No training program can offer a student all possible training opportunities before they leave the safety net of supervision and embark on their own journey as a psychologist.

Sometimes, if your program will allow, it is necessary to seek experiences outside of current academic affiliations. As a fourth year PsyD student in a not-so-big city, I had to think outside of the box in order to gain all of the specialized knowledge that I thought would help me as I begin to look toward internship.

If you are like me and seek specialized knowledge that your generalist program may not provide, here are 6 tips for obtaining practicum opportunities at sites outside of current program affiliations:

1. Know Your Program’s Requirements

This is the number one rule to get both what you want and what you need out of a practicum experience. The worst case scenario would be to put in all of the work to secure a site and then have it fall through due to “administrative issues.”

First, make sure to familiarize yourself with the clinical training handbook or other respective materials for your program. They should be readily available to you via your school’s website or your program director. Know the requirements for a practicum site to be approved by your clinical training director as a viable opportunity. Understand the differences between site types, classes/credits necessary, and hour requirements.

In my program, there are strict requirements for a site to be considered a “community practicum site”, as opposed to an “elective practicum site”, which has less stringent requirements. It is important to know if your school makes similar distinctions. It is also helpful to understand the administrative requirements necessary to set up a practicum experience at your school, including the following examples: site contracts between your school and the site, site visits by the clinical director at your school, and supervision contracts.

In the end, if you are faced with a question that you have not researched, never say “I don’t know.”

Instead, say “I will find out for you” and then try to find the answers yourself. If you show enthusiasm and effort in making it easier on both the site and your clinical director by doing your own leg work, then your practicum experience is more likely to be beneficial to you and you’re more likely to have a better overall experience.

I would also encourage you to build a relationship with your clinical director and appreciate all the work that they do — while still working to make sure you have a smooth practicum experience.

2. Branch Out — Both Geographically and Through Networking Connections

To expand your pool of options, look at different affiliations of other schools in your geographic area, or extend the search outward if you are willing to travel or relocate for a summer. After my second year, in fact, a cohort member and I carpooled nearly an hour and a half so that we could get experience at a site that was used by other schools.

If travel is not an option for you, look into affiliations that other programs within your respective university might have, such as the Counseling program, Social Work program, or even specialized fields like Criminal Justice.

You can also ask your current practicum site if they have any relationships with outside providers or referrals in the area. They may be able to direct you to sites with whom they have had beneficial relationships. For example, an independent psychologist may be able to connect you with contacts in a hospital, rehab center, or specialized care facility (such as a neuropsychologist) to whom they refer their own clients.

3. Shop Around

There are many options available to help you find your dream site.

Joining professional organizations can be a great way to network with potential practicum sites and supervisors. Attending annual meetings or conventions of professional organizations at the state and national levels can help you seek out potential relationships.

Most of the members in attendance are more than willing to provide guidance to young professionals, and many will go above and beyond to help you in your endeavors. Some of my cohort members have made great connections within their respective research and clinical specialties at conventions and meetings all over the country.

Online searches for psychologists in your area may also help you to find a local mentor. In the same way that a patient will search for a provider, online searches can help you narrow down potential practicum opportunities. Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” tool is a great place to start.

Likewise, the phone book is another resource to help you to obtain a list of local psychologists before you begin reaching out in person or by phone.

4. Be Prepared to Work for It

Some sites fall into place rather quickly while others take time and patience.

As a current doctoral student, I have realized that if I want to land an internship (especially one that is APA accredited) I need to obtain the experience necessary to market myself to future internship sites. I set up one of my outside sites with one email and a face-to-face meeting, while another took nearly one year from start to finish to finalize.

Be patient. If you really want to train at a certain site, the work is worth it — in other words, don’t expect to sit back and have everything fall into place before your eyes. Do the leg work and be persistent, but also know when to change directions. If things are not moving forward, then you may need to move on in the search for your next great practicum experience.

Update your CV and draft a professional email template that you can use when contacting sites. Make sure to include a brief background about yourself, your program of study, and your clinical interests. Be clear about what you are looking for and put your all your knowledge and research (See Tip #1) to good use by informing the site about your program’s requirements for the practicum experience.

Treat this like a job application — be professional and courteous. You will essentially be working for them, with your compensation being their knowledge and supervision.

5. Create Your Own Experience

As you explore your options, you may connect with a site or supervisor who does not have much experience with having practicum students.

Don’t let this scare you away, but be smart!

Take the time to create goals with the supervisor to ensure that you both agree on the expectations for the experience. If any issues come up later, this will allow you to speak up without feeling rude or disrespectful. If you feel that the experience may not be beneficial for either party, you always have the option of not moving forward, as does the supervisor.

Utilize resources wisely. Make specific goals related to what you hope to gain from the experience. Take advantage of specialized knowledge and other staff. Reach out to other fields for experience as well.

Talk with social workers, certified addiction counselors, nurses, marriage and family therapists, and any other professionals that may be a staple at your new practicum site. By reaching out, you may learn things that you never would have otherwise.

Ask for outside tasks. Try to gain physical resources while at a placement. Talk to staff for recommended readings or trainings. Some sites offer trainings for their staff and it may be beneficial to see if you could sit in on them.

6. Foster the Relationship

Once you have found a site, take the time to foster the new relationship.

Don’t take the site or the supervision for granted. They chose to take a risk with you just as you took a risk in choosing them.

Putting in the extra effort to show that you are interested, motivated, and thankful will go a long way to making it a fruitful experience for all parties involved. It may also pave the way to creating an affiliation agreement to benefit other cohorts down the road.

Chelsea Graziano
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