Most graduate students are not really sure what type of internship they would like to choose. They do usually know what type of internship they would not want to engage in.
Unfortunately, what they like or don’t like is not often grounded in reality simply because they do not have enough experience in the field and often make decisions based on emotions, not facts.
So how can they avoid disappointment and choose wisely?
1. Can the placement give you clinical experience and not just a lot of hours that won’t help you become a good clinician.
Are you able to learn how to run groups, do individual sessions, do intakes and assessments? All of this is possible in a good internship, and you do not have to waste hours sitting and waiting for clients. One year of clinical experience that teaches you these skills can land you a good job even before the completion of your school.
2. Will the supervision also include trainings that will teach you something new or improve your current skills?
Supervision is a vital part of the internship, but it should also involve learning new skills that are not taught in school but are an important part of being a counselor. Trainings in case management, ASAM criteria, motivational interviewing, diagnostic impressions, mental health assessments, etc. Are just a few ones that you might learn? Not all these trainings are pertinent to your particular site so find out what trainings will be offered in your internship.
Some sites also offer certificate programs in specific skills like trauma, CBT or forensic assessment. Others might prepare you for obtaining CADC certification in substance abuse that is state recognized.
3. Is the site assisting interns with job placements?
Some internships help students find jobs by partnering with other mental health organizations who are looking for employees straight from graduate schools.
They look for specific skills, therefore, they like to choose interns from internship programs that teach these skills and therefore prepare interns for the entry-level positions.
These interns are not only better prepared for their first future jobs, but they can actually show off the skills they have acquired in the year of their clinical training.
4. Do you make a decision about choosing the internship based on emotional factors?
You decide to choose the internship because it sounds good and there was a lot of promises, but you are not sure if you will get enough direct hours. This happens quite often in small private practice agencies that rely on limited referrals from state agencies or from the local community.
There is nothing wrong with choosing this type of placement but be prepared for having to look for additional placements if the first one does not meet the school’s criteria.
5. Is the placement teaching you skills that are transferable in the field of counseling?
You might like to do counseling on the street with the homeless population or do outreach to human trafficking victims. This is all great, but due to the nature of these internships, it will be hard for you to learn the regular skills that are assumed in most counseling jobs that require licensure.
I have talked to some interns placed at churches or shelters without the possibility of learning the clinical skills due to the unpredictability of the flow of clients or lack of space for therapy or lack of adequate supervision.
These are just some areas that are important for the future interns to consider when looking for placements.
Keep in mind that you can always reach out to agencies that do not currently work with your school and find out if they offer internships. Your school will have to make a decision about approval of the new site.
Regardless of where you choose your internship, the quality of clinical experience should be the most important factor in your search because this will prepare you for your future job and give you a foot in the door.