Psychotherapy Bulletin

Psychotherapy Bulletin

Clinical Impact Statement: This article provides important information to doctoral students applying for predoctoral psychology internships and to enhance their opportunities for obtaining ideal clinical training. Specific guidance is provided to assist clinical, counseling and school psychology doctoral students to develop attitudes, knowledge, and skills needed to effectively participate in the internship application process. 

Clinical Impact Statement: This article provides important information to doctoral students applying for predoctoral psychology internships and to enhance their opportunities for obtaining ideal clinical training. Specific guidance is provided to assist clinical, counseling and school psychology doctoral students to develop attitudes, knowledge, and skills needed to effectively participate in the internship application process. 

Although a number of printed materials or professionals provide great tips on how to land an ideal psychology predoctoral internship, we at Division 29 were lucky to gather “real time” and valuable insider information. Current and recent psychology predoctoral interns from across the United States were recently asked to share their insights about the internship application, interview experiences and notes about their first few months on the job. Here is a summary of their words of wisdom, which we hope will help current and future applicants gear up for this major endeavor.

The Application, aka “AAPI”

Your challenge, should you choose to accept: Enthusiastically communicate who you are, stand out among numerous other applicants, and cogently describe all the clinical and research experience you’ve gained over the past several years while appearing humble in 500 words or less. Overwhelmed? You’re not alone. Although the thought of the AAPIC Application for Psychology Internships (AAPI) essays commonly elicits a flight response, frequent and early exposure is critical. The AAPI essays are comparable to an “elevator speech”—your moment to dazzle the internship selection committee with who you are and why you’re the ideal applicant. Here are a few guidelines on how to get started.

Prioritize the cover letter

This is your first impression; it sets the tone and is an opportunity to convince an internship selection committee why they should interview you. Describe what you want to accomplish and how the specific site will help you reach these goals. There is a fine balance between showcasing your expertise and conveying your openness to learning. Although there will be a temptation to reiterate what you wrote in your essays, attention to developing a distinct cover letter demonstrates your conscientiousness.

The personal statement and essays

The personal statement should be exactly this—personal. This essay distinguishes you from other applicants. It is your story; so write with intent to really draw readers in with a narrative that makes you stand out. The diversity essay is designed to demonstrate how you approach multicultural competence. Highlight an experience in which you were able to work through a cultural challenge, including the process through which you learned something new about the interplay between your social identities and those of your clients’. And finally, the research essay provides a succinct overview of how you bridge science and practice. Anecdotes in all of your essays offer readers a clearer sense of you and what you’re like as a therapist.

Although each essay should stand on its own, make sure there is a common thread throughout your materials so sites are able to envision how you would fit within their organization.

This will only be accomplished by customizing your application for each site, which will demonstrate your attention to what they have to offer and how it meets your professional goals. Accordingly, invite supervisors, recent interns, and family members to read your materials. Their feedback will lead to more concise, more personalized, and clearly written essays and cover letter. Don’t forget to check your spelling and grammar!

Letters of Recommendation

Your letter of recommendations will bolster your application by delivering three primary messages, including: (a) you have something valuable to contribute to a site; (b) you are well-prepared for the internship year; and (c) you are likeable.

Do not be afraid to ask potential recommenders if they are able to write you a “strong letter.” If someone hesitates, do not pursue it and ask someone else. Relatedly, request letters from people who can really speak to your various clinical, research, and academic skills. These may typically include your academic advisor, a mentor, and one or two clinical supervisors. Also include reviewers who can speak to your interpersonal style and professional development.

The next step is to set one due date for all of your letter writers, preferably several days earlier than your first official deadline. This will prevent confusion.

It is also a courtesy to prepare an outline for each letter writer using the standardized recommendation form. Include some information about what you would like each letter writer to highlight regarding your skills and your future professional goals. Briefly describe your experiences and areas of expertise as well as areas you would like to develop while on internship. Recommenders often have a number of supervisees, so it is helpful to give them a “refresher” on things you accomplished while working with them.

