Finding a Counseling Internship

Blogged by Lisa Farsht | November 18, 2012

Lisa Farsht

You are embarking upon your practicum and internship; are you looking for a site or a supervisor, or both?  The answer should be both.  Here’s why!  Because a good, strong and healthy site can make or break your experience as a counselor in training and a good, seasoned and healthy supervisor can make or break your experience as a counselor in training.  Another reason is that you can have one but not the other and it leave a sour, distaste in your mouth towards the counseling field, as well as, determine if you have a job after you finish your internship.

So, one of the first things that needs to be worked through is the desperation mentality that most students have when frantically searching for a site.  A frantic and desperate student can be ripe for a disaster on the practicum and internship playing field.  Desperation is driven by fear and lack of confidence which often is overcompensated with lack of foresight and arrogance.  So, how do I approach the truth that if I am to stay on track to graduate within my scheduled plan, I need an internship site, and I need one now!   How do I navigate through the truth that I have no clinical experience?

Here are a few tips that I have gathered just by listening to the site supervisors talk after they just spent the day interviewing potential internship candidates and what I experienced at the age of 52 (then) trying to get back into the work world while seeking an internship site:

1)     There’s a difference between confident and cocky.  Presenting yourself as an intern who already can tackle the counseling experience, knows how to do it all, knows how to diagnose, is able to manage a resistant teenager, and has an answer for everything thrown their way is ….yep…cocky!  A confident candidate will be an honest candidate that will admit they know next to nothing but textbook knowledge.

Remedy: Present yourself as one who has a willing and teachable spirit.  Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, lack of experience, draw from any experience you have that might match what they are looking for; share your hopes and areas that you desire to gain more experience and knowledge in, and wrap that up into a confident conclusion that they, as a “well-established site” are going to provide you with a supervisor who can change that and help you become a professional.

Action: That should lead into a well-deserved question such as “Who would be my supervisor and what is her/his supervision style, experience, and areas of expertise?”; or maybe, “What are the two most important concepts you desire for me to understand as your new intern when it comes to being under your supervision or working at your site?”

2)     Be informed about the site you are visiting and even those whom you might be interviewed by.  Every site I interviewed at asked me what I knew about their site.  So when I landed an interview, I utilized the glorious Google experience the inth degree.

Remedy:  I “googled” the site, read and memorized as much as I could about the history of the site (if provided), what services they provide, some of the names of their staff members,  checked out their disclosure statements or vita, and yes, I memorized the site’s mission statement and used that in my interview.  I knew as much as I could as if I already worked there; well, because I want to work there.

Action: That led me into questioning the interviewers about what they considered to be their strengths and weaknesses of their site, what plans does the site have for the future, how do they invest in their interns who might be potential employees within the next year, what plans do they have to develop their site or reproduce themselves in other counties, what opportunities does an intern have with them in order to move forward and become specialized in a certain field, obtain supervision credentials, and so forth.  And if they mention anything that you might have experience in doing like administrative skills or foresights then you honestly say, “I can help you with that when the time comes; or I would love to be a part of that.”

3)     Be respectful.  What?  Nobody would dare be disrespectful when interviewing, right?  Right?  Wrong!  I would overhear the laughter from the interviewers (which by the way, one is most likely your potential supervisor) after they just finished what they described as a “joke and a grueling hour of nothing” with an interviewee, and how they wondered if he/she even saw the numerous credentials, plaques, and certificates hanging on the wall.  This goes back to being cocky.

Remedy: Respect that these people do know something that you do not yet know and have experienced things that you hope to get a chance to experience.  They have put their time in well before you have even got started.  They have endured a 10 hour day of client after client without getting a chance to eat lunch and nearly losing control of their bowels.  They have actually taken a client from start to finish, full circle in the healing process.  They have been spit on, cussed out, sometimes even assaulted, and have seen and heard horrific stories of suffering and abuse, and have sat in  l  o  n  g  training sessions. They most likely have learned and successfully administered DBT to treat Borderline Personality Disorder.  They have stayed up doing client paperwork instead of going to bed with the rest of their family or took an “emergency call” while they watched the rest of their family drive off to a fun event.

