In many places, individuals who wish to be licensed or certified as counselors must complete one or more counseling internships as part of their training. Several different types of counseling internships are available, and these may vary according to educational level of the intern, the mental health profession into which the intern hopes to enter, and the professional focus of the internship site. There are many different types of internship sites, including schools, hospitals, and social service agencies. In addition, private mental health organizations may likewise offer internship programs.
Internships are designed to provide aspiring counselors with professional experience under the supervision of licensed professionals. Typically, internships are structured programs that are approved by a student counselor's school, and a representative of the student's school will typically liaise with the internship site in order to monitor the student's progress and address any issues or shortcomings observed by the supervisory staff. Counseling internships may either be paid or unpaid, depending on the financial resources of the internship site.
Regulations on the licensing of counselors varies by jurisdiction, but many may require aspiring counselors to complete internships both while they are in school and afterward. The internships available to students who are currently pursuing their degree typically differ in the scope and extent of supervision from those completed by students who already have their degree. Counselors who already have a degree may also choose to participate in specialized internships so that they can become eligible for various types of professional certification.
Counseling internships may also vary according to the mental health profession in which a person wishes to enter. For example, in many places a person may be licensed as a counselor, clinical social worker, or counseling psychologist. These are three distinct professions with different training and licensing requirements. As such, not all counseling internships are suited to the needs of those who wish to become mental health workers. In some internship sites, candidates for internship positions may be required to be licensed or educated in a particular mental health specialty.
Some counselors and inspiring counselors may wish to take advantage of the many different types of internship sites to explore a variety of professional options and to expand their competencies. In some cases, however, a counselor may want to be very focused in his choice of internships so that he is better prepared for his chosen area of specialization. Student advisers typically work with counseling students to select the internships that will best help them to meet their professional goals.