Fluffy + Science = formulation

I have a psychologist friend who says that thinking is the key work of a Psychologist and what makes us stand out from other professionals. Now, I think that Psychologists are often lumped in with all the therapy-type professions and have a reputation for being ‘fluffy’ and ‘navel-gazing’. My experience of Clinical Psychology is that it’s that and much much more. Clinical Psychology differs from some other Psychotherapy roles because it involves a great deal of training over a long period. It takes at least 10 years to train to be a Clinical Psychologist, and requires doctoral training. All Clinical Psychologists also have an undergraduate degree and many also complete a Masters degree and have worked, learning their trade prior to even getting on the doctorate. Then they spend 3 years studying and working in the NHS, doing research and clinical practice as they study for their doctorate.

The doctorate, coupled with the apprenticeship-type training and the other studying enables Clinical Psychologists to have a really sound knowledge of the Science. We work in an evidence-based way, looking at what the research tells us works for people who are struggling, what helps and what doesn’t. We’re constantly training and having supervision throughout our careers to ensure that we keep on top of the new developments in the field. When we are wanting to change something, we look up what the research tells us and find out what really works. And then we integrate what the science tells us with what we know about people. We use our own skills and experience to bring the two parts together to deliver therapy and interventions which really are bespoke and designed around the person. In think if anything we bring ‘fluffy’ and science together when we do this.

One of the key things that Clinical Psychologists do when they are working with someone is to ‘formulate’. This means putting together an understanding of why this is a problem, why it is a problem right now, and what’s lead up to this, and what’s keeping the problem going. It’s a way of understanding what’s going on for someone or why life is feeling difficult at that time. Formulations are always individual and idiosyncratic but they bring together the theory (what we know about the kinds of things that can make someone vulnerable to this kind of problem for example). We work on the premise that once you know what the problem is and what’s contributing and maintaining it then we know where to help – this makes a lot of sense. If a car engine wasn’t working you’d need to identify the problem and the ways in which other parts were contributing to this problem. Of course, people are far more complicated and often there are many things contributing to the problem. If you just attended to one part as you might with a car, you wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem. You need to both understand the brain and how people work generally and then specifically how the person in front of you sees things and manages things and is living. Only then can you help them to change things for the better. That’s where a comprehensive, personalised formulation can be really helpful.

This can be frustrating for people who come to Headspace Guildford or anywhere else seeking Psychology support. Often people want strategies which will help them feel better immediately or change the behaviour of the child or just improve things. Quick fixes, like a Harry Wormwood (Matilda) car repair, won’t really cut it. So, trust in formulation as one step on the way to helping you feel better or manage better or just understand what your ‘stuff’ is. Know that its creation builds on the shoulders of the giants of Psychology and allied fields who have studied and researched people for generations and share their knowledge so that you might find what you need to make life feel more manageable, alongside your Clinical Psychologist companion.

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