Tomorrow's psychologists won't just be therapists, they'll also be managers, advocates for social justice and community outreach coordinators. That's the message from a survey of 195 training directors published in the November issue of Training and Education in Professional Psychology, which found that schools are expanding the period of real-world training known as the practicum from covering supervised direct services to clients, to also include advocacy, administration and more.
"Practicum training is starting to recognize the opportunities psychologists have found to use their expertise in the world," says Robert L. Hatcher, PhD, director of the Wellness Center at the City University of New York Graduate Center. "Psychologists have skills that end up being used in a wide range of settings, like policy settings, for example, or health-care think tanks."
Students typically complete more than one yearlong practicum, and that training increasingly reflects psychologists' broadening role. In 2009, between 86 percent and 97 percent of program directors said that outreach and advocacy are important parts of practicum training, up from 57 percent who endorsed "Community consultation, advocacy and training" a decade earlier. While in the past, students spent their practicum semester providing therapy, today's graduate students might also learn how to advocate for clients who require social services or oversee volunteers at a battered women's shelter.
"It reflects a growing sophistication within education and training in psychology," says Catherine Grus, PhD, co-author of the paper and APA's deputy executive director for education. "We're really thinking more about the competencies our students need."
With states increasingly accepting practicum hours toward licensure, a quality practicum experience is more valuable than ever and can help point students toward their future career niches, says Hatcher.
"The more that students can work with their faculty to plan out a thoughtful set of practicum experiences that will match their interests and training goals, the better off they'll be," he says.