Grad Students

How To Find Top Student Interns To Grow Your Practice

There is an "it" factor when looking for interns to train in your private practice.

Here's how I've found amazing interns that stay at my clinic even after graduation.

Over the past several years I have trained and mentored many graduate students and new graduates working toward clinical licensure. Working with interns has been a great way to build my practice, leverage my time, and satisfy the part of me that loves mentoring.

Most graduate students who train at my clinic during school are offered a therapist position after graduation which creates a win-win situation -- the student gets a job they're already trained for and I get to add talented and enthusiastic therapists to my team! After interviewing several therapists, I've learned to be very selective about who I bring on at Wasatch Family Therapy.

I recently consulted with a private practice therapist who has a waiting list for new clients. As we started exploring the option of hiring a graduate student to train she expressed some concerns. Her biggest questions were:

  • How do you find talented graduates students?
  • When interviewing potential student interns, what qualities do you look for?
  • How do you know if they're going to be a good therapist and work well with your private practice clientele?

So, here's what I've learned after several years of interviewing and hiring student interns...

How do you find gifted graduate students?

  • Contact local graduate programs in your discipline and see if they are  looking for internship/practicum placements for their students.
  • Fill out the necessary paperwork to be an approved placement at local schools, even if you're not quite ready to bring on a student. When you're ready to train an intern you'll already be approved.
  • Reach out to traditional and for-profit schools. I've found that the for-profit programs (Argosy University and University of Phoenix in UT) are more flexible in terms of internship start times and the number of clinical hours per week required. I have been very pleased with the caliber of students from private, for-profit universities.

When interviewing potential student interns, what qualities do you look for?

  • After interviewing grad students for several years now, the biggest "it" factor I look for is likeability. I know that sounds simple, but it's true. If I enjoy talking to them and I trust them during the interview process, then it's likely they will quickly put clients at ease, too.
  • I look for people were "born" therapists and just need the formal credentials and trainig in order to actually to all themselves a therapist.
  • I look for people who have long-term goals that include working in a private practice setting, like mine, beyond the internship.
  • I always ask about their style of handling conflict, feedback, or direction in work settings and discuss several scenarios that might arise in private practice.

How do you know if they're going to be a good therapist and work well with your private practice clientele?

  • You don't. There's no guarantee that someone will be an effective clinician. I suggest that you make sure that there is a clause in your contract that you can stop training a grad student that isn't working well with your clientele.
  • I often require that interested graduate students volunteer at my clinic for several months before securing a clinical internship. There is such a high demand for interns in my area that we can be extremely selective. This volunteer time gives us both a chance to make sure it's a good fit.
  • A 3-step interview process helps screen potential interns before bringing on.  I do an initial interview, a second interview, and a "mock" case presentation at team meeting. While I ultimately decide which intern we will "hire," I trust my team's input as to whether the student would be a good fit.

While it's always a risk bringing on a new student to my team, I find comfort in the fact that the number one predictor of client outcome is the strength of the therapeutic alliance. Generally, if it's easy for me and my team to connect with a grad student in the interview process, it's safe to say that clients will feel the same way about them. Ultimately, it's your practice and your reputation on the line as the owner of your practice.

Have you trained interns in your private practice? I'd love to hear about where you find them, how you screen them, and if it's worked to build your practice!

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What They Don't Teach You In Grad School

img7207If you're a graduate student in the mental health field planning on going into private practice, here are a few things that you won't learn during your program. Most of what I learned about psychotherapy and private practice came after I graduated. After 17 years of practice, here are a few things I wish I'd known earlier:

1) Clients don't care about your degree

I'm rarely asked what degree I hold or what school I attended. I've found that very few clients know the difference between an MSW, MFT, PhD, MFCC, PsyD or any other degree. What clients really want to know is that you're qualified to do therapy, and if you can help them.

2) You'll learn more from supervisors than coursework

Getting my MSW was a license to actually do what I wanted, but the most valuable learning came from my post-graduate school clinical supervisor. It's important to seek out an amazing supervisor and mentor to train you in how to actually do therapy and how to run a practice. Seek out a  private practice internship setting that closely resembles what you envision yourself doing in the future.

3) Keep all of your research papers and course syllabi

Even though you may want to purge yourself from anything related to graduate school, you may want to hang on to those papers. I just used a research paper from my MSW program as my writing sample for my PhD program. You can also re-purpose papers for future blog posts and articles to publish.

If you ever decide to go apply for a doctoral degree or an advanced training certificate down the road that requires transcript evaluation, you may be required to submit your course syllabi to provide details of the course content. Also, keep a copy of the official course description in the school catalog for the years you attended. When I applied for doctoral programs, some programs had difficulty determining what my classes were and required official course catalog descriptions.

4) Stay in touch with your supervisors and colleagues

I can't tell you how many times I've asked my former supervisor for letters of recommendation for various certifications and applications through the years. Keep connected with a select your professional relationships. They're not only good referral sources but to provide job references and professional recommendations.

5) Take business courses

A common sentiment among mental health private practitioners is "I wish I knew more about business." It is rare that mental health graduate programs offer business courses, so students interested in going into private practice need to seek out workshops and courses.

What did you learn after grad school? Do you have any advice for graduate students? Post your comment below.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Proctor Archives