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How to Get a Psychology Internship

Psychology internships have a storied history—they began after World War II to assist veterans. Now, nearly 100 years later, psychology internships have evolved into programs that help students prepare for their careers. These invaluable experiences could help you feel fully prepared for a career in psychology. So if you’ve ever wanted to know how to get a psychology internship of your own, these steps are here to help!

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What Are Psychology Internships?

Psychology internships are programs that pair participants with one or more mentors in professional settings, from clinics to nonprofits. Interns are gradually allowed to handle responsibilities more independently as they gain experience. They take on duties of all stripes, ultimately running significant projects, with their mentors serving as resources rather than managers.

What Do Psychology Interns Do?

When people hear the word “internship,” they often imagine someone getting coffee, making copies, and taking lunch orders. While this may be good material for sitcoms, internships in psychology are usually much more rigorous.

Psychology internships can vary greatly based on your specific focus. However, they nearly all involve the following responsibilities:

  • You will likely begin working closely with a mentor who will slowly release you to work independently.
  • You will probably end up filling out a great deal of paperwork for nurses and doctors. This provides you valuable experience with standard practices while freeing them up to focus on patient care.
  • You will encounter people who need the services of your chosen field, allowing you to work on your “bedside manner.”

Internship expectations vary from field to field. Make sure to find one that will help you learn the skills you need for your desired career. Examples of what you may expect in certain subjects include:

  • Behavior therapy: You may assist with treatment therapies, create behavior plans, collect and interpret data, and, most importantly, build relationships with clients and their families.
  • Counseling: You may lead counseling sessions or perform psychological assessments. You will need to understand behaviors, apply your treatment knowledge, and help clients find the supports they need.
  • School psychology: You could work with not just the psychology and counseling teams, but also with parents, teachers, and administrators to aid students. You will likely serve as a member of the individualized education plan (IEP) team, interpreting and presenting data so it can be useful to the group. You may even end up counseling individual students during your internship.

Why Do I Need a Psychology Internship?

The primary reason to get an internship in psychology is a practical one—it is usually required for graduation and state licensure.

But the real value of internships is that they provide you with real-world experience that will help you be successful in your future career. Classroom work is essential, but it simply cannot replicate the face-to-face interactions with colleagues and clients that you will be exposed to when you are out in the workforce.

Additionally, internships provide an opportunity for you to determine whether your specific focus is right for you. You might find an area of psychology to be fascinating in theory, but not meet your expectations in practice.

Finally, many employers prefer candidates with experience—they don’t want to spend time providing their employees with training. As of 2017, undergraduate students from all majors reported that more than 62% of them participated in internships. This growth is up from 50% in 2008 and only 17% in 1992. Since so many students participate in them, not having the experience can be a barrier to getting hired.

How Do I Find a Psychology Internship?

Finding an internship isn’t always easy, but if you persevere, you will find that there are hundreds, if not thousands, available across the country. Sometimes working with your advisor or professors can help you find leads. But you should always research as well.

Not every internship is right for every person, so take into account the following considerations before you apply:

  • Check that your institution will recognize the internship.
  • Ensure the internship is in an accessible location.
  • Verify that the company has a positive reputation.
  • Make sure that the opportunity will help you achieve your goals; if you hope to be a behavioral therapist, an internship in counseling adults is not the best fit.
  • Find out whether they hire interns at the end of their internship. Interning does not guarantee you a position, so finding an employer that tends to hire interns can be advantageous.
  • Read reviews from former employees (Glassdoor is an excellent resource) to see whether the company’s values and culture fit with your needs.

Psychology Interns and Salary

Here is the big question for many: Do I get paid during my psychology internship? It’s an understandable question, as many internships are full-time, and you may have a job or a family. While not every internship pays, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that the majority of bachelor’s students across subject areas (not just psychology) received payment for their work. The likelihood of your getting paid varies by degree type:

  • Undergraduate internships: Being paid is hit or miss, though you may be offered college credit. Make sure to thoroughly research opportunities and advocate for yourself with your advisors as they help you find a good fit.
  • Graduate internships: As with undergraduate internships, you may only be offered college credit in exchange for your work. However, it is more common to find ones that pay, as graduate students have more experience than undergraduates.
  • Postdoctoral internships: Postdoctoral internships are required for licensure in most states, and you’ll likely be paid for your work. However, don’t expect the pay to be the same as that of a licensed psychologist.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employers be transparent about whether you will get paid. Employers also need to ensure that your internship accommodates your academic schedule, recognizing it is a part of, not separate from, your education. You also have the right to be protected from harassment and work in a reasonably safe environment (understanding that there are inherent dangers in some forms of psychology work). Some states offer additional protections.

How Long Will My Psych Internship Last?

Internships for psychology majors vary in length based on school and state requirements, as well as which degree program you’re in. For example, Nova Southeastern University in Florida requires 600 hours of interning for graduate students, which can often be completed part-time; the University of Kansas predoctoral internship program is 12 months and full-time. Doctoral, or postsecondary, internships generally last the longest, with 2,000 hours of work—which generally translates into a year of full-time interning.

Internship Application and Interview Tips

Once you have found several prospective internships—and choosing more than one is wise, as you may not get the first one you apply for—you will need to complete applications and participate in interviews.

  1. Complete all paperwork: Make sure to read the expectations thoroughly, as they can vary. Some, for instance, put “attention checker” requirements, such as asking you to put all documents into one file instead of sending them separately or requiring a specific, non-standard piece of information in your cover letter. Though it is time-consuming, tailor your cover letter to each opportunity, referencing specific things about the internship that interest you. Make sure to check spelling and grammar; it never hurts to have someone look over your application before sending it in.
  2. Practice answers to interview questions: Internship interview questions are not very different from those you encounter when applying for a job. Before the interview, research the company and its mission and services ahead of time. You should also prepare questions of your own. Expect that you will be asked both general questions as well as questions specific to your field and the company.
  3. Dress for success: if possible, find out what the internship location’s dress expectations are and dress a step above the norm. Opt for conservative—you want to look professional, not like a fashionista.
  4. Thank your interviewer: Although we are past the time when a handwritten card is expected, you should send a brief thank-you email. In your email, reference one or two specific things that excited or interested you during the interview.
  5. Give them time: Being anxious after an interview is normal, but you need to give your interviewer space. Wait about a week before following up if you have not yet heard anything, and frame the message as a light check-in.
  6. Respond to offers…and rejections: Whether you receive an offer or rejection, respond quickly. If it’s an offer and you want to take it, respond to ask about the next steps. If you receive a rejection, thank them for their time—they may still be a good resource in the future, especially when you begin your job search.