A practicum placement is a pivotal and exciting time in a student’s graduate school career. You’re finally putting all those psychology classes to practice. And you’re starting to learn and sharpen your clinical skills.
To help you make the most of your practicum placement, we talked to Theresa A. Wozencraft, Ph.D., psychologist and associate professor of psychology and practicum coordinator at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She offers advice on everything from selecting a mental health site to making it a successful experience.
1. Read practicum books early.
There are many valuable books on navigating practicum placements. For instance, Wozencraft wrote a chapter on maximizing your training experience in the book Your Practicum in Psychology: A Guide for Maximizing Knowledge and Competence.
Unfortunately, many students don’t read these books early enough, Dr. Wozencraft said. Books on practicum placements usually feature how-tos on selecting a site, building a relationship with your supervisor and ascertaining your training needs — all information that’s better to know a semester or so before making your choice, she said.
2. At first, seek a broad experience.
When selecting their first practicum, one of the mistakes students make is wanting “a very specialized experience when they need a broader experience,” Wozencraft said. Students “will rule out excellent training sites because they don’t offer an access to a specialty population.”
However, “the earlier on it is, the more you need to be open to being trained more broadly as a psychologist.” That’s because the goal of early training is to “secure your foundational set of skills as a psychologist.” You’re there to become “effective at building rapport,” using a wide range of skills, deploying different types of interventions and getting “comfortable with [yourself] in the role of psychologist,” she said.
3. Pick a placement with a commitment to training.
Interestingly, while students are picky about choosing a specialized placement, they aren’t picky enough when it comes to training, Wozencraft said. Many dismiss the significance of selecting sites that have a strong commitment to training. She said that there’s “a big difference between being a great place to work for and being a good place to receive training.” Wozencraft’s favorite practicum sites to send her students to are the ones where the supervisors enjoy their supervisory role.
4. Consult your supervisor.
Talk to your program’s director of training to make sure that you’re on the same page about the “types of experiences you hope to gain, what they expect from you and what [skills] you have to offer,” Wozencraft said.
Other key topics to talk about: your long-term goals, what students at your level need to experience and what you want to learn. For instance, if you want to pursue a specialization, the types of practicum placements you do after your early training might be predetermined, she said.
Next, consider how well the practicum site matches your training needs. According to Wozencraft, “Part of making the most out of practicum is making sure you select a practicum that’s compatible for what you need to maximize your own development.”
She also emphasized the importance of students accepting their program director’s guidance and understanding that “their own specific needs and desires can be met when [their skills are] more developed.” Your school supervisor will have insight into what’ll make a good fit, depending on your personality, training needs and the on-site supervisor.
Based on these factors, your training director might strongly recommend one practicum over another. For instance, when Wozencraft worked at another university, which had both external and internal placements, she’d recommend that students who needed more structure and support be placed at their on-campus clinic.
If the practicum you’re considering is new, sit down with the on-site supervisor and discuss everyone’s expectations.