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Dr. Hatchuel Oct 16, 2020

Tips for Navigating the Practicum and Internship Application Process

The Practicum and Internship experience is one of the most significant milestones in a counseling student’s graduate school experience. CACREP describes Practicum and Internship as “entry-level professional practice that provides for the application of theory and the development of counseling skills under supervision (CACREP, 2020).” This is the point of your program where the “rubber meets the road” and you begin practicing all of the knowledge and skills you have been learning. You are about to take your professional identity development to the next level!

Students typically have a lot of questions about what Practicum and Internship (i.e., Fieldwork) entails and, more specifically, how do they find a site? In my experience, there are many important factors that need to be considered when searching for a Fieldwork site. If you are hoping to reduce the stress and struggle with navigating this process, check out some of these insider tips!

  1. Identify your target population. Many of you already have ideas about the client populations and treatment settings you want to work with. If that’s the case, you can do a specific search for counseling and/or human service organizations in your area that support that need. It can be as straightforward as typing “counseling internship in (city)” into the all-knowing Google. Fieldwork sites might include community service boards, hospitals, non-profits, and private practices. Many schools will also have a list of sites that students have either worked at or have been approved by the program. Start compiling a list/spreadsheet to keep track of site names, staff contacts, locations, services provided, etc.
  2. Consider your location. You have probably heard the phrase “location is everything” and this extends to Fieldwork sites. Site availability is driven by client need and this will impact your search. For example, if you live in a rural area, you might not have as many site options as someone who lives in a city. If you live in an urban area, you might have more options but you will also have competition with students from other universities. In either scenario, be aware that you might have to extend your search beyond your zip code to find what you need. This might also impact your planning process in terms of when you start looking (e.g., extending the application timeline).
  3. Understand your program and licensure requirements. This is huge and an area many students often overlook. Do you know what your program requires for Fieldwork? If you don’t know, do the research because you will likely be asked by a potential site supervisor; they want to know what they need to provide you with in terms of direct clinical hours, supervision, training, etc. Your program should have a Fieldwork handbook or manual that contains this important information. I also encourage you to start looking at what your state licensing requirements are for Fieldwork. For example, some states require a 1000-hour internship while most (CACREP) schools only require 600. The details matter and you do not want to get caught in a situation where you have to go back to school unexpectedly!
  4. Networking. Yes, networking is still a thing! If you have friends, classmates, program alumni, and/or colleagues who are already in the mental health field, reach out and ask if they are aware of any internship opportunities. Your school might even have a list of sites that previous students have worked at. Making contacts and looking for opportunities through ACA and state counseling associations can also be a great starting point.
  5. Prepare your resume. Even if you do not have experience in the counseling field, you should be prepared to submit a resume when applying for a Fieldwork site. Most universities have a Career Center that can provide support with developing, revising, and strengthening a resume. Remember, this is often the first “snapshot” a Fieldwork site will have of you!
  6. Practice flexibility. In my role as a faculty advisor, students often ask me if they have to find a Fieldwork site that aligns with their ultimate career goals (e.g., play therapy). I try to remind them that the Fieldwork experience is not really the time to develop a specialization—that is what post-master’s and specialized training is for! For most students, a good Fieldwork experience is a completed Fieldwork experience. Please remember that this is about learning and remaining flexible. During my master’s level Fieldwork, I learned just as much about what I did not want to do professionally as what I enjoyed!
  7. Covid-19 considerations. This is another question that is on students’ minds: are Fieldwork sites still accepting counseling interns? The short answer is “YES!” Covid-19 has certainly challenged the traditional delivery of mental health services but we have quickly seen an adaptation to telehealth. It’s unclear how this will continue to play out, but please remember there is a tremendous need for counselors and Fieldwork positions are still available. I’d encourage all students planning on starting Fieldwork in the next 6-12 months to seek out training on telehealth—what a wonderful skill to include on your resume and application!
  8. Be proactive. I cannot emphasize this enough: Do not wait until the last minute to start looking for a Fieldwork site! Waiting is more likely to create stress and chaos that could be avoidable with a bit of preparation...and nobody needs additional stress and chaos in 2020! Take it one step at a time. Like I say to my clients, little actions add up to big changes over time. Starting your search 6-12 months before you start might seem like a long time but the process is highly variable depending on many of the factors discussed here.

There is no escaping the reality that the Fieldwork application process is a big undertaking. But it is also super exciting! One of the most common pieces of feedback faculty hear from students at the end of their Fieldwork training is how much they have grown personally and professionally…how cool is that?! You are taking the next step in your counseling journey and I hope you all find a site that supports you in that process.

Dr. Elizabeth Hatchuel is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Counselor Educator working in the Washington, DC area. She has been active in the mental health field for more than 15 years and specializes in the treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and maternal mental health. In addition to private practice, Dr. Hatchuel is a Core Faculty member in Capella University’s Graduate School of Counseling and Human Services. She also serves as the Chapter Faculty Advisor for the Chi Upsilon Chi chapter of Chi Sigma Iota. 

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