Action: When you walk into a room that a counselor has decorated with a degree, licenses, or accomplishments, take the time to notice.  Comment on them which respect.  Simple statements such as “Oh, I see you got your degree in _______ from _______.  Did you like your experience at __________? What are some of the things that your university did that helped you prepare for this field?  My university has helped me prepare by ___________.  I see you are credentialed in ___________; I hope to get a chance to go to “such and such” trainings in the future.  I heard that _______________ does a great job at training in the field of __________.  Even asking them what they feel was the most vital training they received while in school that helped prepare them as a clinician shows that you respect that they have something to offer you and you want to learn from them.

4)     Remember that you are seeking a job, not just an internship.  If you are just looking for an internship, don’t bother.  I should be important to you who you are going to be working with and their plans for you when this internship is completed.  Most sites do not want to invest in someone for 9 months only to wave “bye bye” and hope that you had a good experience while you were there.  It’s not just about you.  When they interview you for an internship position, they are really interviewing you as a potential full-time employee that they hope to make out of you within the next 9 to 12 months.

Remedy: Do not appear desperate…even if you are.  If you are a desperate candidate, they are going to wonder why nobody has plucked this “ripe, potential employee” out of the line-up.  You are considering your possibilities, potential sites, have options, and desire to place yourself in the best fit for you; best fit in regards to travel time, hours, training offered, and benefits after hired, future investments they will make in you, their expectations of you now and in the future, and so forth.  You are marketable.  Remember to have foresight in your plan and in the interview.

Action: This leads to you having some control in the interview.  How does this site fit you?  What do they plan to do with you in the near future?  How are they going to invest in you?  Who would be your supervisor and what is their supervisory style, experience as a supervisor, and how long have they been with this organization? What do they expect of you now as an intern and then as an employee? This also leads you to have foresight in how you can benefit this company.  It should lead into statements such as … “If I am hired, I believe that I will be able to benefit this organization by ____________.”  Positive statements should flow off of your lips, such as “This is what I have been looking for in a counseling site!  You provide ____________ which is a strong help to those of us looking to embark into this field (summary statements).  I’m excited about the opportunity to work with you; I think we will make a good team.”

So, you say that these are all good; but, here’s my problem; I can’t even find someone to talk to me about an internship.  I’m glad you said that!  This is where reality sets in.  You are actually looking for a job, not just an internship.  It is dog eat dog out there; a very competitive field.  My experience was grueling as well.  I got a list from my state credentialing board that listed every counselor that was qualified to supervise and I called about 40 sites; only 3 returned my call and all said “No”.  I then e-mailed about 30 resumes.  Only two returned my email.  I then sent out about 15 paper resumes and one sent me an email.  So I landed 3 interviews, all of which resulted in three job offers; two of which I had to pay supervision fees (the going rate in my area was between $75 to $125; this was a lot of money for a student to pay out).  I accepted the one that would provide me with the most potential in client load, had a well-oiled internship program in operation, offered me a small intern salary, had free supervision, and provided me with the right answers to my questions and met my future needs, as well as, told me upfront that they expected me to stay if they were going to invest in me (job security at its lowest form).  Total time spent in preparing me for the internship experience and actually landing one was 7 months.  Out of the 7 months, 4 were spent looking for a site and the other 3 months were used in preparing myself to be a good candidate, learning interviewing skills, how to do a good resume, and checking out the local counseling centers and private independent counselors, as well as, learning the ropes of my state credentialing board’s requirements.

Here are some simple questions to ponder.

Do you want to finish and internship and be another clinician among hundreds in your area looking for a job or a clinician that has a job and the freedom to consider other options while earning money and having the ability to pay off school loans in the meantime?  Do you want to jump the gun and get into an internship that you are going to regret because you did not think things through or do you want to be someone who is confident that they are where they should be and willing to place themselves under the authority of one who is committed to shaping you as a clinician.  It is never too early to start working on finding an internship site.  Get your name out there!   Go interview some clinicians and site directors about the field!  Volunteer to serve at a counseling site just to get to know the feel and environment better.  How do you know if you will not like to work in an inpatient intensive program versus an outpatient site?

Start now and find out!

Lisa Farsht, MA, PC-CR is a Professional Counselor and Clinical Resident at Mid-Ohio Psychological Services, Inc., Newark, OH. She is also an associate instructor of Celebrate Recovery (Granville, OH) and a Shotokan Karate Instructor (2nd Degree Black Belt) on the side.  For more information about Lisa, please touch base on LinkedIn,  Facebook, or by email at  (The views expressed on this website/Web log are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.)

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