Name: Dr Ruth Tully
Job title: Forensic Psychologist and Clinical Lead
Time in current role: 5 years
How did you land your current job?
I completed my undergraduate degree at The University of Derby in Psychology and Counselling Studies. I knew I wanted to help people and at the time wanted to be a counsellor. However, most training routes to counselling are self-funded and as a new mum I had to shift my thinking and be more creative with how and who I could help. I got my first psychology job in a young offender prison delivering risk reduction psychological interventions, which sparked my interest in forensic psychology.
After that it was a long road to becoming qualified, including studying for my master’s degree in Forensic Psychology and Crime at Coventry University whilst working full-time, and later my doctorate in Forensic Psychology. In the meantime I worked at several prisons, in communities with offenders, and also in the NHS in secure psychiatric and community settings.
I worked for HM Prison Service for around eight years before moving full-time to the NHS when I qualified as a Registered Forensic Psychologist, later moving into the private healthcare sector in a service-development and consultant role, before working at the University of Nottingham as Assistant Professor on the Forensic Psychology Doctoral training programmes. Alongside all of this I was completing work in private practice. As the private practice grew through networking and word of mouth I started doing it full-time. Now we have a team of 16 forensic and clinical psychologists working across the UK.
What are the key functions of your role?
I’m the Clinical Lead of the team so part of my role involves doing exactly what the rest of the team does which is completing assessments and treatment of people at risk of offending and/or victims of crime, as well as supervising the team. This means I visit prisons and courts where I meet with people I’m assessing. I also give evidence in court and other legal settings.
Talk us through your typical day at work
I often start very early or work late to fit everything in. I hate to admit it but lunch is often at my desk whilst working, although I try to make sure I get a screen-break.
Although every day is different, a typical day can involve some desk-based work such as report writing or admin, and going to visit a prison or court to give evidence. When I’m giving evidence in court I have to prepare, making sure I read any newer reports or information on the case. I make notes to take into the hearing which is more to help me feel prepared rather than being something I’ll use as a prompt.
After a hearing I often debrief with the other professionals present, and I always seek feedback on my evidence as I’m keen to continue to develop. Once back at the office I usually need to supervise my team and assess the quality of their work. I’m kept very busy but I’m grateful to have a hard-working group of people around me.
If I start at 8am I usually finish at around 6pm, although sometimes due to tight court deadlines I work until very late. When this happens I like to make sure I take some time off to try and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
How would your colleagues describe you in three words?
Dedicated, balanced, compassionate.
Your favourite part of the job?
I enjoy giving evidence in court, hearings and meetings because I get to talk about assessments I’ve completed and I always learn a lot. This job comes with a lot of responsibility and is a great opportunity to ensure that I’m making a difference with an expert psychological opinion.
…and the part you could do without?
This job can involve a lot of waiting, and who likes waiting?! Often I’m in an environment where I’m waiting alone and have nothing on me but paperwork and a pen. For example, I can find myself waiting for the individual I’m assessing to be sent over to the prison assessment room, and this can take a long time as prisons can be chaotic places. Also, court hearings can be deferred at short notice after waiting for a day to give evidence which can be very frustrating.
Plans for the future?
Plans for the future involve continuing to expand and develop my team and delivering different training events for professionals. I love what I do, so I’m not sure how I’d adapt if I had to do a typical 9-5. Therefore, I’m keen to seek more opportunities working with different organisations to continue to have some variation. I’m also in the process of writing a book which will feature a collection of forensic psychology case studies demonstrating the type of work we do and approaches to working with offenders which will be my focus this year.
Do you have any advice for others aspiring to break into your field?
Forensic psychology is a particularly difficult area to break into because it’s difficult to help students with shadowing opportunities due to the confidential nature of the work and the safety risks that come with working with people who have violent histories. It can also be very competitive to get a job as an assistant psychologist and so I always encourage people to get patient-facing roles such as a care assistant in a forensic psychiatric hospital. This sort of work can help them decide if forensic environments are for them as this job is not for everyone.
I also encourage people to try and think creatively about relevant experience – a job with the assistant psychologist title may be limited in scope and support, whereas other jobs could be just as relevant, such as working with victim support services, homeless people, addicts, or at women’s centres.
It’s also important to make sure that your academic qualifications are approved by the relevant professional bodies, usually the British Psychological Society and the Health and Care Professions Council. Finally, I’d say be prepared for lots of hard work which is very rewarding, especially when you make a difference with the people you’re working with.