The Lived Experience of Psychologists Working in Mental Health Services: An Exhausting and Exasperating Journey

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Abstract

What are the implications for psychologists working in the public mental health services (MHS)? Does this environment bring along different challenges when compared to their colleagues working in other settings? How do they cope? Using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), this study explored the meaning psychologists give to their work with their clients and also looked at how they experience working in their teams within the context of the MHS in Malta. Semistructured in-depth interviews were conducted with seven registered psychologists who had worked in the Maltese MHS for at least 2 years. Common themes across participants included: client work as a source of satisfaction and a source of stress, the psychologist in the context of the multidisciplinary team (MDT), and focus on the self. The quality of the participants’ work experience was found to be shaped by the larger context of their work setting. Participants’ negative emotions arising from the system were perceived to be more distressing than those arising from client work. Issues of powerlessness, lack of control and divergent values were identified as the main modulators of this experience and were seen to contribute to distress and reduced job engagement. Personal coping strategies were used as a means to survive in this demanding work place. Implications and recommendations in relation to working with this client group and also working within a medical model (MM) system are highlighted.

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