One thing I was certain about when I started university was that I wanted to go on exchange. After some twists and turns I ended up for a semester in Barcelona. First of all, what an amazing city! Secondly, quite an interesting university experience. As when travelling, people you meet are what makes it special, so was the case while on exchange. Time doesn’t always determine anything when it comes to making friends. Towards the end of my stay in Barcelona I met Nina, also on exchange. We got to experience a lot in a short while and have been lucky to meet up after our exchange ended. An admirable feature about Nina is that she is incredible in learning languages! She is German and lives in Barcelona. Read about her work in the interview that follows.
What is your job title?
I always say that I am a psychologist by day and a PhD student (Criminology) by night. Since my heart definitely lies with the first profession, I will go into more detail about that!
Where do you work?
I work at a Center of Psychology that has become a reference in the city of Barcelona, Spain, due to its innovative and international character. The best possible services are offered in accordance to the specific needs of each client, specifically by attending in different languages and offering different psychological approaches.
How did you get in to the line of work?
I have always felt a strong need to work with people and to ‘help out’, so it came as no surprise that I ended up studying psychology. I have to admit that it was never a particular dream of mine since I have always had so many different interests and never really knew where I would like to end up in 5, 10 or 20 years. To be perfectly honest, I still have no idea. All I know right now is that I enjoy what I’m doing and that I am good at it, so I will continue as long as those two factors stay the same.
Did you feel lucky landing your job?
Absolutely! During a particularly stressful PhD phase, I started looking for a job in the clinical field. I found the Center I currently work at and decided to send in my CV. A couple of days later I received an invitation for an interview. They seldom take on new people, as the director´s aim is to maintain a tight, harmonious and well-functioning team. She told me that I had been invited due to all of the languages I speak and that they make exceptions when they find someone who fits the profile. Half an hour later I had the job and seeing that it is not particularly easy to get in, I feel extremely lucky!
What qualifications are needed?
First of all, and understandably, you need to be a psychologist to be able to work at the Center. Since it is an International Center, you also need to be able to speak at least two languages fluently. The more you speak the better. Thankfully, I had that part covered as I speak four languages fluently (German, which is my native language, English, Dutch, and Spanish) and know how to defend myself in three other languages (Italian, Catalan, and French). The other big plus is if you are trained in more than one approach. Some of my colleagues dominate different types of psychological approaches, which I find very impressive.
Are you striven by the work you do or your paycheck?
Very much by the work I do. Of course also by my paycheck (who are we kidding here), but I´m always happy to go to work.
I honestly feel very grateful for my work. Working this closely and intimately with people, knowing that they trust you with their feelings and struggles in life is very humbling. And then, being able to help is an indescribably rewarding and beautiful thing.
Does your work match your expectations?
It does and more! But that is also due to the amazing team I get to work with! Maybe it’s because all of us are psychologists or maybe because our team was very well put together, but there is this amazing sense of understanding and respect between all of us. You always have someone to turn to. I feel very at home at the Center.
Describe a basic day at work. Does it vary day by day?
It is a bit difficult to describe a basic day at work – there are none. I currently don´t have any clients in the mornings, so I use that time to work on my thesis or to prepare sessions. I’m usually at my desk by 8 am and don´t finish until 9 or 10 pm, which can be tough sometimes.
A session usually lasts 60 minutes, but I see some of my clients for 1 ½ hours as well. It simply depends on the client’s demand. Generally, 50 minutes are spent with the client and the other 10 minutes are used to write down what has been talked about during the session and what is foreseen for the next one. I will then work on my notes in more detail at a less hectic moment or after hours.
It is a very flexible job and I get to manage my time myself. On the one hand, I find that amazing as I get to use my time rather efficiently. On the other hand, creating my own work hours can wear on me sometimes, as I definitely tend to overdo it. That said I look forward to finishing my thesis so that I can fully concentrate on my work with clients and have more reasonable workdays.
What is the most exciting thing about your work and why?
Oh, many things! Here are a few:
Helping other people help themselves.
Knowing that you had a part (even if only a tiny one in some cases) in helping someone be a better version of themselves.
The interaction with people and the immediate feedback that you get.. even if it isn´t always positive.
Knowing that you may have made a difference.
What do you get asked about your job by friends and family?
“Can you actually understand and help someone who is expressing their emotions, fears and preoccupations in a language that is not your own?”
My answer is always the same: YES! In general, I understand and speak the four languages I mentioned above fluently, so there is never really a problem in understanding what my client is telling me. Also, you can always ask if you don’t understand a certain word or expression.
It is often much more about being able to read between the lines and understanding someone’s body language and facial expressions. A lot of it is about intuition, being empathetic, kind and having a feeling for the client´s needs. Last time I checked there was no language barrier for that ;).
What is the best part of your job?
Two things: that I get to help people on a daily basis and that I get to manage my own time.
Do you have bad days or moments? Why?
Of course I do, everybody does. Sometimes the long days wear on me and I don´t get to sleep enough (so important)! Other times I feel down because a session didn´t go very well or because I feel stuck with a client and don´t know how to continue. Also, there simply are those cases that you ‘take home with you’ and can’t stop brooding about.
Do you have any advice for people considering your line of work?
Firstly, prepare yourself to work in a field that is very rewarding and gives back a lot, but also prepare for what I mentioned above: the bad cases that you take home with you. You will encounter them and you will need to come up with a way to deal with them. One way is supervision where you talk a case over with your colleagues. This helps put things into perspective and allows you to advance with a client’s treatment.
Another thing I have learned over the years is to take good care of yourself. I firmly believe in the saying that your body is your temple. The right nutrition, exercise and sleep are key aspects in my life. How do we expect to function well if we don’t treat our bodies and minds accordingly? I sit in a chair all day and listen to other people´s problems (on top op my own). Even though it is a very rewarding kind of work, you simply have to deal with a lot of negative emotions: anxiety, anger, sadness, etc. This can be exhausting and leave you sluggish and unmotivated for things like exercise and eating well. The thing is that really only your mind is exhausted, whereas your body hasn’t done much all day. Working out/moving my body on a daily basis has made a huge difference for me and I feel a lot more balanced since doing so. By tiring my mind and my body I get to disconnect, sleep a lot better and feel ready to roll again the next day!
Thank you Nina!