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Therapy Internships and Lessons Learned

November 20, 2020
intern studying over textbook with clock in background illustration

Finding Your "Good Fit"

There’s not many cases in life that we get to test drive before buying, but that is a perk of most behavioral health programs; test driving is required. Most people have a vision of their future career. I did. And my internships changed that. As an undergraduate Human Development and Family Studies major, I thought I wanted to work with children. I applied just like I was applying for a job, was matched with a social worker, and began observing home visits to monitor the care of children in low-income families. On day one I learned that this was not a good match for me. Without this information, I may have entered into a work environment that was unfulfilling for me or, worse, felt stuck! I was lucky to recognize this information very early on and quickly picked my next internship in a very different setting - an inpatient psychiatric facility for adults. I learned that I loved the population, but was a bit overwhelmed by the inpatient environment. Both of these experiences gave me useful information when applying to grad school and filtering out future jobs.

I knew I needed a 400-hour internship, the deadline was next week, and I had no prospects. As I sat in my undergraduate dorm room reading Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever’s book Just Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, a thought came to me. I had a spirited, candid, and somewhat intimidating (in a good way), professor who worked at a private practice as a therapist. “Maybe I should ‘just ask for it’ and approach her after class about an internship at her company.” Professor Eileen Starr’s response: “Are you sure? I work with teenage boys who smell like funyuns.” The following week I had an interview with Curtis Bolander, and later, an internship. During my experience at MABH, I learned a lesson about the working world that I still exercise today:

Being Creative Is Better Than Following Orders

When I began as an intern, I was apprehensive, still determining where I fit in this professional environment. I planned to look clean, show up, and wait for directions. My first job was to re-organize the office supplies cabinet. I proudly showed off my work and idly waited for my next task. After a few days of waiting, I decided to create my own project. I researched MABH on Psychology today and produced a list of the zipcodes where the company was advertised. I showed Curtis, who was thankful, and asked me to do a few more related projects with the information I found. He then introduced me to CEO Traci Bolander, who gave me some projects of her own. I saved the Thank You cards from MABH, where Curtis wrote: “There have been very few interns who truly make a difference in our practice, and you have been one of them. This is why I trusted you enough to work with Traci. The fact that she came to rely on you as much as she did says what kind of person you are.” Traci wrote: “I could give you something and know it would be done and done well.” The accolades I received were not a feat of personal will or special talent, but a result of my decision to start working before I was given a task. I noticed the more I brainstormed my own projects, reached out to people before they did me, and took control of my experience, the more meaningful assignments I was given.

After Graduate School, Traci was my first call. As I chipped away at my third year as a therapist at MABH, I picked up another lesson:

Not Everyone Will Like Me

At 25 years old, it was undeniable that I was new to the field, which opened me up to criticism. I knew the path well from my office to my supervisor’s office, which was often walked in tears during the first year. Prepped with the idea that I would “change people’s lives,” I felt worthless when clients requested a different therapist. Or worse, told me to my face that I was not meeting their needs (with much different words). My supervisor, and excellent clinician, Lisa Darby, told me my next lesson: “You can’t be ‘the one’ for everyone who walks into your office. Everyone is looking for something different when they come to therapy.” I’m still very young, and still receive plenty of criticism. I use what I can to improve my practice, but always remember that all I can do is be me, and that is enough! I owe MABH for these invaluable lessons that I hold close at work and in life.

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