If you are interested in applying to graduate school, obtaining clinical experience may be beneficial in creating a memorable graduate application, as well as preparing you for future graduate studies. Discussing your clinical experience both in your graduate applications and in interviews may provide the important hook that makes you stand out to admissions committees. Many universities offer variations of an “Applied Experience” or “Undergraduate Practicum.” This experience also allows you the opportunity to learn more about the population you are interested in working with and apply psychological principles in a multitude of settings or human services agencies. It is important to realize that although doing an applied experience is a great opportunity to be exposed to specific populations experiencing a variety of psychological symptomatology, your role during an undergraduate applied experience or practicum is far different than that of the role you may expect in graduate school or as a clinician.
Steps to Obtaining an Applied Experience
1. Check your university’s course catalog that there is a practicum for course credit.
2. Identify your local human services agencies (referral agencies can be found on your County’s Human Services web page) and if applicable, faculty clinics.
3. Review the agencies and call the ones that serve the clients in whom you are interested.
4. Speak with your advisor and express your interest in a supervised volunteer experience for course credits.
Reflecting On My Experience
I opted to complete an Applied Experience with the Department of Child and Family Services in Corpus Christi, Texas. At Child Protective Services (CPS), I had the unique opportunity of working with social workers and meeting with the licensed clinical psychologist who works with cases referred by CPS. I was able to ask questions and understand the process of getting families the help and services that they need. This was also my first opportunity to speak with a psychologist and learn about the day-to-day life of working with clients. At CPS, I observed interviews between the caseworkers and children and shadowed caseworkers during home visits. I attended court hearings and witnessed parents lose custody of their children and had the opportunity to provide guidance and modeling during parent- child supervised visits. Each caseworker that I shadowed was such an inspiration to me and I was amazed at the training they received in self-care. In a career that experiences so much burnout and stress, these social workers demonstrated the importance of mentally removing themselves from their jobs and “detaching from the office.” This was one of the best pieces of advice that guides me as a graduate practicum student now working with my own clients.
This experience allowed me the opportunity to realize my interest in working with trauma cases and specifically survivors of childhood abuse. When applying to graduate Clinical Psy.D. programs, I knew that I wanted to be in a program that would allow me the opportunity to develop specialized knowledge in the field of trauma psychology. If you are able to complete an applied experience, remember that it is what you take away from the experience that will help you to develop professionally and set you apart from other applicants!
Editor’s Note: Jenna Lyons is a third-year clinical PsyD student at Nova Southeastern University.