Maximizing Your Counseling Internship Experience
Clinical internships can be a great learning experience for students, however they can also be a great source of stress. Knowing how to maximize your internship experience can help you to reduce your stress levels and chances of burn out. Also, practicing getting your needs met within the safety of an internship can help better prepare you to also get your needs met once you have a paid position.
The first step to maximizing your internship is knowing what you want. Some people even find it helpful to make a list. The list may consist of professional goals, academic goals, and personal goals. These goals are helpful in going through the interview process, as they can help you to ask the right questions. If you want to work with children, but forget to ask in your interview what type of clients you will be seeing, you may not get this goal met if you accept the internship. Your list of goals can also serve as a reference in regards to your progress.
After you have come up with your goals, it is important to find the right internship that is the right fit for you. What does your life outside of your internship look like? Do you need flexibility or can you be flexible? Do you have time for a more intense internship where you may need more self-care than if you worked somewhere else? Are you the type of learner that does better on your own or do you need a lot of guidance? What work environment do you do best in? Do you need your own office or is shared space better for you? How are you and your supervisor going to work together?
Your supervisor is going to be the person that helps guide you the most. With that said, your supervisor and you need to get along. You need to feel comfortable disclosing insecurities in your work and be open to the changes that your supervisor can suggest. Specific to a clinical internship, intimate issues in your personal life may come up. Will you feel comfortable enough with this person for you to grow in these moments? At the same time you are being pushed to grow, is your supervisor also able to grow with you? Are they open to learning and growing by teaching you? Can you challenge them to give you what you need? Are they open to this challenge? Figuring out what balance you need from your supervisor is key. Ask yourself can you learn from this person and can they be influenced by you? Are they going to push you where you need to be pushed? Can they make changes where you need them to change?
Though it is important for your supervisor to push you, pushing yourself is also important. If you have a client struggling with grief, read some books on this topic. Talk to friends and family about their experience(s) of grief. Brainstorm your ideas with other clinicians in the organization, watch your video taped sessions 1-2 times. Spend the time and try to outline all the steps to recovery, and specifically where this client is stuck. Identify where and how grief has impacted your world. Having an internship that allows for your own self-growth is beneficial. Push yourself to educate yourself and take the risk with your supervisor and expose the areas of yourself that are in still in process of growing.
Enjoy the fact that you are the intern. You are able to try new techniques or go in a direction that doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable for you. You have the guidance of a supervisor to correct something and the cushion of saying that you’re an intern.
At the same time that you are growing, are you able to also help the agency grow? If you find outside activities that you have a true passion for, can you bring them in and make them a permanent part of your site? Taking the initiative to filling in where there may be gaps in your site’s program can be beneficial to you as an intern, and can also look great on your resume.
Looking back at your list of goals, what are your goals for after your internship? Do you want to be hired by your site? Do you need a recommendation letter? Are you keeping the relationships that you created throughout your internship once you are done? These people are now your colleagues rather than your superior once your internship is over. Promote yourself as an expert; tell your co-workers where you are going next so that they may refer to you.
Finally, make sure you get a thorough assessment from your supervisor. Most of the time, your school will provide one for you; however, if you have additional questions that would be more beneficial for your growth don’t be afraid to ask them. Also, if you’re feeling like you need more feedback throughout the semester, let your supervisor (and co-workers, if applicable) know that you would like them to give more detailed feedback.