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For many psychology students, an internship is an integral part of their education. These hands-on experiences provide learners a real-world context to apply what they've learned in their lectures and readings. In short, an internship can make those theories corporeal and observable.
Not all psychology students need to take on an internship to graduate. Undergraduate learners often can choose whether or not to participate, while graduate students usually complete an internship as a requirement for their programs. Ultimately, internship requirements depend on the subdiscipline. Even if the curriculum does not make the internship mandatory, students can benefit from gaining supervised experience before beginning their careers.
Distance learners enrolled in online courses can also participate in internships, however these opportunities may be difficult to find. This guide outlines the benefits of participating in an internship, as well as how to find one. You can learn more about psychology internship and practicum requirements here.
Benefits of a Psychology Internship
For undergraduate psychology students, an internship can help them determine a specialization. "It also can help identify populations that the student may want to work with or not want to work with," argues Melissa Meade, a mental health counselor who specializes in dance/movement therapy.
Perhaps the most significant benefits of a psychology internship are the practical skills one gains. Students can apply theories they learned in the classroom to real-life professional settings. Additionally, an internship experience can make students more marketable when searching for jobs, says Dr. Jeanne Slattery, a professor of psychology and a licensed psychologist.
Read on to learn more about the types of skills students can pick up in their internships.
Skills Gained in a Psychology Internship
One of the main benefits of any internship is developing valuable skills that you can carry into the beginning of your career.
"Because internships take many different forms and students enter internships with many different skills and needs, there will be a wide range of skills obtained," Slattery said. "I encourage my students to talk with their internship supervisor about goals and expectations from early in their internship."
"The student can learn how to deal with his/her emotions in response to the clients/patients," Meade said. "Students may not expect the depth of response that they may have when working with people."
Truly listening makes up a huge part of psychologists' profession. Deep listening is not always an easy task; the earlier students begin practicing, the better.
In addition to carefully listening to their clients, psychologists must also adequately communicate with them.
Ability to work with different people and populations
Psychologists encounter many different patient personalities on the job, and they must have the capacity to work with all of them.
Interns can observe how professional psychologists deal with challenges on the job. They can also observe how these psychologists use their analytical and problem-solving skills to resolve those challenges.
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Finding a Psychology Internship
Landing a psychology internship can be tricky for distance learners who do not have the benefit of on-campus resources. Traditional students can always walk into a career office, talk to recruiters who visit campus, or look at a job board on the quad. But for online students, the process looks a bit different.
Distance learners must self-direct their search. They should begin by looking for positions at social services organizations -- such as foster care and women's shelters -- as well as psych hospitals and rehab treatment centers. They might also look into regular hospitals, cancer centers, hospice locations, children's services, and community mental health providers.
Keep in mind, though, that for organizations without much funding -- community services and nonprofit groups, for example -- internships may not be paid. "Nonprofit organizations will likely want help, but may have limited opportunities to work with professionals as guides or mentors," Meade said.
When to Start Looking for a Psychology Internship
Undergraduate and graduate students study on different timelines, so they should look for psychology internships at different times as well. Undergraduate students should wait until their junior or senior years, although Slattery advises degree-seekers to start volunteering before then.
Graduate students should also consider their school's requirements. "I would start looking for placements the semester before it is required," Meade advises. "If it is not required, I would start in the early spring to look for something in the summer."
Advice for Students Seeking Psychology Internships
- Network, and don't be afraid to use your social networks, too: "Network with friends and family members to identify local options," Slattery recommends. Even if they do not work in the healthcare industry, you might be surprised at what they know about their local communities. Meade also suggests using social media sites like Facebook and Instagram to research potential internship locations.
- Talk to you professors: You may not be able to physically walk into your professor's office during his or her office hours, but you can always email your instructor. After all, professors usually have contacts within the industry -- and just like in any industry, the people you know can help your career. Professors can connect you to internship opportunities that you might not otherwise know about.
- Talk to your school's internship advisors or coordinators: Many schools offer career services to their distance learning students. Take advantage of these services, especially if your school hires an internship coordinator, says Slattery. They're there to help you, and they can offer guidance about a range of internship programs.
- Look for virtual opportunities: An increasing number of organizations are offering distance learning internships. Check out websites like Intern from Home, Internships.com, Handshake, LinkedIn, Parker Dewey, Vault, and WayUp for these opportunities.
- Identify places where you want to work: Don't just rely on online job postings. Look for places that offer services matching your interests. "Then ask! Call and make appointments with several organizations that you found," Meade said. "Don't get discouraged if a few aren't interested; keep asking. You will find the place that is right for you."
- Ask professionals: Even if one organization does not offer an internship -- or cannot provide funding or college credit -- you can still use your connection with them to your advantage. Ask the professionals who work at these organizations for suggestions of other opportunities.
The APA is the largest professional organization for psychologists in the U.S. Here you can find plenty of resources and advice on internships and starting your career.
You can find a list of non-academic internships relating to psychology on the SPSP website.
If you're a doctoral student in psychology, you can use this service to find an internship.
Published by PsychCentral, this short resource is packed with helpful advice.
This book helps students find the right internship for them. It also offers advice on how to write a successful internship application.
If you need help writing your resume, visit this resource. UC Davis compiled a list of several resumes and CVs, which can help you structure your own.
Dr. Jeanne M. Slattery
Dr. Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology and a licensed psychologist with a small private practice. She sits on the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, and has written three books -- one of which is coming out in a second edition in 2020. She loves teaching -- and her students -- and loves thinking about what will help them meet their goals.
After a successful 30+ year career, Melissa Meade felt a deep desire to help others, leading her to become a mental health counselor. Additionally, having experienced the healing power of dance in her own life, she further pursued credentialing in dance/movement therapy. Melissa uses an embodied approach in therapy. She believes that every person has the internal ability to heal and everyone needs help from time to time. Her work with clients is informed by a humanistic approach, using aspects of solution/strengths-based, attachment-focused, and psychodynamic theories.