Eighty-eight percent of academic, predoctoral and postdoctoral training directors agree the psychology field should adopt a minimum requirement for the number of supervised practicum hours students need before internship. However, they disagree on exactly what that minimum requirement should be, according to a survey of 414 training directors of APA-accredited programs. The study, conducted by psychologists Emil Rodolfa, PhD, and Susan F. Ko, PhD, appeared in the June 2005 issue of Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (Vol. 36, No. 3, pages 318-322).
For example, academic program training directors suggested an average of 1,094 practicum hours should be sufficient before internship-150 fewer hours than internship directors suggested and 100 fewer than postdoctoral training directors recommended. (In most state and provincial licensure laws, 2,000 hours is considered equivalent to about one year of full-time experience.)
That lack of consensus might be contributing to a gradual increase over the past decade in the number of practicum hours students accumulate, according to the study. Some students also may accumulate more practicum hours because of anxiety about the increasing competitiveness of landing an internship.
"If they get more practicum hours, they might feel they'll look like a better applicant to the sites they are applying to," Rodolfa says.
However, students who accumulate a high number of practicum hours aren't necessarily better qualified for an internship, Rodolfa notes.
In fact, in a study Rodolfa conducted in 1999, he found that the precise number of practicum hours didn't matter to training directors as much as how well applicants "fit" with the site. Attributes such as potential interns' career goals mattered more, according to the study in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (Vol. 30, No. 4, pages 415-419).
Indeed, students on practicum should focus on what they're learning, not the hours their logging, says Catherine Grus, PhD, APA's assistant executive director of professional education and training.
"The number of hours of training is not equivalent to amount of learning," she explains. "The argument could easily be made that less learning might occur when students are engaged in high levels of service provision, as it leave less time for supervision."
Therefore, students interviewing for an internship would do well to focus in on how they are a good match for an internship site, Rodolfa suggests.
"Know what the mission of the site is, and emphasize what you will bring to that site," he advises. "Show them how their site and their training opportunities will contribute to your professional growth."
-M. Dittmann Tracey
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