Have you ever seen a movie that includes an intern as a character? Usually it’s a young person running around the workplace getting people’s coffee orders. The intern usually looks nervous and stressed, while the more experienced employees hardly pay them any attention.
Fortunately, internships can be a better experience in real life than how they are portrayed by Hollywood. This is especially true for Lauren Phillips, current counseling intern at LifeWorks. Phillips is in her final year of graduate school at Grace College, where she studies mental health counseling. She has a heart for counseling because she wants to see people live their best lives.
“Everyone deserves to have somebody to talk to without fear or judgment,” shares Phillips. “I feel honored when it gets to be me.”
Phillips’ experience as an intern has been incredibly helpful as she moves forward in her career. Her mentor is Sharon Miley, who has worked 28 years in the mental health world, five of those years being at LifeWorks.
“I love mentoring and supervising interns!” says Miley. “It’s fun to watch someone grow in confidence and meet their goals.”
What afforded Phillips such a great opportunity? As it turns out, she did not just get lucky. Together, Phillips and Miley share their tips for landing a counseling internship and learning along the way as a mental health counselor.
#1 Choose Wisely
Did you know that graduate students find their own counseling internship placements? Because students are nervous about a limited amount of openings, they often settle on the first place they come across. But this does not have to be the case. Miley recommends asking plenty of questions and getting a good feel for a counseling center first.
“My advice would be to talk to the prior interns,” she shares. “Counseling centers should not mind you doing that. Interns will give you a true picture of what it is like, so that you can decide if it is a good fit for you.”
Miley also recommends finding a place that will allow interns to grow at an appropriate rate. For example, LifeWorks is intentional to start interns out with clients that are not high risk in order to protect interns and clients. As interns gain more experience, they are allowed to meet with clients that have more intricate needs.
Rather than rushing to find the first open spot, students should remember that it’s worth the time and effort to ensure an internship is the best fit for both parties!
#2 Stay True to You
The goal of counseling internships is not to make the interns a mirror image of the supervisor. According to Miley, “Lauren should not try to be Sharon, she should be Lauren! Every counselor operates differently, and that is a good thing!”
Counselors all have different skill sets and backgrounds that help them reach their clients best.
“There are three of us at LifeWorks that work as intern supervisors,” says Miley. “We all communicate a lot and help each other’s interns too, which I think is great so that the interns can see each of our unique strengths and weaknesses.”
At an internship placement, interns should be observant not only of their supervisor, but also of other counselors with whom they work. Noticing the different strengths and weaknesses that each counselor possesses is a great reminder that not all counselors are the same and interns can bring their own unique perspective to their career.
#3 Just Ask
A counseling internship is a learning position, meaning that interns should not expect to know all of the answers. Viewing an internship as a chance to grow rather than a chance to “prove yourself” is a perspective shift that can greatly improve your experience.
“For an intern to be successful, they need to be teachable,” Miley says. “We give our interns as many opportunities as possible for growth because we want them to succeed!”
In addition, Phillips suggests seeking out your supervisors outside of just the required times. “This is such a good opportunity to know them as people, not just as professionals,” said Phillips. “I check in with Sharon all the time for questions!”
At LifeWorks, supervisors keep their doors open when they are not with a client. This allows interns to ask questions along the way and gives an opportunity for supervisors to grow from one another.
“We often tell our interns, ‘Don’t apologize for interrupting our office work,’” said Miley. “We are here to answer your questions – that’s one of our most important roles as supervisors.” Interns are supposed to have questions, so use counseling internships as an opportunity to learn and grow from the counselors around you. If you don’t know the answer to something – just ask!
#4 Keep Learning
The final piece of advice might come as a bit of a speed bump to some who want to know everything all at once, but it’s important to learn the fundamentals of counseling at a manageable and steady pace.
“Pace yourself,” Phillips encourages. “Grad school is a marathon, not a sprint. You won’t know everything right away at your counseling internship, and that’s the point!”
According to Phillips, she views each day as a learning opportunity. She has learned to take her time, stay humble, and learn from various professors and counselors with different approaches. This requires her to be patient with herself as she asks questions and grows in experience.
“Never stop learning!” Miley says. “An intern’s growth is what makes supervising so fun! I love seeing them grow in confidence and meet their goals in this challenging, yet highly rewarding profession.”
Want to take the next step in your counseling career toward a counseling internship? If you’re looking for clinical mental health counseling degree program, Grace College offers an online program that is CACREP accredited with hands-on experiences. Learn more about the counseling program today!