#WomenInLeadership: Charlotte Parkin

Q&A - 12TH MARCH 2021

Charlotte Parkin, a psychotherapist at the Priory Group, on the privilege of gaining trust, the importance of flexible working, and the strength in being ‘competently incompetent’

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, our #WomenInLeadership series celebrates the inspiring women here in the HSMA. Each day we will be publishing a Q&A with one of the remarkable women who make up our vibrant community of healthcare specialists.

Meet Charlotte Parkin, a psychotherapist at the world-leading Priory Group.

Tell us a little about your role as a psychotherapist.
I’ve been a psychotherapist at Priory since 2014 and started on the addiction unit at Priory Hospital North London, where I worked with a multidisciplinary team to run a specialist group and individual therapy programme. Since then, I’ve worked across the two London wellbeing centres at Fenchurch Street and Harley Street, providing individual therapy sessions. My specialisms are in the acute mental illness and addiction fields as well as treating conditions that lead to or co-exist with addiction, in particular eating disorders. My focus is always working from a standpoint of uncovering the personality aetiologies behind any maladaptive behaviour.

What led you to a career in healthcare?
My personal experience with family mental health alongside a genuine fascination about people. I used to work in media sales and realised I liked the human aspect and thrived on this but didn’t like selling to people. I consequently trained in integrative therapy at the Minster Centre and did a placement at Priory Hospital North London, while completing a master’s in addiction psychology and counselling. I am currently undertaking a PhD investigating the role of group therapy in the change process.

What is the most exciting thing about your job?
I work experientially, so every session feels energetic. Also, having the privilege to gain someone’s trust, often someone who has never shared their thoughts with someone else, which can be a hard thing to build. I meet truly incredible people who remind me that behind a world of inauthenticity and game playing lies sensitivity, vulnerability, honesty and, at appropriate times, great humour. It reinstates my faith in humankind on a day-to-day basis.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career, and what are the highlights?
Accepting feedback – and asking for it. I’ve also had a few challenging moments where clients have used me to relieve their stress or anger. Being able to maintain my internal boundaries through this can be tough. The highlights have been when these clients turn a corner or return at a later date. Additionally, learning not to compare myself to colleagues, owning my approach, but also being open to new perspectives.

Have you encountered any barriers to your success as a female leader?
I think I have been very lucky in this respect as there is a relatively good representation of female leadership where I work, and many of my opportunities and ventures have been supported, such as launching an outpatient group. There was one occasion when I was working as a therapist in a hospital where my male colleague and equal was assumed to be a consultant by clients rather than the same level as me. I noticed sometimes my male counterparts could evoke more respect from the clients. I also feel that my choice to have a baby set me back a little in my career, as my industry is very fast moving.

Studies show that women represent close to 70% of the global workforce but make up less than 20% of leadership roles. What can the healthcare industry do to change this?
Provide more flexibility in working arrangements, such as hours and location. The pandemic has amplified this need and also provided an opportunity to embrace it. This can undoubtedly help to dismantle the traditional gender stereotypes and barriers that have served to limit women’s engagement and progress in the workplace, and thus help to retain diverse talent and promote more equal employment of female management and consultant level roles.

What would you tell other women who are just starting a career in healthcare?
Make sure you can afford the childcare or work on a sessional basis, as I do, which allows control of your own hours. Don’t compare or compete, know and own your strengths with certainty, and be yourself.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Embrace being ‘competently incompetent’ (that we are always learning) and treat everyone the same, as you will meet them on the way down the same as on the way up.

Tell us something that your colleagues might not necessarily know about you.
I’m a pretty open book! However, I suppose they won’t know that I have absolutely terrible taste in music with my ‘power song’ being The Power of Love from the ending to Back to the Future. I can also get emotional/motivated by Baz Luhrmann’s Wear Sunscreen... and I find people’s more ‘secret’ music choices say a lot about their inner worlds.