Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Finding A Paid Internship

It's the great white whale.

A paid internship. Getting to earn an income while getting the required hours for your license. It's a beautiful thing. 

And can seem just as hard to capture as Ahab's whale. 

Imagine this: You're a few weeks from graduation, getting excited about all that comes next. But there's a big problem. After you cross the stage, after you pick up your diploma and apply for your license, you have to get a job. You have to earn your hours.

And that's the part that gets you really nervous.

If you're lucky, you've made a great connection with your practicum site and have at least a partial contract with them, hopefully for paid hours. But that's not what happens for everyone. Some people have no connections, or have moved, or the places they've worked with simply don't have the availability. 

If this is you, it probably seems like you're pretty helpless. Like your promising career has tanked before it's even off the ground.

But you do have options.

I'm not going to say it is easy. But it's not hopeless, either.

When you start looking into finding a paid intern job, you run into three main areas of challenge in finding one:

  1. Finding out whether these internships exist or not. That can be the hardest question to overcome. In order to find what you're looking for, you first have to believe that it is out there. 
  2. Finding the right kind of internships. Searching for counseling jobs of any kind can be an exercise in misdirection. A query of "counseling jobs" turns up jobs for legal counsel, camp counselor, and academic counseling. "Therapy" brings up occupational therapy, physical therapy and more. Throw "intern" into the mix and the results are even more diverse. 
  3. Qualifying for the jobs that are out there. The ever-present question of "What experience do you have?" can short-circuit an application before it's submitted. There are further divisions by degree and internship opportunities - internships only for MSW, LPC, LMFT or doctoral candidates, respectively. 
Challenging problems require creative solutions.

Believing in the possibilities. Every time I've tried to find a counseling job, whether in practicum, internship, or full-time LPC work, I've struggled with having hope. I hit a few dead ends, and my energy for applying starts to fade. I start to wonder if it's worth the effort, or if it's just going to be another failure.

We as counselors tend to look for meaning in circumstances, and this is one of the cases it can turn around and bite us. Yes, it's disappointing to have leads not pan out. It's difficult when you interview for a great job only to find out it pays barely above minimum wage. But just like finding your soul mate, it "only takes one." It doesn't matter how many bad leads there are out there for you. You only have to find one that works. 

Stating exactly what you want. I was surprised by the interesting opportunities that came up with I searched
SimplyHired for "paid counseling intern jobs." Sure, some were inapplicable sales counselor jobs, but some were jobs that I could have qualified for in my intern years. I started to wonder what would happen if I got even more specific. I searched on job sites, and on Google, and things started to come up, just using some additional specifiers. I'd encourage you to see what you can find when you get more specific with your search term(s), using phrases like:
  • Paid LPC-Intern
  • Paid bilingual counseling intern
  • Paid couples counseling intern
  • Paid adolescent counseling intern
  • Paid counselor training
  • Paid student counselor
Who knows what you might find? 

Searching outside the box. While the internet is a great place to start, it also shouldn't be the only place you look for a paid counseling internship. In this day and age, there are gatekeepers in the form of online applications that keep the human connection out of the job application process. In order to get a good internship in a people-centered industry like this one, you may just have to inject the personality back into the process. 
  • Drop by the office and introduce yourself to the receptionist. He or she is usually the one everybody listens to, anyway. 
  • Call upon anyone you know who might be a good source of connection to the counseling field - doctors, lawyers, spiritual leaders, schools, nonprofits. 
  • Cold-call counselors, supervisors and counseling groups, asking politely if they are looking for counselor interns or know of anyone who is. Ask to leave a message with the clinical director stating the same question, if you can.
  • Talk to your supervisor, if you have an off-site supervisor. See who they might know that could connect you to a good internship.
This is a way to find paid intern jobs, but also a way to get around the more arbitrary blocks of past experience and qualifications. When potential employers see you as the person, it opens up so many more possibilities.

Present your qualifications confidently for what they are. What special training have you had in counseling outside of the norm? What interpersonal skills do you have to offer potential clients? Whether you realize it or not, you do have something significant to offer your clients, right now. 

Ask yourself this: "What benefits do my clients experience after working with me?" If you have not had the opportunity to see clients yet, ask yourself how you have helped ease the pain of family and friends in the past. Have you helped people better describe their problem? Do you make people feel listened to? 

Some jobs will close the door on you due to a factor outside of your control. You can recapture those that aren't so arbitrary by focusing on knowing what you do WELL. 

Above all, know that this can and will happen for you, if you take this into your own hands and refuse to give up. The paid counselor internship is elusive, but that only makes the capturing of your white whale that much more satisfying.

Have you obtained a paid internship? What advice would you give to other students trying to accomplish the same? 


Additional Resources:

What's Wrong with the Counseling Intern Picture? ACA Blog by the founder of CounselingInternships.com, an internship listing site.

Obtaining a Mental Health Counseling Internship or Fieldwork Placement Time2Track