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A Key Component of a Good Internship Is a Good Intern Supervisor

By LaMarr D. Edgerson, PsyD, LMFT, CHt
AMHCA Director-at-Large and Board Liaison to AMHCA’s Graduate Student Committee

I am a psychologist in private practice. Half of my work is with couples and families. The other half is focused around helping clients overcome various traumatic experiences—from the mild to the unthinkable. It’s very rewarding to help people overcome their most difficult challenges. I honestly enjoy what I do tremendously.

Not too long ago, I accepted the first master’s-level intern student at my private practice. That experience gave me reason to pause and reflect on what it is to be a mental health professional. In my opinion, being a site supervisor or mentor is an important part of our core of responsibilities. Sharing that acquired map of knowledge with someone just beginning his or her journey should be at the foundation of who we are as licensed mental health clinicians.

One of the more interesting and rewarding aspects of being an intern supervisor was sharing important knowledge and experiences with an excited, new, and emerging mental health clinician. Less than a decade ago, I was a new intern myself. As a supervisor, I had the opportunity to return the favor—the way it was done for me at the beginning of my career.

My experience as a mentor quickly reminded me of how much information about the field I had digested. The daily tasks I now accomplish with rarely a second thought are completely new to the emerging counselor. I had to remind myself of how overwhelming it could be for a newcomer. In my opinion, on-the-job training should never be underestimated or taken for granted in fields that deal with human lives.

In preparation for meetings with my intern, I felt it most important for him to understand the difference between doing effective psychotherapy versus having nothing more than a weekly conversation with individuals struggling with mental health issues. The latter accomplishes very little in terms of making a real difference in a client’s life.

My intern and I routinely discussed, reviewed, and analyzed information that has become second nature to me, such as how to:

  • Determine an accurate diagnosis,
  • Complete a treatment plan with effective goals and objectives,
  • Ensure that the therapeutic discussion always moves forward in the direction of the goals,
  • Match the treatment notes with the written goals, and
  • Write effective reports and notes.

Veteran counselors do these tasks (and more) with ease, but new counselors often find them frustrating. The reality of effective counseling is that it actually takes time, thought, and proper instruction to become proficient and complete all tasks appropriately. After a certain amount of time, experience and intuition will replace caution and insecurity.

Supervisor as Teacher, Mentor, and Coach

The supervisor’s job is to guide the emerging clinician in the field of mental health at a comfortable pace. Supervisors are engaged in ensuring that students become as comfortable as possible working with clients struggling from a variety of mental health disorders, and that they understand the proper treatment protocols and the licensure process, and are prepared to take the first step into the world of professional counseling. 

In the role of coach, supervisors continuously push (not shove) the new clinician into the challenge of gaining confidence in himself or herself and the treatment approach. 

The mentor will hear both the successes and frustrations while assisting as needed 
and gently pushing towards independence. 

The teacher will share all those books, articles, lectures, and case presentations to help the new counselor better understand that often confusing mass of energy known as the mind. 

A good intern supervisor is a key component of a strong foundation for a career in clinical mental health counseling. The transition to working independently as a professional clinical mental health counselor will be smoother and less intimidating for interns who have been properly trained and supervised.

Professionals: Take on the Challenge of Being an Intern Supervisor!

I wouldn’t be where I am today without having had a good intern supervisor. No one has ever climbed the ladder of success without someone above offering a hand of cooperation. I don’t think anyone can do this alone and maintain their sanity.

I believe we owe it to the mental health profession to give back. Though taking on an intern does entail legal liabilities, the profession will be stronger if we prepare the next generation of counselors for the important work awaiting them. 

By supervising interns, we will also help ensure that the most qualified individuals remain in the field. Without that support, some are sure to give up and pursue a different career choice.

Students: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Professionals for Tips to Their Success!

If you are an intern or within the first year of your new career as a mental health counselor, take a look into the future and consider what you would like your career to be in five or 10 years. What kind of clinician would you like to be? Are there any experienced clinicians in your circle who emulate your desired path of career progression?

If you have identified anyone whom you admire, consider uying that person lunch and asking if you could pick his or her brain about their career. During lunch 

AMHCA Graduate Students Are Developing
a Mentor Program

AMHCA’s Graduate Student Committee is excited to be developing a mentorship program for the benefit of our members. We are currently updating our mentorship handbook for use by AMHCA state chapters. We hope to be a resource to students, new professionals, and others seeking opportunities either to be a mentor or to be connected to one.

If you have any suggestions regarding our mentorship program, or would like more information, visit our Facebook page.

ask for tips on how to be successful in your new career. Most people don’t mind talking about their success—if asked. 

Share Your Knowledge Through Mentoring

I encourage independently licensed mental health professionals to consider taking a plunge into the wonderful world of mentoring. If you’re in private practice, consider the newcomers you’ve met along the way. If you work in an agency setting, take a critical look around the office and consider whether anyone with potential could use a little guidance. Do you work with anyone who would be grateful to have a little of that extensive knowledge locked within your mind? Could someone benefit from the advice you may have to offer about that extremely frustrating client you heard about in the last staff meeting?

Think back about the people who helped you climb the professional ladder, and surprise them with a call, letter, or card to say thanks. Appreciation is always appreciated—especially when it’s unexpected.