To gain skills in the practice of clinical or counseling psychology, students are required to have hands-on practical experience using psychological interventions. These hands-on experiences take many different forms, including field placements, practical internships, residency and supervised practice.
The definitions of each vary based on the degree of supervision one receives, the length of the training experience and the purpose of the experience.
- Field placements may be a first opportunity to be “in the field” observing and assisting in an agency.
- A practicum usually is part of a college course and includes actual practice with supervision of a psychological practice—typically beginning and intermediate counseling skills.
These practical experiences may or may not provide a stipend or salary. Typically, they are done on a voluntary basis and are part of a structured academic program.
Within psychology, the terms internship and residency are often reserved for one-year advanced skill training. Internship/residency usually includes a modest salary.
Supervised practice is a general term indicating that the individual is being supervised by a qualified psychologist. Supervision usually involves close oversight of the supervisee regarding each patient or client seen by the trainee. For licensure in Ohio, graduate students must have a total of two years (3,600 hours) of supervised practice that is acceptable to the Board of Psychology.
Typically, academic psychology programs have a structured, sequence of semester long practicum, which is followed by a formal one-year pre-doctoral internship. This internship is usually followed by a one year post doctoral internship. Read more about the American Psychological Association’s process of accrediting psychology internships.
The internship sites have an organization that assists students, faculty and supervisors. The organization, the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC), provides applications for internships and organizes a national “match day” every year in February to connect appropriately trained and interested intern applicants with internship sites.
The APPIC website provides directions on the process and information about records of successful “matches” by various psychology programs around the country. While it is possible and sometimes necessary to find your own internship site, most students seek an internship through the national match program.
It is sometimes a challenge for students to find appropriate practice experiences if the program they are enrolled in does not provide them. This is often the case with long-distance learning programs. The best advice is to make contacts with local psychologists in your geographical area to obtain mentoring and assistance. Joining the Ohio Psychological Association of Graduate Students (OPAGS) is a good start.
If you are not enrolled in a psychology doctoral program, experience in the field of psychology can be a good way to test your skills and interests. OPA’s advice is to look for a program that interests you, and volunteer your time. For example, suicide hot lines provide excellent phone counseling training and volunteers provide an important service to the community. Other community programs that use volunteers include schools, hospitals, programs and camps for children with special needs, nursing homes and the juvenile court system.
For psychology students who wish to focus on the research and scientific inquiry and not clinical work in psychology, it’s important to get experience doing research as an undergraduate student.
Taking math, statistics, research methods, biology and chemistry can be helpful. APA offers research oriented science internships for selected undergraduate in the summers.