Public Health Spotlight of The Month With Regina Apparicio

Hey Guys! I’m back with another blog post and a new series on the blog. Back in 2018, I had series where I featured Nurses of the month which was a hit thanks to you guys. Now that I’m about to graduate with my degree in Public Health, I have learned a lot about this field. It is important to know that Public Health promotes and protects the health of people from different communities. There are many fields in public health and I want to showcase that with this series. I hope you guys like it. Today’s feature is someone I’m proud to know and is from my home country, Antigua. The first feature is Ms. Regina Apparicio.

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Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Wow. A little, you say. In a nutshell, I am a Caribbean woman of mixed cultural heritage with a very bold personality. I am also An Associate Clinical Psychologist (at the moment) who has an interest in the power of the mind and is passionate about unearthing one’s potential.

What made you choose to study Psychology?

To be honest, I don’t think I chose Psychology. It was more a case of Psychology choosing me. As a child, I always knew that I had a desire to help others, and I initially wanted to become a Nurse. Let’s just say after being told about the rigors of the nursing profession; I came to the realization that route was not for me. Then, I wanted to become a neurosurgeon because of my natural curiosity about the inner workings of the brain/mind. Particularly as it relates to our behaviour/abilities until I realized how much I did not like most of the natural science subjects. This field did not provide the answers I was seeking. Anyways, I recalled during my adolescent years; someone told me that I would make a good therapist/psychologist because I had this natural gift of listening and giving good advice. At the time, I did not even know what that meant for me, but I was always curious by nature. I conducted some research on the profession, and it immediately resonated within me. I felt like not only did I find the answers I was searching for but my true professional calling, and I have opted never to look back since.

For those who don’t know what a clinical psychologist is, briefly explain.

First of all, a clinical psychologist is NOT a doctor for “crazy people,” which is often inaccurately stated by some persons in our society. This view of our profession is misleading and has discouraged an open conversation about mental health in our society. A clinical psychologist is a trained mental health professional who is skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of mental, behavioural, and emotional conditions which often impact an individual’s quality of life. We utilize our knowledge of theory grounded in research for the purpose of identifying, understanding, preventing, and relieving psychological distress while promoting self-care and personal development.

What experience do you have as a clinical psychologist?

I officially became an Associate Clinical Psychologist after graduating with a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology last year from the University of the West Indies. Currently, I run my own private practice, which allows me to offer therapeutic services.

Where did you start your career? 

I started my career in the field of Child Protection. I have worked extensively with children who have been abused, in conflict with the law and their families. Most recently, I have also acquired experience in the field of drug rehabilitation.

Is there any particular specialty in this field?

There exists an array of subspecialties or branches in the field of psychology on a whole. However, what makes the clinical psychologist uniquely skilled is in our ability to carry out extensive psychological assessments. Which often covers aspects of behaviour, emotion, personality, cognition, and even memory.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a clinical psychologist.

I started my journey in the field of Psychology in 2010 after enrolling in the Bachelors’s Degree program at the University of the West Indies (UWI). For this program, I opted to choose what is termed a Special designation as opposed to pursuing Majors/ Minors because I have a love and passion for Psychology. I just wanted to do everything related to the subject matter. This approach made me well versed in the field and allowed me to touch on various aspects to determine which subspeciality I wanted to gain further knowledge on as I continued on my journey towards becoming a Clinical Psychologist. There were some persons who felt that it was a poor decision on my part especially if I wanted to branch out into another field or choose another career path. However, I am a bit headstrong when it comes to doing things that I am really passionate about, so I was not discouraged by my decision. In fact, if I could do it all over again, I would not have done it any other way.

Anyways, after obtaining my first degree, I gained employment in the field of child protection, but after a few years, I began to feel limited in my ability to truly offer services that could create meaningful change in an individual’s life. This desire led me to pursue a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology in 2017.

What is the #1 thing you wish you had been told as a student while pursuing your degree?

I wished that someone told me about the “imposter syndrome” before I experienced it.

What was your biggest obstacle while in school?

In response to this question, I would love to say a lack of resources, administrative hiccups, and that dreadful research paper. However, on reflection, I do not think that any of those issues trumped having to manage limited personal finances and keeping my business afloat. To provide some background, I left home to pursue graduate studies due to feelings of frustration and without having accumulated significant savings towards this goal as initially planned. I mean, life happened, and one of the challenges with pursuing graduate studies in this field is limited availability of scholarships (this I did not know until going through the process of applying for school). In addition to having limited access to finance options, my health declined in the final year of my studies, which forced me into a situation where my personal finances became depleted. Thankfully, I recognized the need to ask for help (another thing I wish I was told), and my higher power came all the way through for me via my support system.

