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By Dr Alejandra Perez
19th March 2021

“I still vividly remember my time as a PDP MSc student, now almost 20 years ago – the fascination I felt of what I was learning. Angela Joyce’s teaching brought to life the richness and complexity of the different psychoanalytic theories with clinical material from her analytic work and parent-infant psychotherapy (including the Parent Infant Project at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, set up with Tessa Baradon in 1997).

I also remember Miriam Steele, then Programme Director, talking about the next stage of the London Parent-Child Project (with Peter Fonagy and Howard Steele) an influential attachment research project through which they first developed the notion of reflective functioning/mentalization. I think back to how privileged I was to learn from pioneers in psychoanalytic clinical work and research, not only receiving a solid psychoanalytic foundation but also encouraged to think critically and creatively by learning about these innovations in the field.

But I also remember how difficult it was when I finished the MSc, unable to start psychoanalytic training straight afterwards. As an overseas student with little UK work experience, finding relevant paid work and meeting the requirements for psychotherapy training were beyond my reach. After much effort, financial strain, and a diversion into PhD studies (which I am now incredibly grateful for!), I found a way into training. But I know many are not so lucky. Now, as Programme Director of the MSc, I hear countless similar struggles from home and overseas students.

We recently conducted a survey to understand the barriers our students face in getting into child psychotherapy training. Of the 82 alumni that responded, 96% had planned to apply but only 26% did. The financial cost of meeting pre-training requirements was the most commonly cited obstacle. Most students have to do unpaid work to meet the work experience requirement, face London living expenses of an additional year to complete a second year of parent-infant observation, as well as having the cost of personal analysis before starting the training. Overseas students have the additional challenge of finding a way to stay in the UK after their student visa has expired. Only 8% to 20% of our MSc students progress to psychotherapy training and most only after one or two years after the MSc. Students who pursue an academic career or PhD studies face similar problems, competing against others with stronger research experience. An even smaller number of students are able to secure relevant paid work immediately after the MSc. Our curriculum had also fallen behind in keeping up to date with current research and practice. It was evident we needed to review the MSc programme.

After more than two years of discussions, planning and collaboration we have now restructured the MSc to a two-year full-time programme, which will include a supervised clinical placement at the Early Years Clinical Service of the AFNCCF, a two-year parent-infant observation and a two-year research project.

The renamed 'Early Child Development and Clinical Applications' MSc will continue to offer a solid foundation in psychoanalytic thinking but include other perspectives in current clinical practice and developmental and neuroscience research. New teaching methods will encourage students to think critically and make links across modules, work and research. Students will have the opportunity to work at an ‘Assistant Psychologist’ level within different clinical and community settings in the Early Years Service, supporting parents and/or young children in individual and group work. The MSc will also focus on developing strong research skills. Importantly, all students will be supported by individual clinical and research supervision, workshops and masterclasses by highly experienced clinicians and researchers working in the field of early child mental health and parenting.
We are very excited about this development and look forward to welcoming incoming student cohorts to the revised MSc.”

*The revised MSc remains a recognised pre-clinical course, enabling future graduates from the programme to meet the theoretical and observational requirements needed to apply for Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy training at a school of the Association of Child Psychotherapists.

**For 2021/22 and the first intake on the revised programme, funding (via HEE and bpf) is available for this MSc to improve equity of access and inclusion for Black, Asian and minority ethnic entrants and financially disadvantaged candidates to Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy training.

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