The Pros and Cons of Seeking Therapy from an Intern or Associate
by Kit Edwards
What is a Therapy Intern or Associate?
Associates have graduated with a master's level degree and are accruing hours towards their licensure. Interns have completed, or mostly completed, their studies and are gaining experience through a required number of internship hours to receive their degree. What they have in common is that they are both unlicensed and working under a clinical supervisor who they must meet with for one hour per week. Therapist interns are required to meet with a supervisor from their school and a licensed supervisor from their agency.
The Cons of seeing an Intern Therapist
One drawback, and perhaps the most significant one is the timing allotted for intern therapists. These interns may only be available for up to 6 months unless they are interning long-term. When entering into therapy with one of them make sure to ask how long they will be working with the agency. For clients looking for something short term this arrangement would be fine. However, when a client develops a great therapeutic alliance with a counselor and wants to continue to work with them this situation could prove difficult.
Probably the most obvious con to working with an intern or associate therapist is the lack of experience. It’s true that mastering any art, including therapy, cannot be achieved in a matter of months or years but decades. A therapist with many years of experience brings all of their knowledge, training and expertise and for the most part more experience is preferable. However, associate therapists and interns don’t necessarily need decades of experience to be helpful to a client.
Reasons to remain open to seeing an Intern Therapist
Perhaps the most obvious benefit to seeking therapy from an intern is the pricing. Interns are paid in experience and not monetarily. Therefore, receiving therapy from an intern is more affordable when compared to licensed therapists. Note that this is different from associate therapists as they are paid for their services but are also generally less expensive than a licensed clinician. Seeing an intern therapist is a great option for those who do not have the budget to see a clinician or are uninsured but still want to receive help.
Another perk to seeing an intern for therapy is that their caseloads tend to be significantly smaller than associates and licensed clinicians. Some agencies have months-long waiting lists just to receive an intake to see a therapist. However, most if not all interns have more open availability and may be the quickest avenue to receiving help. Smaller caseloads also mean that more attention will be paid to each client in terms of treatment planning, notes, etc. Another advantage to a lighter caseload is flexibility in scheduling.
While many clinicians do stay up to date on the latest findings and evidence-based therapies this is not the case for all of them. By contrast, interns are required to learn about these newer evidence-based therapies and interventions as a part of their curriculum. They are also required to undergo training and spend up to 9 hours per week reading about the latest research and treatment modalities. Some clinicians are unfortunately using out-of-date treatment methods. Interns have this advantage over those therapists who don’t seek continuing education.
Interns and Associates are both required to receive supervision from a licensed professional while accruing hours, this professional in most states must have years of experience under their belt. This acts as both an excellent learning tool for them but also as a huge advantage for the client. Both roles but especially interns seek advisement for work with all of their clients. Many have said that this essentially means that these clients have two therapists in one.
Interns and Associate level therapists are energetically different from clinicians who have many years of experience in this field. Their presence in sessions may be more vivacious and passionate when compared to a seasoned clinician. Another pro is that many interns are younger in age and if a client is seeking a perspective closer to their own generation an intern may be a better fit. Finally, some may assume that an intern or associate lacks mental health care experience altogether and this is often not the case. Despite them lacking official credentials, they typically come to an agency with prior experience in this field and are simply accruing hours to gain a degree and eventually licensure.
As this article has explained there are many reasons to seek therapy from an unlicensed individual. However, that’s not to say that anyone should go see one for these reasons alone. The best way to choose a therapist is to go with your gut, if they feel like a good fit for you then they probably will be. Likewise, if it feels like they “get you” you feel heard and respected by them it’s likely a good match. This article seeks to dispel some of the misconceptions around intern therapists and encourage those seeking therapy to keep an open mind when choosing who they should see.
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