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  • Amy Smitke

The Role of an Intern in Placement

Knowing limits and setting expectations


Interns in the mental health field


As interns begin to start their fall journey's in the their placements for the first time or the second time there can be a lot of confusion, insecurities, and overwhelm. Many students are juggling a fulltime job, a family, and other responsibilities in addition to their schooling and internship experience.


As supervisors bring on interns there is additional responsibility and time commitment put into the plate that is likely already full. Similar to the interns there may be a full load at work, a family, and other commitments that is requiring of your time, attention, and energy. Knowing this come into the experience with interns with a mutual understanding of everyone's experience.



Why do we have interns?

Interns are at a placement to learn, develop, and explore. As supervisors taking on interns, whether that was a choice or a voluntold experience, meet the student where they are and take it as an opportunity rather than a chore. Too many times I have heard new to the field clinicians or interns voice frustration as a result of their poor supervision, guidance, connection, and consistency within their placement experience.


Interns should come into placement with a learning plan, regardless of their degree or program and this is the base of the learning a student should be receiving. This learning contract or plan is the guide to all their learning and development throughout their experience. As each placement may have different learning opportunities for students the foundation is the learning plan. To ensure the student can complete their experience successfully they must show progress and completion of this plan. Make sure as a supervisor you are following the learning plan while integrating the unique learning opportunists provided at your place of work.


We have interns to help them prepare to be in the field. Although the internship experience won't cover everything one may ever need to know, an intern shouldn't leave their experience and have little to no confidence or ability to transition into the workplace. Supervisors should be engaging and including interns in all opportunities even if some are brief and limited. Understand the interns goals but help them set ones they may not know they need.


Supervisor can take this opportunity to share your knowledge and experience with the next generation. You can use it to stay current and up to date on what is happening in the field, remain humble, and give back. I know I learn a lot from interns and supervisees and it keeps me on my toes to always learn and grow so that I can be the best support to them.


What interns ARE NOT!

Interns are NOT free labor. They are NOT an assistant or secretary. Although they may need to understand how to make copies or file paperwork properly that should be a very minimal part of their time. Documentation and properly storing client information is very important. Interns, although in the field of mental health are usually unpaid experiences, even if they are getting paid, they are NOT your employee. They still need to follow policy guidelines and protocols however, their role is still a solely learning role and to not be confused with what may be expected of a full time employee. Interns have different boundaries and expectations in placement. If your intern is doing an employment based field placement, remember for their internship hours they are NOT an employee and need to adhere to the boundaries and expectations of a normal student. When working with interns it is important to understand what may be different vs an employee and do you have goals, parameters, etc. to ensure that the intern receives what they need without crossing boundaries.


Keep in mind that each role we play in life has different boundaries and expectations. As an employee and intern there are different power differentials that accompany them similar to taking on a client. With a client, as a therapist we are in a power position and must always be aware of that and how we are keeping that to a minimum with clients. Same with employees and interns. As a supervisor of an employee there is a power differential there and that must be acknowledged, taking on an intern has an additional power layer added. When you have an intern in such a power differential from the supervisor and then they are treated and have the same expectations and boundaries as an employee, think about the potential harm that may come from that.


Maintaining boundaries and awareness

It is important when taking on interns to understand your boundaries, time availability, and expectations of such a responsibility. How do you create awareness around interns and their experiences?


Until Next Time...Stay Motivated!

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