bit deflating. As a result, negative thoughts, feelings and general deterioration in mental health are a common occurrence, particularly in relation to our self-worth.

Impact on mental health

Negative self-worth

As a career (for most) is a massive part of life, it is not surprising how much career-related triumphs and short-comings can have an impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Postgrads finding it hard to bag a job may experience this, especially with regards to their self-esteem. Such difficulties may trigger individuals to question their self-worth and their achievements. This can then act as a magnet for other negative, self-deprecating thoughts. For example, thoughts like ‘I am useless’ , ‘I am unemployable’ or ‘I will never get a job’ may begin to surface, which can be very hurtful and damaging.

Vicious cycle

Continuous self-deprecating thoughts can lead to maladaptive behaviours such as avoidance. After experiencing several employment rejections, an individual may feel less motivated to write and send application letters. This also acts as a way of avoiding future rejections.  This behaviour can fuel more negative thoughts e.g. ‘I am lazy.’. This creates a generally negative mindset, making it harder to be productive and focused. This vicious cycle is thus created, and can lead to troubling mental health issues such as low mood and depression. Not only that, but advantageous opportunities are also missed out on.

Upward comparisons

As an added note, such situations may be prone to trigger  ‘upward comparisons’ with those around us. It is very common for people to compare themselves to others. This may be from career and academic achievements, to personality traits and talent. I believe students and postgraduates are prone to do this as a way of judging their own progress, to help avoid falling behind. Upwards comparisons occur when an individual compares themselves to someone they believe has achieved more in some way. In the context of job hunting, an individual who is struggling to find a job may begin to compare themselves to someone who has achieved employment. Now in some cases this can be a positive technique, as it may be motivational. However, it can also be damaging to our self-esteem and encourage unhelpful thoughts, as we draw inaccurate conclusions about ourselves.

How do we look after our mental health whilst job hunting for a psychology career?

Don’t be so hard on yourself!

Try accepting that it is not always possible to go from graduating with a degree straight to the job you initially had in mind. This can be a big step to put your mind at ease. Be kind to yourself and set more achievable goals. For example, you can change ‘I will get a job by next month’ to ‘I will apply for 5 jobs this month’ to help remain productive. If you do have a long-term career goal in mind, set that goal for a couple of years and work at it bit-by-bit. Break that goal into more manageable chunks and go from there!

Asking for advice

Most universities continue to offer postgraduates career advice after graduating. I have found this very useful in particular when asking for my CV and cover letters to be checked over. They can also help in more general terms, providing advice on how to plan your next career move and insight into where you could apply for. They can also take you through interview techniques and etiquette, and assist you with practise runs; something that I know could be very helpful, as many people find interviews very nerve-racking!

Some things require a review

If you do feel you are repeatedly unsuccessful, maybe review the jobs you are applying for to see what you are missing. Some employers are more inclined to employ those who have completed a masters course. Is this an option for you? Do you require more experience within the area you are applying? If so, are there alternative roles you should be aiming for instead? Could you complete online training or volunteer work to make your application more appealing? It can also help to ask the employer themselves for feedback on your application as this can provide a clearer view of your next possible steps.

Assistance with your mental health

Hopefully these steps will provide a more positive outlook and can lead to less pressure on your mental health. However, seeking professional help can be very beneficial if you feel you are struggling. With regards to our own services, Brighter Life Therapy provides fast access to CBT and counselling treatment, which you can read about here. If you are interested, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0118 40 50 108 or by emailing info@brighterlifetherapy.co.uk

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