Psychology Students Out in the World: What Are Interns Thinking?
Stillpoint Spaces Berlin sadly closed its doors this month after several years of activities and events exploring our world through psychoanalysis and related disciplines. We were delighted to have Mia Ihaksi as our intern during the summer, and as it turns out, our last intern to work with us in our home in Neukölln. In this short essay, she reflects on her experience of what it was like to be a psychology intern in an organisation like ours.
By Mia Ihaksi
After my three-month stint of working at Stillpoint, I took some time on my last day to collect my thoughts about the experience. I did this internship as a part of my undergraduate studies in psychology and am just about to start the fourth semester of my studies. In other words, I am still at the beginning of my journey, and there is a long way to go before I can call myself a professional in psychology.
In this brief summary of my 270-hour-long internship, I will shed light on the thoughts and feelings that a psychology student might experience during their internship. How does it feel for a student to leave the safe campus environment and work with professionals?
Like with every new job, the beginning of the internship was filled with confusion and doubts about whether I would ever digest all the new information. I was introduced to a lot of people, however, I could not recall any of their names. Fortunately, all of the counsellors and faculty members are listed on Stillpoint’s website, which turned out to be a useful tool. Although everything is puzzling at the beginning, it surprised me how fast I became familiar with my colleagues, everyday procedures, and tasks. For instance, I learned how to construct members’ newsletters, what is the code for Stillpoint pink, and how to restore Wi-Fi in our office at Stillpoint Spaces Berlin. Working at Stillpoint became the new normal in a few weeks.
One of the main projects of my internship was to help build an event archive for Stillpoint’s new website. I went through and edited all of the past events that Stillpoint has organised in Berlin. Overall, there have been almost a thousand events at Stillpoint Spaces for the professionals, and psychologically curious. According to Facebook, Stillpoint Spaces Berlin has hosted 520 in-person and online events, and there have been 224 events at Stillpoint Spaces London. In addition, Stillpoint has hosted 52 events in Paris and 101 in Zurich.
In Berlin, the first events were organised in 2014 at bars and cafés around the city. Stillpoint Spaces Berlin got their first physical space in February 2015 and celebrated with a grand opening. The events have been ingeniously arranged around the broad and beloved topic of psychology, there have been lectures, discussions, meetups, reading groups, workshops, learning modules, book launches, and art installations.
Sometimes a certain topic had been on my mind for weeks, and then I found out that Stillpoint had organised an event on that topic. For instance, this happened with events called Shame on You! (2015), Click Here to Happy: Living in the Age of Happiness Industry (2017), and Self-worth and Self-acceptance (2018).
Even though I did not have the chance to attend these events, the event descriptions brought me comfort by reminding me how people are dealing with the same topics worldwide. In the middle of discomfort, it might feel as if you are alone with your issues, but that is not really the case.
For a mother of a 16-month-old toddler, fear of missing out (FOMO) was present when I came across the events designed for new mothers: Psychology of motherhood beyond diapers (2017), and New Beginnings as Mothers & Women: An explorative and supportive group for new mothers in Berlin (2015). Even the titles of the events got me convinced that I would have highly benefitted from the events when I was on maternity leave. I argue that with this kind of emotional support, some of my mental breakdowns would have been prevented. So, a note for Stillpoint, please keep organising these events for new mothers. We’re all so so lost.
Enough with FOMO. During this Spring and Summer, I had the chance to attend various events, such as Liberation Psychology with Maria Laguna, Breathwork with Lee Mendeloff, and the weekly events of This Week in Psychology. There were two events that will stay with me: Darkness Was My Candle: Trauma and Spirituality, and Poetry Therapy at Stillpoint Spaces Berlin. The seminar Darkness Was My Candle was a discussion between Lora DeVore and Dr Ursula Wirtz, in which author and psychotherapist Lora DeVore reflected on her traumatic past through questions of a Jungian analyst Ursula Wirtz. Lora´s autobiography was recently published by Confer Books. Stillpoint organised a clinical seminar and a book launch on that occasion. Although it was an online event and I had to turn off my camera and soothe my daughter a couple of times, there was something magical about the event. Lora and Ursula made a great pair, they are both captivating conversation partners, and their brightness and warmth were tangible even through a screen. I was impressed by the ease and authenticity with which Lora addressed her traumas. She left the audience inspired; if she was able to recover from something so devastating, there must be a way to heal for everyone.
