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Nick Maguire BSc Psychology, DClinPsych BSc (1995), DClinPsych (1999)

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Hi, I'm Nick Maguire and I studied BSc Psychology, DClinPsych within Psychology at the University of Southampton.

The undergraduate degree at Southampton was an eye-opener in terms of how the scientific approach was applied to the complex issues of human experience.

Q: Why did you choose to undertake your studies at the University of Southampton?

Ever since having worked with adults with learning disabilities after Sixth Form College I’ve been interested in a scientific approach to helping people who experience distress associated with mental health issues. I was always interested in science generally and chemistry specifically, but I wanted to work with people, so a degree in Psychology was the obvious choice. The undergraduate degree at Southampton was an eye-opener in terms of how the scientific approach was applied to the complex issues of human experience, and some excellent clinically orientated teaching and project supervision increased my interest in Clinical Psychology. In addition, the UG degree taught me a number of transferable skills, particularly the skill of critical analysis and backing up opinion. These are excellent skills to practice generally, especially when observing the worlds of politics and how policy is formulated. These skills were to serve me well later in my career...

Q: What career did you embark upon following your degree?

After graduating in 1995 and having a really useful year working as an Assistant Psychologist in an NHS adult mental health department in Southampton, I was offered a place on the Southampton Doctoral Course in Clinical Psychology. The course has always specialised in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), a form of evidence-based psychological therapy effective in treating a range of mental health problems. But the clinical training was not just about psychological understanding and treatment, it was also an excellent applied research training. Learning how to research in applied settings, particularly with people suffering severe and enduring mental health problems has proved invaluable throughout my career, particularly defining and measuring outcomes meaningful to service users when evaluating interventions. The training also focuses on enabling others to reflect on their own practice from a psychological perspective, a skill much sought after in the NHS where other professions such as nurses, social workers and doctors value a psychological perspective on complex treatment issues.

With training completed in 1999, I spent a number of years in the NHS treating adults with severe and enduring mental health professions and making use of research skills in a large outcome trial investigating the use of CBT with people suffering psychosis. This led to a major turning point in my career in 2003 - an opportunity to set up a CBT service designed to offer therapy to homeless people, working in collaboration with a Southampton charity. I also moved back to the University to work on postgraduate courses in CBT. Psychological therapies were not widely available in the homelessness sector, as the predominant ideas around that time were that homelessness was due to a lack of housing. We were critical of this idea, as the people that we were treating did have access to tenancies, but lacked the skills (practical, psychological and emotional) to maintain them. Hence they were repeatedly evicted. Our novel idea was to treat the problems which underpinned the behaviours which led to homelessness using CBT, as its structured therapeutic approach based around the impact of thoughts on emotions and behaviours seemed an ideal one. So my clinical training and subsequent work led me to gain experience in enabling homeless people to make changes such that they were able to stay in housing for longer. Not only that, but also the experiences have led to the development of a research programme addressing two questions: 1) what are the psychological factors involved in chronic homelessness (repeatedly being evicted or long periods of rough sleeping); and 2) is a CBT approach effective in treating these issues. This is an ongoing research programme, and we are now also working to enable the organisations who work with the homeless (mainly charities) to properly evaluate their interventions, thereby driving up the quality of service offered to this socially excluded population.

Q: What do you feel you achieved as a result of studying at the University of Southampton?

So the critical analysis skills learned as an undergraduate and contextualised as a postgraduate taught me never to accept at face value what is said or written about an issue, even if it’s a stated government policy. The resulting work on a psychological approach to homelessness has led to a change in aspects of the government rough sleeping policy, and a shift in thinking towards a psychological approach. The homeless still struggle to access psychological services through the NHS, but specialist, homelessness Clinical Psychology posts are now being set up, large homelessness charities are now setting themselves up as ‘Psychologically Informed Environments’, and all are becoming keen to demonstrate how effective they are.

The training at Southampton has therefore equipped me with critical, training, clinical and research skills to have an impact at a political level on a major social problem.

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