Goal 5 of the of the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s; 2013) APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology guidelines focuses on professional development. We got an introduction to the Professional Development Learning Outcomes in Chapter 8; for your convenience, here they are again:
5.1 Apply psychological content and skills to career goals
5.2 Exhibit self-efficacy and self-regulation
5.3 Refine project-management skills
5.4 Enhance teamwork capacity
5.5 Develop meaningful professional direction
In other words, your psychology major should prepare you for what lies ahead. As such, you can expect your program to have some form of internship opportunity embedded within the curriculum itself. This chapter focuses on internships, discussing such topics as (a) what the internship experience is all about, (b) how to obtain an internship, and (c) the many benefits that follow from a successful internship experience.
The Undergraduate Internship Experience
An internship (or practicum) experience is essentially a hands-on experience in which a student works in a professional setting, shadowing professionals in the field and often helping out with various tasks on an as-needed basis. Psychology students who have aspirations to work in the field of mental health will often participate in internships under the supervision of such professionals as clinical psychologists, school psychologists, school counselors, or mental health counselors.
A solid psychology curriculum will often have at least one internship experience embedded into the curriculum itself. That is, there is usually at least one course that a student can take that provides credit within the major for students. This class may be titled Internship in Psychology, or Practicum in Psychology, or the like.
An internship class typically includes two basic components: (a) an in-class component and (b) a site component. In such a class, the in-class component is usually taught by a professor who has strong applied experience him or herself. This may be a professor with a doctorate in clinical psychology and a long history of conducting psychotherapy, for instance. The class, which is often capped at a small number (e.g., 20) so that there is ample opportunity for discussion and participation, will usually include students who are working with a variety of placements. So a class of 20 or so students might be connected with five to 15 placement sites (i.e., locations where the students are actually working with a professional during other times in the week). During the class component of the course, time is dedicated to a combination of standard lecturing, with the professor discussing issues regarding work in the applied areas of psychology, along with time dedicated to discussion, when students can talk about some of the particulars of their placement with the group. The class will also include a number of readings and assignments designed to enhance the student’s internship experience. A typical assignment for this kind of class would be the keeping of a journal that connects with the work that the student is doing on the site.
The placement component of the class is what makes it special. Typically, on the basis of prior agreements between the department and some local agencies, students will be placed in one of several possible locations working under the supervision of an experienced professional in the field. These placement sites will vary from one another in terms of the kinds of issues they address. Partly for this reason, it is typical for students to be able to complete the internship class more than once. This feature of the curriculum allows students either (a) to try an internship regarding a different population or area of applied psychology or (b) to advance and focus on the work at a site that is an extremely good fit for a student.
As already mentioned, placement sites might include a number of specialties, including placements such as working
with a local clinical psychologist who is in private practice,
with a local mental health counselor who is in private practice,
with a local licensed clinical social worker who is in private practice,
with a school psychologist in a local school district,
with a school counselor in a local school district,
at an agency that focuses on children with special cognitive needs,
at an agency that focuses on children with special emotional needs,
at an agency that focuses on adults with special cognitive needs,
at an agency that focuses on adults with special emotional needs,
at an agency that supports adolescents in an after-school program,
at an agency that supports individuals and families that are struggling economically,
at an agency that supports women and families, or
at an agency that focuses on drug rehabilitation.
In fact, this list is not complete. On the basis of my experience working with students who have participated in internship experiences, I can tell you that there truly are many different areas available for students interested in internship experiences related to psychology.