Your Hours

Do not fall behind! From day one of your first clinical practicum experience, you have been accruing valuable hours. Keep up with tallying and saving your hours in an organized way, as it will be difficult to recall the specifics later. Some interns suggest the Time2Track system, which corresponds with the AAPIC application; however, there are other easy methods (e.g., Excel spreadsheets). As you begin to tally your hours, it’s important to be honest, but do not pore over every minute. For example, sites expect 45-minute sessions to be rounded to an hour. Consult with your program training director or advisor if you are confused about how to categorize your hours (e.g., direct, assessment, or indirect).

Selecting Your Sites

As a graduate student, you have been encouraged to identify the types of sites, training, and populations in which you are interested. Perhaps you have received a breadth of experiences and opportunities to work with a variety of populations in diverse contexts. The internship year is your opportunity to receive intensive training from one site. The thought of committing to one place for 12 months, however, can be quite daunting.

Interns recommend first identifying sites which offer training opportunities that fit your goals, followed by narrowing your list down to approximately 12 to 15 sites based on personal priorities. In addition to all of the amazing training opportunities, you know what you need to be successful during the year. Perhaps you are heavily influenced by weather or know distance from family or job opportunities for a partner take precedence. It is critical to consider a number of these factors as you select sites to which you will apply. On the other hand, it will be tempting to base your decision purely on geography. Think warm and balmy Hawaii or cool and misty Seattle. Current interns remind us all this is the year to receive the exceptional training you need and want for your future career, and advise not to lean too heavily on the geography factor.

Finally, it is common to have a number of “maybe” sites, about which you are ambivalent and need more information. The interview may move them up or down on your list, so remain open to all possibilities. The person-environment fit will be something about which you learn more as the application process continues. Each interaction with each site will provide valuable insight into the right match for you.

Interviews

Take a deep breath and savor the moment. You have made it to the next big application milestone and should feel good. You’ve received your several interview invitations. Depending on the site, you will have options for a phone, in-person, or open-house type interview. Although preparation will be quite similar across interviews, we offer a few guidelines for each type below.

Phone and online interviews

Test, test, 1, 2, 3. Find a location where you will have quiet, privacy, and clear cell phone reception and/or internet connection. Ask a friend to test it out with you. If at all possible, conduct a dress rehearsal, asking a classmate to act as an interviewer who can subsequently provide you feedback on how you sounded or appeared.

On interview day, here are a few unanticipated items for which to be ready. First, you may be interviewed by multiple individuals during the phone call or Skype meeting. This will mean fewer nonverbal cues and minimal encouragers. Either prior to or during the interview, jot down the names of the people with whom you are speaking. You can easily reference this list while interacting.

Unlike in therapy, interviewer silence or a lack of facial expression does not always mean something, as interviewers may be jotting down notes or preparing their next question. On your end, offer the interviewers some nonverbal cues, including occasional nods or minimal encouragers (e.g., uh-huh) to let them know you are listening. Keep a list of your questions and comments in front of you and refer to it when it’s your turn to ask them about their site.

In-person interviews

Lights, camera, action! The interview starts the moment you walk in the door. Talk to everyone you can, including current interns and non-clinical staff. Engage with other intern applicants, as interviewers are observing group dynamics and determining the ideal cohort composition.

If possible, spend some time checking out the local area and nearby communities. Current interns will have the best information on cost of living, transportation, and so forth. Ask yourself, “Will I enjoy living here for a year or possibly even longer if I am offered a postdoctoral or position after internship?”

All interviews

For all interviews, preparation is key. Do your research by getting to really know your sites and their staff. Remember to think about why you want to be at this internship site, and to be clear about why you are a good fit and vice versa. The interview is a two-way street, so observe organizational dynamics, including how staff communicate and collaborate with one another.

You will have many chances to ask interviewers questions. Come prepared with questions tailored to each site, staff, and specific opportunities. The questions you ask also give interviewers some insight into who you are and what you might be like as a colleague. It is okay to ask about work-life balance, how staff get along, intern experiences, and opportunities you did not see described in their materials. In a group interview, bounce off questions others are asking and keep track of what’s been asked to avoid redundancy.

