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What Are the Different Types of Clinical Psychology Internships?

C. Mitchell
C. Mitchell

Nearly all clinical psychology internships are designed for doctoral psychology students. These programs are usually a year long and are required for licensing in most jurisdictions. Internships typically come in two tracks: one for adults and one for children and adolescents. Most clinical psychology internships are hosted by hospitals and universities, though private clinics and community organizations may also accept graduate interns from time to time.

Clinical psychology internships are an integral part of a psychologist’s training in most places. Psychology is a medical discipline, but practitioners are not medical doctors. Rather than attending medical school, these professionals attend doctorate-level psychology programs. The time investment is usually comparable to medical school — often anywhere from five to eight years — but all training relates exclusively to cognitive development and psychological treatment paths. Medical doctors, including psychiatrists, must have broad training on the body as a whole before specializing on the mind.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

Most clinical psychology programs are designed to blend intensive book learning with a variety of hands-on learning experiences to provide budding psychologists with the career development they need to go into independent practice. Internships are an important part of this process, and many schools require clinical psychology internships for graduation. Successful completion of an accredited internship is also a requirement for professional licensing in many places.

Students generally take a full year to complete their internship, usually after all of their classroom learning is complete. For many, it is the final hurdle for graduation and eventual job placement. Internships provide a safe, controlled place for students to practice their skills and refine their knowledge before entering the workforce in their own right.

Clinical psychology internships are usually reserved for doctoral students. Undergraduate psychology students often pursue summer internships, but these are in a different category entirely. College internships are designed for broad work experience, not for intensive practice preparation.

The majority of clinical psychology internships are offered through hospitals, particularly those with robust psychiatric wards. Academic institutions, usually those connected with teaching hospitals and working psychology clinics, also frequently offer internships, as do a range of community clinics. The work that students will do in each of these settings is necessarily dictated in part by the host’s location, staff, and patient base. In most cases, though, the internship experience is relatively consistent no matter where it is held.

Students usually get to choose either an adult or child and adolescent track, but then must complete a series of rotations in a range of different disciplines. Rotations often include psychotherapy and recovery, family therapy, substance abuse treatment, diagnostic screening and primary psychological care, and out-patient therapy. Qualified practitioners are usually assigned to supervise the interns and usually grade or assign scores for each rotation area.

Nearly all clinical psychology internships are paid internships, but the pay is typically low. It is usually considered more of a stipend than an salary, as the internship is generally viewed as an educational extension rather than regular work experience. As the competition for internships grows ever steeper, however, more and more clinical psychology students are considering unpaid internships, so long as they can get the experience and the credentials needed to finish their education.

Most graduate schools and licensing boards are picky about the sort of internship experiences they will consider acceptable. Usually, an internship must offer at least some compensation to be accredited. If a student is unable to secure an accredited internship, he must usually delay his graduation. Students in this position often complete volunteer work or search for other related jobs while they wait and re-apply. It is not uncommon for the number of available internships to be far eclipsed by the number of interested doctoral students.

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      Doctor taking notes