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DBS Alumni Stories: From Footballer to Psychologist

Michelle ByrneBubbly, affable, and outgoing - Dr. Michelle Byrne is perhaps not what you would first expect from a Doctor of Psychology. An interesting career path, meandering off the beaten track led her to where she is today. We caught up with Michelle to speak about the benefits of returning to college and finding your niche as a mature student. 

“I’ve always had a love for sport” she says with a palpable enthusiasm. You can tell she is a happy-go-lucky person as well as an accomplished athlete. Representing Ireland at an international level presented the opportunity to travel across the globe and experience many different cultures. 

After being bitten by the travel bug, Michelle decided to take a few years out to really enjoy her wayfaring adventures. Living in California and Australia allowed her the opportunity to work at something she was passionate about; coaching football. She also developed a taste for the orient, traveling around Asia.

Landing back on home soil, Michelle decided to pursue her education; returning after years abroad as a mature student. She dedicated her efforts to finding a course that held meaning for her - something she was excited about and felt she would be good at. That is when she happened upon the Diploma in Sports Psychology at DBS.

Having an already established love for sport, Michelle shares that she also held an inherent curiosity as to “how we think and why we think what we think”. Psychology - the study of human behaviour – asks these questions and applies them to various fields. Whether you are trying to ‘psych’ someone up before an important match or trying to help out a person in distress – psychology offers the tools to understand, overcome and change behavioural patterns. Studying for the diploma opened her eyes to what she knew she wanted to do; what she knew she could do.

“Something just clicked…” she recalls, “I didn’t think that would ever be me when I was 17, but something just clicked and I thought - I can do this – I’m going to do this; whatever it takes. If something gives you butterflies in your stomach; you’ll find your way. When you know, you know.”

Michelle was very proactive as a student “There is a lot of independent work and you do have to put yourself out there; I put my research hat on and made myself available”. Not alone did she volunteer for charities such as The Simon Community and Pieta House, she also created the Charity Society here at DBS.  

Following her diploma, Michelle enrolled in the B.A. (Hons) Psychology degree course at DBS. When asked why she stayed with the college for her degree, she replies by explaining that because DBS is a smaller college; you really get to know your lecturers.

“The lecturers are phenomenal”, she says, continuing to illustrate how they encouraged and offered guidance to students, how they helped with anxiety and worries and “allowed you to voice your ideas”.

“My favourite areas of study were Developmental Psychology and Neuropsychology; I was so excited to go to class - I would sit right up the front, eager to learn”, as she said – when you know, you know.

For Michelle, the path was clear; she had found her area of interest and set her career goals. She applied herself with uncompromising diligence in order to make those career goals a reality, but admits – it isn’t easy.  

Finding your niche is fantastic, but it can also be quite daunting. Michelle advises the following to other students looking to follow a similar career path:

  • Engage as much as possible

  • Approach with honesty

  • Put yourself out there

  • Be determined

  • Be open-minded

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice.

  • Be prepared for independent work

  • Have a supportive network

  • Cultivate Resilience

  • Practice Self-care

  • Reflective practice

“Don’t feel you’re in a hurry” she adds – “there are many sectors of work; you may have to do a masters or a PHD to get into certain areas, depending on what you want to do… but take it one step at a time; you can always work for a while at ‘X’ whilst waiting to do ‘Y’. Take your time.”

Michelle graduated from DBS and continued her studies, graduating as a Doctor of Psychology with Trinity College. She is now a Counselling Psychologist with TCD and also works with Jigsaw, The National Youth Centre for Mental Health.

Jigsaw focus their work on ‘mild-risk’ 12-25 year olds, this experience has led her to the strong-held belief that we should place more importance on taking care of ourselves and our children – “’Mindfulness and Intervention’ should be on the school curriculum”.

“We need education on how we think and feel. Young people are also at risk and early intervention is key - anxiety and depression interrupts the capacity to retain information”. A child suffering from these conditions will be unable to reach their full potential at school which can have a trickle-on effect through childhood, adolescence and beyond.

However, she remains hopeful, “Young people are incredibly resilient - there is so much hope and potential there”. She stresses the importance of taking care of our mental health and practising ‘Self-Care'. The term 'self-care' refers to any action a person might take in order to improve and aid their physical and mental health.

Steps to Self-Care:

  • Exercise

  • Healthy diet

  • Sleep – ideally 8 hours/night.

  • Reflection

  • Mindfulness

  • Meditation

  • Yoga

  • Relaxation

  • Support network – friends/family

  • Thinking space v Sensing space – paying attention to your feelings.

  • Engage in therapy

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