My Experience as a Mental Health Intern: Six Lessons Learned

By: Tyeshaa Hudson, RMHI

After wrapping up all my coursework, I was super eager to dive into my internship. I looked for a placement that offered solid training and great mentorship, but also matched up with my personal goals—like the type of clients I wanted to work with and the kind of setting I was passionate about. It was all about finding a place where I could really grow and start making a difference. It wasn’t just about checking off a box for school; it was about kick starting my career in a place that felt like the right fit.

Being a mental health intern has been like diving into a whole new world, where reality often clashes with what I learned in school. My first year working in an outpatient psychology office has been eye-opening, filled with unexpected challenges and valuable lessons that no textbook could ever prepare me for. In this blog, I’m excited to share some of my experiences, the things I’ve learned (and unlearned), and what it’s really like behind the scenes. If you’re curious about the experiences of a mental health intern, keep reading.

As I happily celebrate my one-year anniversary of work at the Cadenza Center, I’ve been presented with an opportunity for reflection on what I was expecting the work to look like and what I have experienced thus far. To be honest, when I started, I was not sure how my work as a therapist would look! I remember the practice rounds and practicum, but nothing prepared me for the true variety of patients, symptomology, and reasons for showing up that I have come across so far. I imagined that I would be working in a cold clinic, with coworkers who are overworked and under compensated. 

We’re getting personal, so I thought I would be honest. I was gifted with the Cadenza Center, a place where we are supported, encouraged to express ourselves, and can lean on each other whether that’s personal or work related. One of my favorite things to do is to bounce on the couch of one of my coworkers and consult with them about a current case or simply my own frustration tolerance for the day. As a new therapist at the Cadenza Center, I’ve noticed a culture of not only highlighting but prioritizing the importance of reflection, goal setting, and appreciation of achieved milestones. So today, I thought, why not reflect on the top six lessons learned during my first year as a registered mental health counseling intern!

Lesson 1: Welcoming clients outside my expertise.

As a new therapist, you never know who you’re going to help, but you will help those who are in need! Because of my background and training, I initially thought that I would only be helping adults or teenagers. Yet, I realized that I am a “helper” and I want to help anyone that is in need whether they are 7 years old or 77 years old. I gained insight into my usefulness, regardless of my clients demographic or background. Sometimes, as I have experienced, clients may become weary or worry about working with new clinicians or interns due to a perceived lack of experience. I challenge that! If you are confident in your training and the time you have spent learning your craft, you can be effective with almost anyone. Let’s not forget that working with your coworkers, collaborating, and utilizing supervision in case consultation will also guarantee that no matter who is helping this client, everyone will generally be on the same page and use the same processes. I had the space in my caseload to go in depth with a client as I conceptualized their symptoms and their goals — this sounds like a winning opportunity for any patient with an intern or first year counselor.

Lesson 2: Be open to learning more than just therapy techniques! 

Whether it’s going back to the “basics” to learn what is expected for different developmental milestones or figuring out what the latest Roblox theme is, I don’t need to know everything. As people change, societal norms change, and we face a growing technological generation — these facts helped me to realize that I did not know everything. For me, the lessons have only just started after graduation. Have you heard of the “phantom tax”? Me either, at least until I became a therapist. Along with every form of slang imaginable, I’ve also become an expert in soccer, robotics, and board games, all thanks to my clients. The reciprocal nature of therapy is one of the biggest surprises yet. I now understand that becoming a therapist is not a ‘destination’ (meaning getting a license), but it is a continual journey towards knowledge to better understand and thereby be able to help.

Lesson 3: Think beyond the client coming to your session. 

I have realized that in most instances, especially with children, there is room for the entire family to receive services. Whether it’s support in communication styles, providing space for communal activities or simply providing background and support for the processes to be fine-tuned in therapy, it’s clear that the entire family is important and all parts are welcome in the therapeutic environment.

Lesson 4: One hour, and often one approach, is not enough

Yes, we work really hard and diligently in that one hour, but the best way to see results for the individual, the family, and the community is to take those practices outside into the real world. I used to think that I would have to create a picture with just one hour of material; then I started to reach out to the people closest to my clients. Family members, psychiatrists, even their art therapist can serve as a link between your breadth of knowledge and sources of valuable information. Sometimes, the best progress is made when my clients also receive group therapy, art therapy, music therapy, occupational therapy, tutoring, or any other services that might support this process.

Lesson 5: Countertransference is information. 

Well, what I mean is that isn’t something to be avoided. In my graduate classes, I was taught that the reactions and perceptions we have of our clients are both valid and valuable. Depending on your style of therapy, particularly if you work directly with me, the importance of sharing the thoughts that arrive and the emotions experienced in relation to our clients must be discussed both with the clients and with the supervisor. With the support of my supervisor, I truly learned that countertransference is another piece of ‘information’ to help therapists better understand their clients. In case consultation & my own individual supervision, I must trust my supervisor and colleagues enough to take the chance to be vulnerable. Vulnerable about what my intuition says, what I am responding to, what I am avoiding in the clients’ therapy process, and more. And in this past year, I found that I must prioritize my own self-care to be of service to others.

Lesson 6: Be willing to consider other strengths beyond what I already know. 

Where are your gifts as a therapist? I am happy to reflect on the changes in my perceptions, the growth in my abilities, and the positive anticipation of helping more families on the largest scale possible. Yes, things get hard, and the “unknown” is exactly that, unknown. But if we work together, we can take away the fear tucked away in that darkness. We can illuminate all those areas that were once shaded and bring light to the truest version of who we are.

It would be difficult to summarize all the lessons that I’ve learned during my first year as an intern at the Cadenza Center. I would have to say that I don’t yet know half of what I should know (my expectations) and yet somehow, I now know more than I ever thought I would! 

The world is my oyster and the individuals I help are the sources for my awareness. Clients often believe that the therapist is there to provide advice or knows something that they do not. In reality, the ultimate teacher is the client themselves and the role I serve is to be the student of the person and a mirror to reflect versions of a person’s experience. I aim to continue helping others including all mental health counselors, and I encourage those reading this to continue to put forth their most genuine and authentic selves, be vulnerable, be cathartic, and be yourself because I want you, my client, exactly for who you are!

Follow

Copyright © 2024 Cadenza Center All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Terms of Use. Managed by Prediq.