One of the issues that I am contacted about frequently has to do with internship placement. While I will not pretend to be an expert on internship placements, I have been an intern myself for seven different programs and have interviewed and supervised many interns over the years. As a Clinical Director I am currently in charge of interns at our not for profit as well. What follows are some humble suggestions. I hope you find them useful.
Some college programs have built in placements or long term contacts, be sure to ask your professors, Program Director and or School Counselor if such placement arrangements are available and if not, if they maintain a list of organizations that have used clinical students recently. This can be a key starting point for most clinical students. Lacking that, you can go to the ACA webpage, google and other options and enter “clinical internships” in the search engine. From there you will find professional organizations that specialize in internship placement. One such company http://counselinginternships.com/ is owned and operated by an ACA blogger named Ryan Thomas Neace. If you contact them, be sure to tell them that Doc Warren sends his regards.
When looking for a placement on your own here are a few items that should help.
- Research the area to see what type of programs there are and what ones have a specialty that you would like to gain experience with. Make a list including contact information and start contacting each one (once you have written a cover letter including detailed information on your training, experience and why you want to be placed there and have an up to date resume. Check spelling and grammar! I can’t tell you how many illegible applications I have received and promptly rejected. If you can’t take the time to write a good introduction why should I invest my time to help teach you the trade?).
- If you contact via email, please remember that they are not your friend. Do not use short cuts, text language or be overly informal. I once received a query that said something akin to “Sup Doc I’m n gradschool need intern cn u hk me up.” There was no punctuation, no contact information or common sense, at least that I could find. Their chances of an internship were nonexistent based on that email.
- Do check the website for internship information. At my two locations we now consider interns only after they have gone to our site and filled out an internship placement form. We simply could not keep track of requests otherwise.
- Do remember that these placements are competitive- why should they select you? What do you offer? What sets you apart from the rest of the flock? You do not have to have the highest grades or the best connections but I need to know as a supervisor that there is something about you that will make you a good fit to our team. It may be that you are passionate about our target population, treatment model or area. That is a great foundation. Don’t tell me that this is simply a formality for you. I take people who want to make a difference and who want to be the change in the profession that they feel is needed. If you only want to punch a clock, find a clinic or someplace that is so large that they are just looking for warm bodies.
- DO START EARLY! Many folks who are successfully placed with me started contacting me 6-8, sometimes 12 months before they needed to start. This puts them on top of my list when I had an opening. Many places have multiple requests and only take a finite number per year. My program maxes out at 4 at any one time so the earlier you contact me the better.
- Contact multiple times unless they have a policy or have requested that you not. Do not be a pest but do make sure they know you are still interested. My first intern was only accepted because she kept emailing and leaving messages for me. I was not ignoring her as I was super busy but knowing she wanted this placement lead me to call her back. She had an impressive set of credentials, a good interview and a kind heart so I went from “sorry but I really do not do interns” to “I typically do not take interns BUT…” She did a fine job and this lead to our formal program.
- Do show that you are willing, able and energetically seeking a chance to learn all phases of mental health services; not just the minimal required to graduate. This can make all the difference. Many of my interns have assisted in program planning, outreach, grant writing and educational services as well as general internship projects.
- Do be flexible.
- DO YOUR HOMEWORK! If you get an interview make sure that you have researched the company, mission, goals, populations served and programming so you can share relevant information about yourself and how you could complement the team. Years ago (before everyone had a webpage and smartphones) I was asked by an interviewer what I knew about the company. I did my homework and was prepared. I told them when they were founded, the relevance of their name (it was a tribute to someone who had lost their life to the disease that they specialized in treating), programs and population served and shared some trivia. When I was finished she informed me that I knew more about the company than she did. While she did not give me an internship, she did offer me a paid position that would also qualify towards my internship. That little bit of research paid off well.
- Do BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. You are likely a very well read, well rounded student. You need not be famous, connected or the best at anything to make a great intern, though I am sure you excel in some areas. You need not give the best interview of your life; be yourself but be your professional self. Small talk, a sense of humor and being real can get you very far so long as you are being congruent and are acting appropriate for the setting. You have paid your dues and will continue to do so throughout your career. You deserve to be here, now the only question is where “here” will be.
- Contact multiple sources and sites. You can always cull them down in the future if need be. To me, the best feeling during my internship days was when I had multiple offers that I was fielding. Being able to pick the best offer was so much better than scrambling at the end.