After I passed the MFT licensing exams in July 2015, an MFT intern friend of mine who had just graduated asked me, “How can I be sure to have a well-rounded experience so that when I am licensed I feel knowledgeable about the mental health system?” The result of that conversation seemed to be very valuable to my friend so I thought I would write down my responses for the possibility that others might benefit.
Vary the setting and population where you intern:
My recommendation for MFT interns is to stay open minded about where you get your hours of clinical experience. When I was earning clinical hours as an intern I worked at a non-profit grief counseling center, a summer behavior camp for children age 5 to 18 on the Autistic Spectrum (three summers in a row for continuity), an elementary school in an upper middle class neighborhood, a university counseling center, and an in-patient locked facility for adults who are severely mentally ill, where I still work part-time. All of these settings had their own unique benefits and challenges for learning effective helping skills. Now that I have completed my hours I am so glad that I had so many different experiences to pull from when the time came to pass the exams. Only two of my internships paid me for my time and from what I have heard from fellow interns this was typical. On average I have found that most internships do not pay, but they do provide supervision, physical space for seeing clients, and most trainings for free. When I had an internship that did not pay, I supplemented my income by working at Trader Joe’s part-time.
Stay long enough to get a sense of the population:
For each setting that I earned hours I stayed a minimum of a year (or a school year, which was about 10 months). This allowed me to build relationships with clients and clinicians at the setting, make an impact, and have a felt sense of what it would be like to have a career working with this population. Sometimes it takes three to six months to feel comfortable in a new placement; if it’s been three months and you still don’t feel like you understand the population or culture, don’t give up, stick with the placement for 10 months or so before moving on so that you can know for sure that you gave each setting your best effort. If one population is not a fit for you, that’s okay of course, but sometimes the most important lessons take time. Spending 10 months to a year at each setting also gives enough time for clients to open up to you about their real issues, so stick with it before dropping out after 4 to 6 months.
Make the most of supervision:
Each placement for MFT interns has a different culture and style for how supervision occurs; ask for what you need, but also try to look for the positive in each situation. Some settings have group supervision only, some have individual only, some have both, and sometimes your assigned supervisor seems so busy it’s hard to get any face time at all. If you feel the need to get extra supervision other than the one provided by your placement, search through you local association for a supervision group outside of your setting (get your placement supervisor’s permission before doing this of course). Similar to psychotherapy, you get more out of supervision when you put more into it so don’t rely solely on your supervisor to make your experience a valuable one.
The road to licensure is a marathon, not a sprint, so stay patient, be optimistic, and learn what specific self-care techniques work for you. I am very proud of all the settings where I was able to help different populations; I met incredible clinicians who continue to be part of my support network today. To those MFT interns just starting out, I hope this helps you and I hope your road to licensure is as inspiring as mine was!