If you’ve ever had a job, you know what it’s like to be the new person. I bet you also know what it’s like to have to have a new employee help you with a purchase or at a restaurant. During my graduate school years, I briefly worked at a local coffee shop, my one and only restaurant job. Let me tell you, it wasn’t an easy learning curve. I knew it, and my customers knew it. I made some truly abominable lattes that had to be remade, much to the chagrin of my customers who were trying to dash out to work. I almost had my own emotional meltdown in the middle of the coffee shop while I negotiated complicated orders into the computer during a Saturday morning rush. Awkward.
Thankfully, a new therapist during clinical internship is far more prepared, passionate, and adept in their clinical work than I was with my lattes. Furthermore, although they’re new to the field, intern therapists have unique benefits because of their specific career stage. As someone who has met with intern therapists for her own mental health, finished her own clinical internship and graduated in May, and as a colleague to several fabulous intern therapists here at CCA, here’s my pitch for why intern therapists are great!
Intern therapists are straight from the classroom where they’ve learned about the cutting edge of current research and interventions. I can’t speak for all graduate programs, but when I started meeting with clients individually, I had already spent two years in the classroom full-time, learning about psychology, human growth and development, therapeutic interventions, treatment planning, harm reduction, and safety, all while dealing with my own mental health and story.
When we’re released into the world as fresh baby therapists, we are armed with libraries full of resources, bolstered with words of wisdom from our professors, and fueled with research that we’ve had to study for papers. We might be new to sitting in the room with clients, but we’ve been marinating in all things therapy for months on end and we have mind-boggling amounts of information at our fingertips if our clients need it.
Intern therapists have multiple supervisors and consultation groups checking on their work and guiding them. Therapists get more weekly supervision during their clinical internship years than they will in the rest of their career. When I was in graduate school, I had two supervisors and two clinical consultation groups, and I met with them weekly. One of my friends had three supervisors and joined a local online therapy resource group in order to broaden her network and input.
While navigating this much supervision can be a bit of a logistical nightmare for the intern, it ensures that she has a chorus of wisdom and guidance as she works with her clients. The best supervisors can point out therapists’ blind spots, facilitate curiosity about the therapists’ wellbeing, offer advice, provide ethical next steps, and celebrate therapy wins with their supervisees. Good supervisors also are quick to name when they don’t have the answers and point their supervisees to resources or clinicians who do.
Intern therapists don’t usually have very large caseloads, which means that their clients get more of their brain space. The first season of working as a therapist consists of getting used to seeing clients, writing clinical treatment plans and notes for the first time, meeting with supervisors, and processing your own mental health as a therapist. It can be a lot. However, while graduate students are usually overloaded with assignments, meetings, and deadlines, most counseling programs require that they see a limited number of clients during their internships. This means that each client has a concentrated amount of the therapist’s mental and emotional energy, which can be beneficial to both the client and the therapist.
As therapists, we are trained to see each individual client as unique and important, but when we are starting out, our limited caseload helps us really hone this skill. It also helps therapists delay burnout or secondary trauma, which enables us to provide better care over a longer period of time. As a client, you can know that your clinician will work very hard for you. They are invested in your healing, passionate about your wellness, and excited to work with you. They have been literally working and waiting for years to meet with you, after all.