Practice quick thinking skills, as you may be asked to discuss how you might approach a sample assessment or therapy case. Be prepared to speak to views on the state of psychology and where you see the future of psychology. You may also be asked to describe what you do outside of work. It’s all right to talk about things outside of your clinical experience. Be yourself while maintaining professionalism. Finally, eat and sleep well the night before! Dress in business attire for all interviews (even the phone ones)—no jeans or t-shirts.

Scheduling interviews

You are going to start receiving interview invitations as early as October! Prior to these invitations, create a calendar ahead of time with all possible dates and times for site interviews. Develop a “pre-rank” list of sites in case there are scheduling conflicts. This will enable you to prioritize specific interviews. Keep this calendar available with you until all interviews are scheduled. 

If there are conflicts, attend highly preferred sites in-person (if offered) and request phone interviews for others. Most sites are willing to accommodate this request. A note of caution: You are generally at a disadvantage if you interview by phone instead of in-person (except for sites that only conduct phone interviews).

Interview travel. Interviews are often held in November through late January. This may mean missing classes and days at your clinical sites. To minimize days you are gone, try to schedule flights regionally, if possible. Although it can be quite exhausting, be open to scheduling a phone interview on the same day as an in-person interview, especially if you value both sites. This may mean being interviewed in your hotel room.

Ranking Sites

You are almost there! Interviews are done. Frequent flier miles accrued. Now, it’s time to pull out your notes and decision matrices and start ranking your sites. This is easier said than done and it is absolutely typical to waver from one day until the next and to feel flooded.

How should you rank your site? You won’t like our answer. Like with nearly every question you’ve ever asked throughout your graduate career, it depends! Whether you create a spreadsheet or rely on Likert-type scales, there is no one way to go about this. Here are some questions to reflect upon (in no particular order):

  • How did you feel during the interview? If you found it hard to connect with staff on interview day, it will be harder during the full internship year. The interview day is when everyone is on their best behavior.
  • How will the training opportunities enhance or broaden your current clinical skills or strategically position you for the job market?
  • What was the surrounding community/city like? Can you see yourself living there longer than a year? What is the cost of living?
  • What does your gut tell you? For sites with similar training opportunities, trust your intuition about where you’d fit the best.

Finally, you don’t have to rank every site. There may be sites with whom you were unable to schedule an interview or missed due to flight delays. You may still want to throw your hat into the ring with these sites—or you may decide to exclude these sites from your final list.

First Months on the Job

Congratulations, you successfully matched with your top site and have your own office with a name plate on your door! You know the quickest bust route to your site and where to grab a strong cup of coffee on the go. Your real life as an intern has begun.

Okay, so the first tip: Remember when your advisor used to say, “The best dissertation is a done dissertation”? This cannot ring more true than when you are internship. It can be extremely stressful to have to come home after an eight-hour day of clinical work five days per week to then face the unfinished dissertation. It detracts from the fun you could be having during the year. Plain and simple: Get it done ahead of time.

At the outset, it is not uncommon to be exhausted. There will be numerous trainings and orientations, moments when you feel like an “impostor” (e.g., I don’t belong; I didn’t learn enough in school). Remember this. You are well-prepared and this is your time to soak up as much as you can. Be open to all experiences and also set some limits around what you are able to commit to, which means setting clear boundaries and making time for self-care.

All eyes on you. Your clinical supervisors and training director want you to grow. The way they do this is by giving you LOTS of feedback. For some internships, you may have as many as five supervisors during one rotation. That’s a lot of evaluation and potentially differing opinions on your clinical skills. Humility will take you a long way. At the same time, the internship year is also your springboard toward independence and concretizing your own therapeutic style.

Finally, this may be your final opportunity to take advantage of clinical supervision with numerous wise clinicians, participate in lively case consultations with a multidisciplinary team, develop a new group, engage in community outreach, meet amazing clients, learn a new kind of therapy, and hang out with cool colleagues. The days may feel long at times, but the year will definitely fly by. Have fun. You’ve earned it!

Acknowledgement: Thank you to all of the interns who took the time to share your wisdom with Division 29 members.

Cite This Article

Tao, K. W., Krowel, A., & Smith, D. J. (2017). Intern wisdom: Things we know now and wish we knew then. Psychotherapy Bulletin, 52(4).

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