Graduate school is the time when students start to use the broad skills they acquired in undergraduate training and apply them to a specific area of focus. In the field of psychology, graduate students will move beyond basic theories and models and start to gather applicable skills and methods. In addition to conducting extensive research during graduate training, some schools offer graduate psychology students the opportunity to start working with clients while still in graduate school.
A psychology internship functions very similarly to a real “job,” with an emphasis on applying newly gathered skills and knowledge in a clinical setting. Student interns work closely with experienced professionals as part of a team, helping with their existing caseload. Internships provide a sense of autonomy for students where they interact with clients on a one-on-one basis with no one observing. Internships are offered extensively by doctoral programs and by an increasing number of master’s level programs.
Practicum placements are on-site assignments, where students watch how professionals in the field conduct their professional daily routines. In many practicum placements, students have the chance to engage in clinical experiences in a limited, highly supervised manner. During the practicum placement students are enrolled in a corresponding course to monitor, discuss and enhance the practicum experience. The outcomes and level of involvement vary from program to program and placement to placement. Some practicum experiences include:
- Observing a psychologist throughout their day
- Getting an inside look into the ways in which practices, mental health facilities and hospitals function
- Collecting and organizing data
- Completing tasks as assigned by a supervisor
- Fulfilling practicum course requirements
Practicum placements typically require two to three days per week for a few hours per session. Students do earn graduate level credit for their practicum experience.
Mock Therapeutic Setting
Another options used by some programs is to allow students to engage in “mock therapy.” In some cases students will play the role of an individual suffering from a specific psychological disorder and their peer will act as the clinician who is providing care. While this scenario is staged it allows student practitioners to begin applying their newly acquired skills in a therapeutic relationship. It also allows the instructor the opportunity to observe and make suggestions, changes and discuss other courses of treatment.
As graduate degree programs in all areas of study make a concerted effort to allows graduate students to experience the realities of the field, psychology has followed suit. By allowing students to have exposure to real therapeutic sessions, students can get a better sense of what areas of the field interest them most. Students also gain a better understanding of what they can expect upon graduation. As more and more programs allows students to work with clients during their graduate studies, students have the ability to hone their skills to a high level of professionalism.