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"The Life Scientific"
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Jack Chalkley
May 15, 2021
Hello, Sheena - You aren't that far out with your guesses. Annie and I are both the children of chartered accountants, and aged 23 to 25 I had an unhappy two years working for a bank (unhappy, but it was where I met Chris Gielgud, the guy with whom I have been working on the book of imaginary countries over the last 44 years). The banking was good in some ways. It got me out of the company I had been keeping up to then: prep school from age seven, public school and Cambridge, where I studied history and wanted to become a history academic. Why did I decide on clinical psychology at 25 which involved me in another first degree and a higher degree after that? Six years. A friend from Cambridge, whom I kept in touch with, suggested it. "Why not become a clinical psychologist?" It did sound rather appealing! A bit grand. And slightly mysterious. He had become an academic psychologist himself, i.e. university based, and pursued a research career. So, a very different path from mine. But I think by then I knew I wanted to be a clinical practitioner and mainly see patients. Regarding luck. Well, after visiting a rather terrifying learning difficulties hospital called Harperbury, I decided I couldn't hack it. I can describe the experience to you sometime if you like. I had just finished the BSc. and I threw away all the clinical training course application forms I had sent off for. I then received the offer of a place on what was then probably the country's best clinical training course. At the time they didn't interview. Had they interviewed, I think they would have realised my misgivings. I threw the offer in my waste paper basket. The next day I took it out again. The day after that I accepted the offer. Perhaps my greatest luck though was to be taught by such good people at the Institute of Psychiatry. One in particular, on the verge of retirement, came to treat me rather as his disciple. He greatly influenced the way I approached my work over the next thirty-five years. I worked mostly with long term psychiatric problems. About 1,000 patients in all. For the first half of my career that meant the "bins". After that, I worked more in community settings (only ever for the NHS) and involved myself in several training courses. I retired in 2009 and wrote a book called The Content of Psychological Distress. A little hard to describe the book, but in terms of its subject matter it represented something just a little like the sort of book I would have wanted to have been able to read as a trainee. One book, three book chapters and perhaps six articles. Rather fewer than Messrs Fonagy and Bentall. I agree with you in what I take you to be saying about the importance of hearing clearly what patients are saying to you. That's right and proper. But it is also the only way to understand what's really going on. What took you into social work and how did you find it?
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