Thea’s story: Welcoming the twists and turns of working life

Career story

After my matriculation examination, I started taking philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Helsinki. It was demanding but extremely rewarding. It helped me develop my thinking and examine things critically on a meta-level, which I feel has been enormously useful in my life since. I completed my studies otherwise but didn’t finish my Master’s thesis, so I was left with a Bachelor’s degree (B.A).

At university, I got to know people who I really connected with, who thought the same way I did and who had a similar attitude to life. That was hugely important to me. I feel that my self-esteem took a big leap thanks to my studies because I learned to think for myself instead of just memorising facts. I would like to see much more philosophy taught to students in upper secondary school because of its great benefit.

I was hired as a substitute teacher during my studies, and I worked for a year in primary and secondary schools. After that I got in to study psychology. I nearly finished my studies in two years because I had already used up my student financial aid, so I had to get the studies done quickly. My Master’s thesis took me longer, as I started working in a multidisciplinary consciousness research group led by Antti Revonsuo. Being a part of the research group was really refreshing because consciousness is such a fascinating subject. I did my Master’s thesis on sleep threat simulation theory, which was Revonsuo’s new theory on the function of sleep. I also had the opportunity to write for a scientific publication for the first time.

I had studied psychodrama before studying psychology, and after 3.5 years of studies, I graduated as a functional group work counsellor. I also supplemented my education with specialist psychotherapy studies, did a licentiate degree and completed studies to work as an occupational health psychologist. I also did a doctoral degree while I was working.

It was great to be able to do work that matches my values

I started working in psychology at a youth crisis outpatient clinic that helped adolescents who struggled with self-harm. From there I moved to the regional outpatient clinic. I enjoyed working with young people for many years, and it also helped me find the subject for my doctoral dissertation, because I noticed that personality disorders were not being diagnosed among adolescents. Treating the symptoms of an illness like borderline personality disorder requires something quite different than treating depression and administering antidepressants.

I rounded out my work with adolescents by transferring to THL as a part-time researcher for several years. I wrote for many scientific articles, for the book Lastenpsykiatria ja nuorisopsykiatria (Children’s Psychiatry and Adolescent Psychiatry), and for a book on the manifestation of symptoms among young people. I had the opportunity to talk at international congresses, which I enjoyed very much. The scientific community is tight-knit and welcoming, and the distances don’t seem that long, even across the globe, when you have the common goal of developing treatments and understanding mental health and personality disorders.

I moved to the private sector, part-time at first and then later full-time, to do cognitive therapies with people who use alcohol in excess. I also worked as an occupational health psychologist, and after graduating in 2011 I also did psychotherapy.

A friend of mine from university began to plan starting a business and was proactive about it. We brainstormed what a good initial team would be like, and so we started up the Centre for Psychological Well-being Komppi. That was the start of a six-year effort, and I would never have guessed what it would be like. We wanted to establish a centre for ethical and high-quality psychotherapy and psychiatric services. At that time, many psychotherapists worked in their own units, and we wanted to offer a work community to educated experts, with like-minded colleagues, opportunities for further education and the ability to focus on their core competence. We also wanted to offer reassurance to clients on the quality of care, its effectiveness and things like that.

We started developing a step-by-step treatment model ranging from a few interventions to sparring and short psychotherapy, all the way to long-term psychotherapy supported by Kela. Our idea was to offer access to treatment quickly. Many would quickly benefit from the shorter treatments, which would make room for long-term psychotherapy for people who needed it.

When our company was a year old, we opened another office in the city centre. After two years, we decided to get more extensive expertise for our team. That triggered rapid growth. In a few years, we had opened 16 new offices and felt that we could barely keep up with the pace. Despite all that, our work had an ethical foundation, and quality was our guiding star. It was great to be able to do work that matches my values. I also had the opportunity to use my creativity in the management team and the board of directors. After many twists and turns we ended up Merging Komppi with Mehiläinen.

My greatest success is courage and perseverance

So that is how I ended up working at Mehiläinen, first as an employee and later as an entrepreneur. I now have my occupational health care practice at Mehiläinen as well as various projects, like the Pääasia podcast, and I have also done some expert consulting for the media. I have had the opportunity to talk to the media about a wide range of subjects, but I only agree to get involved if I feel that I have expertise on the topic at hand. I very much like my current job description – it’s broad and creative. After some busy years, I now work on three days a week, and then I can do additional work depending on my energy levels and enthusiasm.

For the first time in my life, work doesn’t eat up my entire day, and after a small identity crisis, I am happy about my temporal freedom. I have been in the public eye a fair amount, which has not always been completely uncontroversial. I have been very demanding and self-critical at different stages of my career, but I have had to challenge this way of thinking. Nobody has to be perfect as long as they are genuine and aim to be as present as possible. And scientific, of course.

My greatest success is courage and perseverance in the many stages of my career: finishing my doctoral dissertation, the various stages of a growth company and being in the public eye despite my occasional uncertainty. Successes come from having challenges and overcoming them. When you don’t let your fears control you, you can do surprising things and discover new aspects of yourself. I’m very happy about this already. It’s been important for me that I have been able to be myself at work and produce content that genuinely looks like me.

We all have our place in the world. My advice is to have courage. It’s better to give things a go even if it they don’t always turn out right instead of wondering how your life could have gone if you had the courage to try.

I am lucky to have had the opportunity to use my skills extensively

As a child, I was first interested in astronomy and then archaeology. I read some of the classics of those fields already in the early years of primary school. With archaeology, I was fascinated by the many ways people have existed and what we can understand about being human. That mystery will never be truly solved. It is what’s great about being human.

I am lucky to have had the opportunity to use all my potential, creativity and social energy and to be in the public eye. At the same time, I have gained experience in clinical work.

I have welcomed the twists and turns of working life. I have learned that you can never know where you’ll need the skills you have learned; it may be further down the line.

In my free time, I like music and exercise. I enjoy social life, and family and friends are important to me. My well-being is based on listening to myself and acting accordingly. I eliminate negative factors from my life and add things that I like and that are in line with my values.

Thea Strandholm