I was asked to write a bit of a biog and, in case I need one in future, I'm leaving it here.
I am profoundly hearing. From many generations of genetically hearing people.
I decided to go to university to study English, but did not plan very well, only applied to universities with beaches, and ended up in St Andrews (three beaches!) where I discovered that in Scotland you study three subjects, not one…! Erk. I followed someone into Psychology, so started doing that. (I followed someone into Logic and Metaphysics as well, but there’s no jobs in that…!) During holidays I had a job doing care work with children with physical and learning disabilities – but the home closed down and they suggested I try RNID Poolemead for bank work.
So I randomly began studying psychology and working with Deaf people in 1988.
I worked mostly with a prelingually profoundly deaf, culturally Deaf man in his mid-twenties, who lost his sight in late teens. He was amazing. Really clever, and clearly not someone I could usefully communicate with, with my RNID-BSL that consisted entirely of TEA, TOILET, NO, and THANK YOU. So I learned Deaf-Blind manual to communicate with him, slowly, and he taught me a lot of BSL. He even taught me ASL fingerspelling one day, when I knelt in front of him doing DBManual on his left hand while he showed me the corresponding ASL on his right. I’ll never forget that.
Seemingly, he also had schizophrenia, though I do not remember any actual mental health input or a coherent assessment or treatment plan. Maybe there was one, but it was not evident to me at that time. And it was that that made me decide that English was going to get me nowhere interesting, but if I pursued the psychology and the BSL I could keep doing this work I was really enjoying – but better and more effectively! So I carried on with the psychology and the holiday work at RNID, informally getting up to about CACDP Stage 1 (the olden days!), then spent a couple of years trying to get into clinical psychology training – which means I needed broader experience, so left the RNID and worked with elderly people for one year and learning disabled people for another – all hearing.
Then I managed to get into Surrey University to do Clin Psych. It could have been anywhere, but I landed a place at Surrey, which covered Springfield Hospital – one of only two Deaf adult mental health services at the time. Again – purely random luck. At Surrey I did a lot of work (as much as they would let me) on Deafness and mental health, including interpreting in therapy and prevalence research, and arranged one of my specialist placements to be at Springfield with Sally Austen.
Third piece of random luck – Sally resigned two months before my placement was due to begin and about one year before I graduated with my doctorate and obviously fairly strong and unique qualifications for her job. She agreed to supervise my placement at Springfield despite working elsewhere (thank you Sally!) and that meant that I had six months to work in the one job I wanted in the UK (I didn’t fancy Denmark House), at a time when they were dealing with their only psychology job being vacant. Frankly, if I couldn’t get the job after that, I couldn’t get it at all.
So I began working at Springfield full time in 1997, where I worked for the inpatient and community teams, as well as seeing a lot of outpatients, for the whole range of mental health problems from spider phobia to full-blown florid psychosis. Because of the RNID experience I quickly got the Stage 1 BSL certificate, and then over the years achieved Stage 2, Level 3, and Level 4. When I was Stage 1, I used interpreters, but it was never very satisfactory. During the first half of my Stage 2 course I mentioned this to Herbert Klein (during a lunchtime where I was happily and effectively sat talking to a deaf man (Herbert) about complicated mental health issues without an interpreter…!) He pointed this out and suggested I try without an interpreter (with the patients’ consent). I never used an interpreter in therapy again – and the work was entirely more effective, and the therapeutic relationships considerably more meaningful. I would add that later on, when I had Level 4, I would supervise Deaf signing clinical psychology trainees like Jo Atkinson and Sara Rhys Jones, and it was obvious from talking to them that they were able to do even better therapy than me, despite my experience, because they were Deaf. (Though of course, they are also brilliant, which helps.)
In 2007 I left the NHS, and London, to move to Devon, where I completed the NVQ4 BSL-English Interpreting qualification. I hoped to make a career of interpreting, but the Exeter Deaf Academy captured me in a big net and made me feel sufficiently guilty to return to psychology at the Academy.
I’ve been at the Academy since then, providing clinical psychology services to the school and college, doing direct and indirect work, as well as supervising the BSL counsellors. It’s easy for me to say, but I think the interpreting NVQ is a vitally important qualification to have if you work, as a hearing person, in BSL. Particularly in education. This is because it teaches you to think about the nature of language and culture in a way that is necessary to fully understand what BSL is, why it is important, why it differs from English, why SSE feels meaningful when it isn’t, and how BSL grammar evolved to be what it is.
I occasionally add to my Peripheral Brain website, about deafness and mental health. I also facilitate a peer supervision group for senior interpreters. I do very little research because I am opinionated about the piles of bad research that hide the good stuff, and am too obsessional to be able to actually produce good stuff. But I am a great reviewer of research, which I do quite a lot, and I contribute in various ways to other people’s research in the area.
That’s probably it. Narcissistic ramble over.