Poetry Therapy at Stillpoint Spaces Berlin was a group session, during which Charmaine Pollard gave us brief writing tasks and we shared the parts which we felt comfortable with the group. The event was held in person at the beautiful loft-looking Open Space at Stillpoint Spaces Berlin. Charmaine, participants, space, and rainy weather created a unique atmosphere. The atmosphere was permissive, we were able to trust one another, and reveal their imperfections, although we had not met each other before. It is a shame that this was the only in-person event during the period of my internship, but I am grateful for the experience.
In both of these events, I lost track of time. The planned 90 minutes went by in the blink of an eye. My concentration was fully fixed on the topic being discussed, I was learning simply because I was so curious and engaged. Let’s take Darkness Was My Candle as an example.
What is more intriguing than observing two seasoned professionals discuss, reflect and share their expertise? I felt like I was eavesdropping, and receiving forbidden information, something that one does not learn in school.
Do not get me wrong, the lectures at my university have been mostly great, but at the same time, the constant pressure to learn, remember, and do well in exams can kill the fun. I wish that every now and then students would have a chance to observe and learn from professionals in action, instead of textbooks and slide shows.
I am still searching for which direction to take in my future career, and my thoughts have been changing during my studies. Last Fall I was certain that the clinical route was the one to take, however, this Spring neuropsychology began to fascinate me. This is my second round as a student, I have a bachelor's degree in Dance Pedagogy. Sometimes I catch myself regretting that I did not find psychology sooner. I would have graduated a long time ago and I would be financially stable by now. Instead, I followed my passion at the time and spent a decade struggling to make it in a creative and competitive field of dance, just to notice that I had chosen the wrong path.
Stillpoint taught me to appreciate my professional past. Besides psychology, Stillpoint cherishes all fields of art.
It has been enlightening to see that maybe my creative past was not a total waste of time after all, and maybe there is a way to intertwine these fields of expertise. In addition, I got a wake-up call at Stillpoint’s event last week, where I chatted with a couple of people working in business. They told me that they would like to quit their jobs and pursue a more creative direction. “Creative?! Yuck, I will stick with neuroscience,” I thought to myself and felt internally amused. Maybe these kinds of thoughts are the blessing and curse of my generation.
It is nerve-racking to be thrown to work with professionals instead of student colleagues. To be honest, at times I have felt like a deer in headlights and have been terrified to discuss with professionals.
Questions such as, who is Jacques Lacan, is it appropriate to use “crazy” as an adjective, and what is psychoanalysis exactly, have crossed my mind. I concluded that those were questions for which I should know the answers by now and googled the answers.
Although I have been scared at times, I have realized that there is a uniqueness to discovering and learning psychology for the first time. Like one member of the Stillpoint community wrote: “I envy people who haven't yet read his [Irvin Yalom] books.” I am that person! I had the privilege to read Love’s Executioner for the first time during my internship, and I enjoyed every minute of it (read more below)! It requires skill to find the balance and confidence between thoughts: I already know something about psychology, and I still have a lot to learn. These are thoughts that professionals of psychology must get used to because one cannot be ready. In a way, we are eternal rookies, there are always new things to learn, and new authors to discover.
Too many times, I have been so goal orientated that I have not been able to appreciate the journey. I have had my weekly plans, annual plans, and five-year plans, but when I reached my goals, I did not feel more fulfilled. Is it because fulfilment is an illusion?
Therefore, strongly inspired by this internship, I have set my next goal: accept and respect the ongoing journey.
To conclude my essay, I would like to share a link to a poem, which we used in our poetry therapy workshop with Charmaine Pollard. May this poem guide the overachievers, students, interns, Millenials, and other members of the Stillpoint community.
The Journey, by David Whyte
P. S. At the beginning of my internship, I asked for book recommendations from you, the members of Stillpoint community. From your references, I read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and Love’s Executioner and When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom. (I also read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, which largely fed my interest in neuropsychology.) Like all of you, I much enjoyed Love’s Executioner. I loved how Yalom lets the reader into his personal world and openly shares his insecurities and weak points as a professional. I appreciate that there is zero amount of hypocrisy in his text, which makes the stories humane. I used that lesson in this text.
Mia Ihaksi is a second-year psychology student at Touro College Berlin. Before her psychology studies, she worked as a dance teacher, choreographer, and dancer in Finland. Recently she has been inspired by neuropsychology, breathing exercises, Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, and vintage fashion treasures. You can find her on LinkedIn and follow her life on Instagram.
Stillpoint is an organisation that aims to make psychology more publicly accessible, through events, online content and a virtual community for the psychologically curious.