It's official - you really DO have to be crazy to be a psychologist! People have always asked me whether a certain degree of insanity was necessary within my field of study, and I can now say that the answer is a resounding "Yes!"
Perhaps a little explanation is required. Last week was the first week of interviews for the Masters psychology programmes at Wits, and it began with selections for Community-Based Counselling Psychology (generally referred to as "MACC"). I applied for MACC and Clinical Psychology and somehow made the cut for both interview processes. This probably doesn't sound like a major achievement, but over a hundred people apply for each degree, so being on a short-list of 45 for MACC means that you're part of the 50% who the department liked, based on their application forms. The Clinical shortlist is 76 and each degree only takes 12 people to do the course because of the limited spaces available for internships. The maths is a bit scary - about 120 people apply and only 12 are selected!
The other scary part is obviously the interview process itself. Selections begin with your application form, which no longer merely requires your name, ID number and matric marks. The story of your life (in 2000 words or less), a justification for why you want to be a psychologist and why you'd be good at it, 2 letters from people who know you (like lecturers and employers and definitely not your psychologist!), information about your community service work and an ID photo are all required! Having proven that you are capable/exciting/crazy enough on paper, the interview process begins with an individual interview, where each candidate meets with 2 members of staff from the department for a 30 minute interview. I wasn't really nervous for my first interview, but I got increasingly anxious as the process continued and so by the time they asked me to describe myself, I went blank and mumbled "I like swimming. And painting. And the outdoors". I wish that I was joking, but I'm not. Admittedly, the interview was supposed to be unnerving, mostly because of the good cop/bad cop game that the interviewers play between themselves. My second interview went far better - it was almost like therapy, in fact! Some of my favourite questions from the interview process included:
- "What are your strengths?" (*long empty silence* Seriously. All I could think of was that I'm good at academic stuff)
- "What are your weaknesses?" (shoes? Chocolate? Not those sorts of weaknesses, I assume)
- "Do you have a sense of humour?" That was followed by "Well, you look very serious right now." My response was "It's a Masters interview. Surely I should be serious?". They ended the interview by asking why I was smiling - I said it was because I was glad it was over! They looked unimpressed. I conclude that I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't!
- "What makes you angry?"
- "What makes you sad?" (my answer was "When bad things happen to good people who I care about" and the only example I could think of was Luke getting robbed and having his nose broken)
- "How do you deal with anger?" (sublimation, of course! Any Freudian could tell you that that's the right answer!)
- "Tell us about your anxiety..." (I have an anxiety disorder. Pity I managed to get over 99% of my issues with a bit of therapy and one big realisation about being able to have fun and still be responsible and get all my work done!)
- "So, tell us about your relationship with your parents..."
- "Tell us about your anxiety..." (yes, again!)
- "Are you in therapy?" (um... No. My therapist doesn't want to see me every week (I'm dull) and so I only make appointments when I need to see her)
- "Would you be willing to be in therapy?"
- "So, tell us about your anxiety..."
In between the 2 interviews I also had a research exercise in which I had to write a mock research proposal and a role-play where I had to meet and speak with a "client". I was incredibly nervous for the role-play, especially since it's done in front of the entire selection panel - all 14 of them - and I had never done a real role-play before. It went surprisingly well though - my client was an immigrated American lesbian who was feeling depressed and anxious. It was over in 5 minutes and really felt like the panel were just checking that I could interact with a living human being. The final part of the interview process was the group exercise, which involved a group of 7 of us students having a group discussion in front of the dreaded panel. We had to discuss what would make a good psychologist and then who each of us would choose to be in the MACC programme (I got 2 votes!!!). Finally, we had to say what we thought of the process, which was pretty funny, because the panel tried to get us to be nasty about each other when there was nothing to be nasty about, since no one had dominated the discussion or remained completely silent! And there wasn't even a controversial edge to our topic, so there wasn't much to disagree about!
Sadly, I didn't make the final 12. I am on the waiting list though, which means that if someone drops out, I might be offered a place (there are 2 other people on the list with me). I'm really happy about this, because Clinical selections didn't go nearly as well. I wasn't nervous for either of my interviews because I was so used to the process after the previous week. Unfortunately, they were expecting me to be nervous, since interviews are supposed to be anxiety-provoking. So, I only made it to Wednesday and got cut from the selection process. I'm disappointed because I want to do Clinical, but I've applied to UJ and I'm holding thumbs for that. Failing getting into MACC or anything at UJ, I'll do my Research Masters in Psychology and reapply to Clinical. I'll end up where I'm supposed to be and, having survived the interview process, I know that I'm crazy enough to be a psychologist!
PS - I have a sneaky suspicion that I got cut from Clinical because I mentioned that I didn't want to counsel rich, bored depressed housewives from Sandton. Darn.