 Tell me a little about the requirements needed for entrance into a program like this.

Entrance requirements for graduate programs in Clinical Psychology differ depending on the region. For instance, to pursue studies in the United States, one would need to complete the GRE, and some schools require degrees from regionally accredited institutions. In the United Kingdom and the Caribbean, first degrees acquired regionally are recognized and accepted for enrollment. Prospective students are expected to provide an academic CV, which highlights their educational achievements in addition to completing online applications. Shortlisted applicants are then interviewed before a final decision is made regarding acceptance into the program.

What are some suggestions/advice you would give to someone interested in this field? 

  • Remain open-minded as your curiosity will fuel your passion even in the tough times.
  • Supervision is key to honing your professional development. Therefore, ensuring that you maintain a positive working relationship with your supervisor is necessary.
  • Do not view the role of the psychologist as one which requires fixing other people. I truly believe that people have the capacity to heal themselves, and we are just simply facilitators of that process.
  • Studying psychology is not a suitable replacement for therapy, which is a misconception that many people have. However, the knowledge gained does offer considerable insight into human behaviour.
  • To be an effective psychologist, you must be willing and open to pursuing your journey of self-care, awareness, and growth, which, you may find yourself encouraging clients to do. It is definitely not a do as I say and not as I do type of profession.
  • The human mind is dynamic. Always be willing to shift approaches.

What does a typical day look like for you as a clinical psychologist?

Currently, I mainly see therapy clients for my private practice on Saturdays. However, before every session, I allocate time during the week to engage in the necessary preparation, including research on issues that my clients would like to have addressed. Each face to face session lasts for approximately 45-50 minutes, depending on the unique needs of my clients.

I want to talk about mental health. As a public health student, the topic of mental health comes up a lot. What do you want us as a society to know about mental health?

We need to know that our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and both are interconnected. For instance, when an individual experiences stress of any kind, there are both physical and mental symptoms that are present. While addressing the physical symptoms may subside with treatment/medication, if individuals are unable to cope with their experience of stress, then symptoms are likely to return and gravely hamper their ability to carry out daily activities.

Many countries and even people don’t like to address mental health; what can we do to destigmatize the topic of mental health?

We need to normalize individuals’ experiences of psychological distress or unpleasant feelings that are likely to hamper one’s functioning. This approach is necessary since our society views any impairment in functioning, whether temporary or permanent, as a sign of mental weakness, which is grossly inaccurate and has negative effects on the individual’s well being.

What can be done to start a conversation/bring awareness surrounding Mental health?

We can definitely get started via public awareness with the use of social media and through various media-led campaigns and community discussions. I also believe that mental health professionals in Antigua & Barbuda need to form professional bodies or associations so that we can collectively inspire change and address several misconceptions that exist publicly regarding our profession and mental health as a whole.

I’ve recently learned that there is a shortage of mental health professionals here in the US; I’m not sure if this is the same in Antigua. Can you tell me about the resources available to those dealing with mental health issues?

Like many islands throughout the region, we currently have a shortage of trained and qualified mental health professionals, particularly in the public health care system. However, over the years, I have seen some efforts being made by recognizing the need to expand our social services with the provision of free counseling services and community outreach programs. There has also been an expansion of available private mental health services, including individual and couple/ family therapists on the island, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

What are five interesting facts you would like us to know about the role of a clinical psychologist?

  1. We are NOT psychics. However, we are skilled in our ability to obtain a snapshot of one’s mental functioning via our assessments, which is often considered to be an X-ray of the mind.
  2. We are EXPERTS in our ability to conduct psychological assessments from an approach that takes into consideration the uniqueness of an individual; that is their weaknesses and strengths.
  3.  In the healthcare setting, we play a major role in promoting healthy behaviour and disease prevention, which could ultimately lead to improved quality of life. We help to strengthen a multidisciplinary health care team by our knowledge of human development and behaviour, which is essential for understanding and applying best practices or approaches to address client’s needs.
  4. We are able to diagnose and treat psychological issues and behavioural dysfunction resulting from or related to one’s physical, mental, and emotional health.
  5. Unlike the psychiatrist, we focus on how the individual processes their thoughts and emotions.

What are your plans/ Hope for the future as a clinical psychologist?

My plan is to become a licensed doctoral-level clinical psychologist before the age of 35 (lol).

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