Degree In Sight

Securing an internship continues to be a frustrating experience for many psychology graduate students. According to the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC), almost a third of the applicants in the 2007 Match were unmatched to internship positions or withdrew. And the imbalance between the number of internship positions available and the number of students who need them keeps getting worse.

"To have so many students not match is heartbreaking," says Emil R. Rodolfa, PhD, editor of the journal Training and Education in Professional Psychology. "These students are making progress and moving through their education and training to become a psychologist, and then they hit this brick wall."

Because the internship imbalance is a complex problem with many causes, dismantling that wall will take time. But many different organizations concerned with psychology education and training-including APA, APAGS, APPIC and graduate programs themselves-are already working hard to address the problem, says Rodolfa.

"There's not a solution," he says. "There are a number of possible solutions."

Some strategies being explored include:

  • Encouraging open communication. Turf issues are making it harder to solve the internship imbalance problem, says Michael B. Madson, PhD, a past chair of APAGS. Some people are convinced that limiting class size is the only answer, he says, while others focus only on the need to increase the number of internships. These single-minded discussions only result in attributions of blame and divisiveness, he says.

"It will take everybody working together and maybe giving some concessions to address this problem," says Madson. "APAGS is making a strong call for all training and internship groups to have open, honest and frank discussions about what's contributing to the supply and demand problem and potential solutions."

  • Gathering data. Determining how many psychologists and psychologists-to-be there are, and how many society needs, is the goal of the new APA Center forPsychological Workforce Analysis and Research. That means analyzing such factors as unmet and unrecognized need as well as competition from master's-level practitioners and those from such fields as counseling and social work, explains center director Jessica Kohout, PhD.

The results of this long-term project will be useful to several audiences. "One of the reasons APA got behind this was to have data to take to policy-makers," she says. "We also want to inform educators so they can be sure that the education and training provided is relevant to current and emerging needs."

  • Advocating for increased funding. APA's Education Directorate is committed to advocacy efforts to increase the federal funding allocated for psychology education and training, says Catherine L. Grus, PhD, associate executive director of professional training and education at APA.

Pushing for increased funding for the Graduate Psychology Education Program and similar programs isn't something that just APA staff should do, adds Madson. "As students and faculty members, we all get busy and caught up in the things we need to do for our education and careers," he says. "But students need to get more involved in the political advocacy process." APPIC also supports APA's efforts by offering advocacy training at its conferences.

  • Increasing the number of quality internships. This is APPIC's No. 1 priority when it comes to addressing the internship imbalance, says Steve McCutcheon, PhD, who chairs both APPIC and the Council of Chairs of Training Councils. To that end, APPIC has an active program that offers established training directors as mentors to new internship sites and to people interested in initiating internship programs.

APPIC has also eased its membership criteria to make it easier for half-time internship programs to develop and achieve APPIC membership. In addition, APPIC works with graduate programs to develop innovative in-house or affiliated internship consortia.

"It's been exciting to see some graduate programs addressing this problem by taking on more responsibility for the internship part of training," says McCutcheon.

APPIC's not the only group working to increase the number of slots. In fact, the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology recently challenged each of its members to create one or two new internship sites this year. Possibilities include creating slots within their own training clinics, collaborating with practicum sites or other agencies in the community or establishing consortia, says past president Philinda Smith Hutchings, PhD.

  • Curtailing unfettered growth. The number of internship applicants has jumped 20 percent in the past five years, according to APPIC, while the number of slots has grown by just 5 percent.

That growth may primarily come from professional psychology schools, notes McCutcheon. "We have called upon the entire education community to make sure we're doing the responsible thing-to ensure that we can actually provide complete training to all the students we're taking into the graduate school pipeline."

And that means reducing the size of incoming classes in some graduate programs, says Frank L. Collins, PhD, who chairs the Council of Training Directors of Clinical Psychology.

"The internship imbalance problem is not uniform," he says. "In some programs, 90 to 100 percent of their students regularly obtain internships. And then there are programs where less than 50 percent of students seeking internships...are successful."

  • Helping students prepare for internship. A third of respondents to a Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs survey said mentoring students through the application process was an important solution to the internship imbalance, says Adams. Other strategies include conducting mock interviews, offering internship preparation courses and encouraging students to start thinking about internship as soon as they begin their graduate training.

The group's training directors are also working to ensure that their students are competitive. For example, some require that students complete their comprehensive exams or dissertation proposals before applying to internships as a way of strengthening their applications. APAGS also offers routes for students to prepare for their internships, through an annual preconvention internship workshop, on-campus internship workshops and the guide "Internships in Psychology: The APAGS Workbook for Writing Successful Applications and Finding the Right Match" (APA, 2007).

  • Increasing transparency. Giving students the information they need to make informed decisions is another strategy that can unclog the pipeline. A new regulation from APA's Committee on Accreditation, for instance, requires APA-accredited doctoral programs to publicly disclose information about how many of their students go on to internship positions. APPIC then publishes Match rates for each graduate program on it's Web site.

"This is particularly important outcome information for undergraduates to consider when they are shopping for a graduate program," McCutcheon says.

Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.

“We have called upon the entire education community to make sure we’re doing the responsible thing—to ensure that we can actually provide complete training to all the students we’re taking into the graduate school pipeline.”

Steve McCutcheon
Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship