Posted Wednesday 30 March 2016
A Kingston University psychology graduate has embarked on a life-changing trip to the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka to work with people affected by two events which have shaped the country's recent history.
Charlotte Rose, who graduated in 2015, spent five weeks in South Asia working with people affected by the long-running civil war, which ended in 2009, and the 2004 tsunami. She put into practice the skills developed during her degree working at psychiatric hospitals and leading therapeutic activity sessions at centres for people with variety of mental health needs. The placement was organised by Sri Lanka Volunteers (SLV), an organisation founded by psychology graduates to provide work experience opportunities in their subject field.
"I was based in the capital city of Colombo and lived with a host family in their home, along with 10 other SLV volunteers from around the world," Charlotte said.
A typical day for the 22 year old from Plymouth consisted of spending the morning in an orphanage, followed by the afternoon in a hospital. In a country where knowledge and practice of mental health care is still in its infancy, Charlotte ran a combination of art and drama therapy sessions to help people affected by both the civil war and the tsunami which devastated the country in 2004.
"It was a massive cultural eye-opener. We were given a basic language lesson to help us communicate with people, but we ended up using actions and objects to convey our messages most of the time," Charlotte said. "Encouraging children - and adults - to express emotions through drawing pictures and creating crafts was a really useful way to get people to open up and begin to build trust. This allowed me to work with them despite the language barrier."
Charlotte said the profound impact of the civil war and the tsunami resulted in people producing images that sent chills down her spine. In such challenging circumstances, Charlotte insisted keeping her own emotions in check was essential. "Anybody who met the people I did and learnt about their experiences could be forgiven for feeling a sense of despair. But throughout my psychology degree at Kingston University we were constantly taught about the importance of maintaining professional distance - this is vital to be able to provide effective therapy," Charlotte said. "It would have been easy to be very upset by some of the stories I heard - but I was there to assist."
Charlotte credits her time at the University for giving her the strong foundations needed to work with people in Sri Lanka. "Everything I learnt over the three years came rushing back to me. I learn best by putting theory into practice - and my SLV trip was the perfect platform for that."
Charlotte's advice to current students looking to gain experience is simple. "The chance to implement what you learn in the lecture theatre is priceless," she said. However, she acknowledged that the SLV trip was not cheap. "I found out about this scheme in my first year and began saving immediately by doing part-time jobs. Psychology is a very competitive field and if you want to stand out than you need to be prepared to go that extra mile."
Dr Tushna Vandrevala, Charlotte's tutor at Kingston University, has echoed her approach. "Volunteering, either in the UK or abroad allows students to appreciate how information learnt in the classroom can be applied to real life problems. Prospective employers are always looking for candidates who have done things that show commitment and make them distinctive."
With a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology now in her sights, Charlotte remains as focussed as ever. "I am currently working as a healthcare assistant and doing another part time job to save up for a master's. My time in Sri Lanka changed my outlook on life and made me realise that my ultimate goal is to carve out a career in psychology."