Ruth van Vugt: different ways of getting to a job as a clinical psychologist
Most students of Psychology want to work in mental healthcare (GGZ). This makes the master’s specialisation in Clinical Psychology a logical choice. It was an option for alumna Ruth van Vugt for a long time, but she decided to explore further and has since successfully completed the Health and Medical Psychology specialisation and is now enjoying working as a psychologist in addiction care.
Ruth van Vugt started her bachelor’s in Psychology at Leiden University, aiming to become a clinical psychologist, but she also had another interest. ‘Besides mental problems, I’m also interested in health, so my bachelor’s thesis was about excess weight and obesity, and whether these conditions have an effect on cognitive capabilities.’
During her bachelor’s, her interest in clinical psychology waned: 'The clinical subjects in my bachelor’s were largely about disease pathologies and psychopathology, which I found a bit depressing.’ So she decided to take a master’s at the University of Utrecht focusing on policy and health, followed by the master’s in Health and Medical Psychology at Leiden University. The Leiden master’s in Health and Medical Psychology gives you a lot of options, Ruth explains. ‘The master’s has four compulsory subjects, one of which is specifically about interventions in health and two deal with interviewing skills – that’s rather clinical – and one about diseases. I think that’s a good combination.’ The subjects she studied reawakened her interest in clinical psychology. ‘The clinical side and the health side come together in this master’s, which gave me a clear picture of both, and left the options completely open when it came to choosing my internship.'
Ruth applied for internships in different specialisms, but she was accepted for the very first internship she applied for: in the department of Psychology and Psychiatry at a hospital in Utrecht. ‘I was accepted immediately, which was a huge surprise! The department treats people with overeating disorders. For me this was really interesting because it combines my interests in health psychology and clinical psychology. After a six-month clinical internship, I also did a diagnostics internship and obtained my LOGO certificate – a confirmation that you have met the necessary conditions for the healthcare programme. The clinical internship was extremely interesting. That’s when I knew for sure that this was the direction I wanted to go.’
During her studies Ruth worked as a student ambassador for the master’s in Psychology, and was often asked whether it was necessary to have the master’s in Clinical Psychology in order to work in mental healthcare. That isn’t the case. ‘I’ve met many people in my internship and work who have been working for years, but by no means all of them have a master's degree in general clinical psychology. When I was working as a student ambassador, I spoke with students who thought that without the Clinical Psychology specialisation, they wouldn't be able to work in the field. So they opt for security. My advice would be to choose a clinical specialisation that matches your interests. The Leiden master’s in Psychology offers five specialisations that prepare you for a career in mental healthcare.’
Even before her internship Ruth had an interview in the mental healthcare institution for addiction care where she now works. ‘It was a really good discussion and we decided to keep the lines open. At the end of my internship they got in touch with me and it soon became clear that I would be able to start working there as a psychologist. It’s going really well!’
Does Ruth’s master’s help her in her work? ‘Yes, it does - a lot! In the master’s there was a focus on behavioural change: that’s part of the specialisation in Health and Medical Psychology, but it can be useful in different fields of psychology. With addiction, it’s about changing your behaviour: the automatic pattern has become the addiction. That’s a good fit with changing health behaviour. I also worked on motivational interviewing in the master's and that's exactly what I do all day now.’