Degree In Sight

Alison Bess, a counseling psychology doctoral student at Texas Woman's University, still remembers the agony of the e-mail from the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC). It read, "You did not receive a match."

Even though she had applied to 15 internships, landed three interviews and boasted good grades and many practicum hours, she had no internship.

For about 20 seconds, she stared at her computer in denial. "Am I reading that wrong?" she remembers thinking. "I checked who sent it to make sure it wasn't from a friend who sent it to me as a prank. I was shocked."

She's hardly alone. Every year students who find themselves unmatched in the APPIC Match have 72 hours to overcome the disappointment and prepare for the fast-paced APPIC Clearinghouse, where students vie for any remaining internship slots-positions that can be filled in a matter of hours, or even minutes.

In the 2006 Match, 731 applicants didn't match to an internship and 300 positions were available in the Clearinghouse.

The shell shock of not securing an internship can greatly undermine a student's confidence. But it shouldn't, says Bess and internship experts. Indeed, Bess and other students have found the Clearinghouse to be an opportunity to find quality sites they may have overlooked in the initial Match-sites that in many cases turn out being better matches than the programs they interviewed with in the APPIC Match.

"A site that may have not come to the attention of the intern before could turn out to be a real gem for that particular intern," says APPIC Chair Steve McCutcheon, PhD.

Therefore, landing in the Clearinghouse isn't a setback to your training, Clearinghouse veterans say.

"There are outstanding candidates that end up in the Clearinghouse--just as there are outstanding sites that end up in the Clearinghouse," says Jenny Cornish, PhD, training director at the University of Denver Internship Consortium. "It can turn out really well in the long run."


FRAMING THE NEWS

David Hulac, a fifth-year student in the University of Northern Colorado's school psychology program, was stunned he didn't match in the 2006 APPIC Match, after applying to 20 internship sites and interviewing with three.

"I was pretty embarrassed on Friday morning when I got the bad news e-mail saying that I hadn't matched," Hulac says. "It seemed as though my career dreams were suddenly gone."

Other students can relate. Michaela Merrill, a sixth-year clinical psychology doctoral student at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, cried in total shock, and Lisa Shaffer, PsyD, says she initially took it to mean she wasn't an adequate therapist.

But as Shaffer came to accept--after seeking support from family, peers and faculty: "There are tons and tons of people interviewing for a small amount of positions, and they can only interview so many--sometimes it just doesn't work out."

Indeed, landing in the Clearinghouse doesn't mean you are a bad candidate or a poor therapist. Rather, candidates sometimes narrow themselves too much in the initial APPIC Match, such as by targeting only competitive sites or certain geographic areas, says McCutcheon. Similarly, top-notch internship sites may be in the Clearinghouse if they rank too few applicants in the APPIC Match, are highly specialized slots or are in a less-desirable geographic location.

Hulac found an internship at the Louisiana School Psychology Internship Consortium in New Orleans--a site he considers to be a great match because it includes both traditional and nontraditional experiences for a school psychology internship. For example, the position offers him the opportunity to do clinical rotations for four schools, work on assessments and lead workshops, and it boasts a salary stipend on par with other internships.


MOVING ON

Once students have cleared the Clearinghouse as Hulac did, it's important for them to find a way to work past any lingering distress that could turn into long-term insecurity about their capability as a psychologist, experts say. Students shouldn't carry any Clearinghouse anxiety with them as they move on to search for a postdoc, first job and other important career hurdles.

"I wish folks could keep in mind that this is only one small step in their entire career," says McCutcheon, adding that APPIC surveys have shown that Clearinghouse veterans are consistently satisfied with the experience they get.

In retrospect, Merrill says going through the Clearinghouse has emotionally prepared her to face the challenges and potential disappointments that may happen down the road when she applies for jobs and postdocs. She now knows that what seems like an initial disappointment can turn out to be a boon: Her internship at a community counseling center in Mercer County, Pa., is offering her the exact training she needs to land her ideal future job working in a juvenile detention facility.

Similarly, Michelle Myers-Pagoria, a sixth-year psychology doctoral student at Roosevelt University, says, "As cliché as it may sound, things do happen for a reason." Myers-Pagoria began her Clearinghouse internship in July at the Indiana Neuroscience Institute at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis.

The internship offers her a combined pediatric and adult neuropsychology program-experience that dovetails with her goal to delve more into the neuropsychology specialization she began in Roosevelt's clinical program.

"I'm 120 percent more satisfied where I am now in retrospect," Myers-Pagoria says. "It's definitely the neuropsychology training that I desired."

Likewise, Shaffer-who landed an internship at Metropolitan State College of Denver's counseling center in the 2003 Clearinghouse-says she has no regrets from the Clearinghouse experience.

"Just because you end up in the Clearinghouse doesn't mean you still can't achieve what you want, it just might take you on a slightly different route than you originally anticipated," Shaffer says. "I think the important thing is not to let it deter your goals." Shaffer certainly didn't-she now has a private practice in Las Vegas.

As for Bess, her perseverance and positive thinking paid off: On the fourth day of the Clearinghouse, she landed an internship at South Carolina's Clemson University in their counseling and psychological services center. Her internship, which she completed in August, allowed her to broaden her training in a way that she foresees will expand her career options. She ran an eating disorder support group, triaged at a walk-in clinic and worked with students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities.

"It really can work out for the best," adds Bess, who just received her PhD and landed a job as a clinical counselor at the University of Illinois at Springfield's counseling center. "Ten to 20 years from now, who cares if you went through the Clearinghouse? It's not like it really hurt my career at all."


Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a writer in Chicago.

For information on navigating the APPIC Clearinghouse, read "Make the APPIC clearinghouse work for you" online at APPIC Clearinghouse.