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Internships and practicums offer practical experience for psychology students and recent graduates. Both of these roles help students learn the ins and outs of working in the field, including what it's like to apply theories they learn in class to real people in crisis. While internships and practicums have many similarities, there are several key differences that psychology students should know about. Perhaps the most important difference is the scope of work the student is allowed to perform. In practicums, learners closely watch a professional complete tasks like counseling patients and recommending treatments. In contrast, psychology internships allow students to work more independently. These learners report to supervisors, but they may perform duties without a supervisor's presence.
Most psychology programs require students to complete an internship or practicum to prepare them to work with real patients upon graduation. Supervised, hands-on experience allows psychology students to better serve their patients after earning a degree. An internship or practicum can help a student be more successful early on. The National Association for Colleges and Employers (NACE) reported that over 81% of graduates who had internships say it benefitted their careers by helping them find focus. These positions can also help students network with current professionals who may offer a job upon graduation. The NACE report also found that most employers offering internships do so with the intention of hiring the intern.
What to Expect From Your Psychology Internship or Practicum
What Will I Do for My Psychology Internship or Practicum?
Practicums and internships for psychology majors vary depending on the employer, the school, and the level of coursework the student is completing. However, there are some components that all students in these positions can expect. In practicums, students initially observe a licensed psychologist interacting with patients. Over the length of the practicum, the supervisor may give the learner some tasks to complete. They may also discuss why the psychologist did or said certain things and go over any questions the student has.
Interns may work with clients or groups of clients directly, with or without supervision. Throughout the day, the intern may check in with the supervisor to get feedback, ask questions, and go over the intern's recommendations for each client.
In Which Type of Setting Will I Work?
Because internships and practicums offer practical experience for a resume, it is important for psychology students to choose a program aligned with their career goals. Someone looking to work in substance abuse facilities should try to get an internship is a similar setting. Students can choose from a host of different settings, including private practices, hospitals, correctional facilities, rehabilitation facilities, and out-patient clinics. Degree candidates taking courses online can often complete their school psychology internships close to home rather than the school.
How Long Will My Internship or Practicum Last?
The length of a student's pre-professional experience program varies depending on the school's requirements, the employer's needs, and the degree level. A recent study of psychology program directors found that the average desired length of a practicum is 1,094 hours. However, there is no agreed-upon minimum for practicums within the psychology community. Depending on the specific area of psychology, an internship can last between six months and two years.
The area of psychology the student is studying is a factor that determines the length of the internship or practicum. The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia requires students to complete at least 1,900 hours of supervised clinical experience in one year, which is the equivalent of a full-time job. In contrast, Nova Southeastern University requires school counseling students to work 20 hours per week for 15 weeks in a school setting to earn internship credit.
Will I Get Paid for My Psychology Internship or Practicum?
Typically, practicums do not pay students because the learner is observing more than working. However, these students may be able to use financial aid while enrolled in a practicum. Some psychology internships pay learners for their work.
Will I Get Academic Credit for My Internship or Practicum?
Schools that require students to complete a practicum or internship usually give college credit for the experience. Often, students must turn in regular assignments to a supervising professor to get the college credit they need. Other times, the learner only has to show proof of attendance. Internships often work in much the same way. However, sometimes the licensure candidate completes an internship after earning a doctorate. In this case, the learner does not receive college credit and instead completes requirements that the state issues for licensure.
How Will My Psychology Internship or Practicum Help Me?
Not only do psychologists need to understand theory, diagnosis criteria, and treatment options, but they must also know how to build trusting relationships with each client. Because professional interpersonal skills are difficult to teach in a classroom setting, students are given the opportunity to hone them in internships and practicums. Furthermore, these experiences allow learners to see what happens behind the scenes, which helps to smooth the transition from school work to a professional role.
Internships also help students gain professional contacts in addition to offering clarification regarding which area of psychology students want to spend their careers in. To get the most out of an internship or practicum, the degree candidate should set specific goals. Students who struggle with knowing what questions to ask can make it their mission to work on that aspect.
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How to Find Psychology Internships
Psychology is a varied field with many specialties, so it's important for students to find an appropriate practicum or internship. The resources below are some ways learners can find the internship or practicum that best suits their career goals.
Your School's Career Center
- Each school's career center exists to help students find career success. Learners should feel free to reach out to these job-placement professionals for guidance.
- Job fairs are great for connecting with many employers in a short period of time. Students should dress professionally and show up with plenty of resume copies.
- Some major employers host recruiting events to drive interest in working there. Even if they don't explicitly say it is an internship fair, students can benefit from meeting decision makers at these events.
- Alumni networks are filled with former students who are invested in the school and its students. Degree candidates can leverage this connection to land a great practicum or internship.
Job Boards and Internship Databases
- Several organizations compile lists of current internship openings that help employers and potential interns connect. Below are a few of the best.
Psychology Internship Opportunities
Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers: This organization specializes in matching doctoral graduates and employers. Postdoctoral graduates who need an internship before earning their license can use this database to find opportunities.
American Psychological Association: The APA maintains a database of the programs it accredits, including internship programs and higher learning institutions. Students can narrow their searches by specialty.
Social Psychology Network: Social psychologists at all levels can use this site to find relevant work. This site offers an internship job board and resources for student financial aid.
Society for Community Research and Action: This professional organization is for community psychologists. Employers post relevant jobs on the society's job board, including internship opportunities.
National Latina/o Psychological Association: Latinx psychology professionals can search this organization's database of training opportunities to find internships in almost any area of psychology.
Association for Psychological Science: This association keeps a robust job board filled with many positions, including internships and fellowships.
Psychology Today: As the go-to publication for psychologists across the country, Psychology Today has many articles that give advice to internship candidates, including how to nail the interview and how to get the most out of a practicum.
Succeeding in Practicum: An APAGS Resource Guide: Michael B. Madson, Ph.D., wrote this book on how to survive and thrive in a psychology practicum. In 102 pages, students can learn what to expect from this experience and how to leverage it.
APAGS Resource Guide for Ethnic Minority Graduate Students: The APA developed this resource specifically for the unique obstacles students from ethnic minority backgrounds face in graduate school.