Many undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology and counseling require students to complete internships or practicums. Each is a form of job training intended to integrate students' classroom learning with real-world work experience and to prepare them for their future. In a Stanford University study, more than 70% of respondents surveyed stated that what they learned from a college practicum or internship continued to influence their day-to-day work in their career.
Practicums and internships are effective tools to advance learning outside the classroom, but you should note the differences between the two. Internships, though often required by an academic program, typically give the student a larger amount of independence and responsibility, both in finding and selecting an internship site, as well as in the work completed during the internship itself. Practicums are typically structured to achieve specific learning outcomes that relate to classroom learning and are completed under the close supervision of program faculty or on-site mentors.
Some counseling internships align with the duration of a semester and require the student to commit to part-time or even full-time hours, while practicums may only require a few hours of on-site work each week.
Internships may be paid if the time commitment and work requirements are significant. Because practicums are an integrated part of a university course curriculum for which a student is paying tuition, they are not usually paid experiences.
What to Expect From Your Counseling Internship or Practicum
What Will I Do for My Counseling Internship or Practicum?
Both internships and practicums engage students in the development of counseling-related skills, ethics, and related professionalism. In a school setting, students may participate in educational guidance, classroom presentations, and parent conferences. Learners involved in hospital counseling practicums and mental health counseling internships may participate in patient and family counseling.
Most practicum and internship experiences are fairly rigid in structure, requiring a certain amount of face-to-face hours in counseling sessions. Students will find some independence and responsibility within the counseling sessions themselves, where it is up to them to translate their classroom learning into clinical experience.
In Which Type of Setting Will I Work?
Counseling internships take place in a variety of locations, including schools, hospitals, mental health facilities, and churches. College students interested in certain counseling specialities may find internship and practicum work in their desired career contexts, including school counseling internships, guidance counselor internships, and substance abuse counselor internships.
Many college and university departments develop partnerships with facilities in their area that accept student placements. Students completing their degree online may need to reach out to nearby locations to request information on completing an internship or practicum.
How Many Clinical Hours Are Needed for a Counseling Internship?
The length of time required to complete a counseling practicum is typically determined by the counseling speciality and degree you're pursuing.
Practicum hours are often designed to help students complete the necessary number of experience hours to meet state licensure requirements. As an example, National University’s substance abuse counseling program requires students to complete 255 clinical hours of counseling. Cleveland State University requires a minimum of 100 counseling hours for their school counselor programs, as does Liberty University’s marriage and family counseling program.
Because practicum requirements can vary from one program to another, students should research their programs for specific practicum and internship information.
Will I Get Paid for My Counseling Internship or Practicum?
Practicums are an integral part of a counseling degree. Because students pay tuition to complete these clinical experiences under the supervision of professors, faculty, and/or mentors, practicums almost never offer students a paycheck. Student interns, on the other hand, may receive compensation for their work, at the discretion of their host company.
Will I Get Academic Credit for My Internship or Practicum?
While counseling internships and practicums are not necessarily experiences with monetary compensation, the large majority will pay off by providing students with academic credit to help fulfill degree requirements. Practicums and internships are often more than just collecting a certain number of hours of clinical experience in a workplace. Students are also often required to complete assignments, develop projects related to their work, and participate in class discussions. The typical practicum or internship earns the credit value of one course. These credits add up in graduate programs, which often require the completion of two or more different clinical practicum experiences.
How Will My Counseling Internship or Practicum Help Me?
Although classroom learning is indispensable in any academic discipline, practicums and internships are one of the most important features of programs that prepare students for careers in counseling, healthcare, and teaching. They provide students with the opportunity to put their education to the test in real-world situations and environments.
Mental health counseling internships and practicums allow students to work with counseling clients one-on-one, under the supervision of a licensed professional who provides feedback and support. Not only do students learn how to apply their knowledge and professional skills, but they also develop confidence in their workplace abilities. In a high-pressure industry such as mental health counseling, where the responsibility of caring for fragile individuals is in your hands, this added confidence and knowledge can make all the difference in finding success and fulfillment.
Do Counseling Students Have to Find Their Own Internship?
When it comes time to arrange a counseling internship or practicum, there are several avenues:
- Your School’s Career Center: With a knowledgeable staff and wealth of connections to local businesses, your school’s career center is an ideal first place to start your internship search.
- Job Fairs: Job fairs, hosted by schools and local organizations, represent companies from all sorts of industries and are a great place to ask local businesses about internship placements.
- Recruiting Events: Typically hosted by a single company, a recruiting event allows you to network with potential future employer and discuss whether your internship or practicum goals make you a good fit for the team.
- Alumni Network: Benefits offered by alumni networks vary from one school to another, but many offer networking opportunities and exclusive job boards for job seekers and those interested in internships.
- Job Boards and Internship Databases: If you’re interested in surveying a broad range of internship options, look at job boards and databases, which aggregate opportunities from all locations and filter those in your local area.
Counseling Internship Opportunities
Finding placement for your required mental health counseling internship or practicum might be just a click away. Search the following sites for opportunities near you.
- Internships.com: Internships.com is the largest student-focused internship site in the world. Companies seeking interns from all academic disciplines and industries, including counseling, are represented here.
- GoAbroad.com: GoAbroad.com is a third-party aggregate database which gathers and displays information on study abroad internship opportunities available from dozens of program providers.
- Indeed.com: The world’s most popular job site allows employers to post internship opportunities, as well. View the nationwide results or filter to your location to see what’s available in your area.
- WayUp: WayUp.com is a popular internship database featuring paid opportunities for students from small startups to Fortune 500s.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn is most well-known as a networking site, the professional’s answer to Facebook, but companies on LinkedIn list thousands of employment and internship opportunities every day.
- PsychologyJobs.com: Dedicated solely to job openings in the field of psychology, this job board lists available full-time and part-time employment positions as well as counseling internships.
CounselingInterns.com: CounselingInterns.com is run by private practice LPC dedicated to helping new counselors further their career through helpful blog posts, exclusive workshops, and internship placement.
Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs: This site includes information about different counseling specializations and state licensing requirements.
American Counseling Association: The ACA’s online knowledge center provides an extensive selection of online resources for counseling students and professionals, including webinars, podcasts, articles, and licensing information.