Here you are, looking for a counselor and calling every office you can find only to be told that every therapist is full and has a waitlist. Or maybe you finally find someone but they don’t take your insurance.
This, unfortunately, is the new way of the therapy world.
You express concern with waiting on a waitlist because you’re looking for support now — and you’ve heard that a waitlist might take 3-9 months (or even more if the therapist is a specialist in their niche). The office you’re speaking with offers an intern who is available next week.
Great! You start to set up an appointment and then you hear that they’re less experienced and only available for another few months. Suddenly you hesitate. In your mind you think:
I want someone who knows what they’re doing.
You decide to look for someone who will be available for a longer period of time… and so you start over with your calls, get on a few waitlists, and sit by the phone like a teenager who just gave out their number to their crush.
The truth is this:
Yes, interns have less experience. And yes, they are around for a shorter time.
But… And this is a big but.
But there are also a whole slew of amazing and surprising reasons why working with an intern as your therapist might be hugely beneficial to you as the client.
Before we dive into all of that, let’s first get clear about what an intern is and how they might be different from a licensed professional.
What is an intern?
Interns are counselors in training who have completed all of their coursework for their Master’s Degree and are finishing the last internship required for their program. They have already had some experience working with clients through at least one field experience (usually called “practicum”). Their internship is the last step before graduating and receiving their limited license.
As an intern, they receive a lot of supervision. This means there is a licensed professional (or two or more) who are regularly hearing about their work, witnessing their work, and providing feedback and suggestions. This is one of the many reasons why an intern could be a great therapist to have… but don’t take my word for it. Check out these other nine awesome reasons to try a therapist and make a decision for your own self that feels right to you.
10 great reasons to work with an interning therapist
1. Current availability
One of the primary benefits to working with an intern is that you can get started right away.
In the current mental health climate, almost every therapist is fully booked with a wait list. It used to be that only the best of the best were full and not accepting clients at any given time. Wasn’t that wonderful?!
These days, the demand for mental health and relationship support is so high that it is common for a client to have to reach out to 10 or more therapists and simultaneously get on multiple wait lists simply to wait for a spot to open in 3-9 months.
An intern has immediate availability and if you’re looking for support right now, you can expect to receive services in the next week or two – not in an undetermined number of months from now.
2. Lower cost
The cost for therapy can be a huge deterrent for many clients. Luckily, interns typically charge between $0 and $50 per session, which is greatly reduced from a fully licensed therapist who likely would charge upwards of $120 per session.
Many fully licensed therapists, in addition to being full with a waitlist, are terminating their contracts with more and more insurance companies. This is due to the insurance companies offering low reimbursement rates, which contribute to therapist burnout (see reason #3 below) and make it difficult for therapists to provide the quality services that they want to provide.
An intern cannot take insurance so if you would prefer to use your health plan, you’ll want to seek a fully or limited licensed therapist. But if you have a high deductible plan or wish not to use your insurance, an intern could be a great option!
3. More enthusiasm
What’s the one word we could use to describe interns? Excited!
Interns are enthusiastic, energetic, and excited to put all of their recent education to work with the clients they’ve been training for.
Because of their enthusiasm and higher energy levels, interns are more eager to read a new book, pursue a new training, or look into different approaches they haven’t yet tried.
If you, as the client, reference some issue or identity or experience that the therapist is unfamiliar with, an intern will likely start researching that topic before the next session.
Is a seasoned and fully licensed therapist (who has a full case load) likely to do this?
The passion, excitement, and energy for interns also helps to prevent them from experiencing burn out. Burn out happens when a person is feeling overwhelmed and is typically not creating the space in their lives for their own self-care and boundaries. Throughout the pandemic, therapist burn out has been at record breaking levels as the list of inquiring clients never ends.
Interns are in a unique position in which even if they feel overwhelmed, their burn out is often kept at bay due to their enthusiasm and passion. They are eager to learn and grow.
And I can tell you one thing:
You’re going to get more from the experience in the art of therapy if the artist you choose is passionate about their work.
4. Fewer clients
Interns keep a smaller case load than a limited or fully licensed therapist. They are often still living off of student loan money or hold a part-time job, which means they aren’t doing therapy full-time as their career yet and therefore take fewer clients.
Having fewer clients is helpful because the therapist can focus more of their attention on the clients that they do have. This means they have time to do more planning and prepping between sessions.
For a lower cost, you get even more thought and attention. Win win win.
5. Extra supervision and consultation
An intern receives a lot of supervision. Most interns have 2.5 hours of supervision weekly, partially from their on-site supervisor and partially through their University.
Supervision is a space to consult with peers, process their cases, and ask questions. They receive feedback both from various other interns as well as from their supervisor(s), who is a fully licensed therapist.
Interns are more likely to ask for help and more open to receiving feedback than most fully licensed therapists. Once fully licensed, a therapist is not required to receive any supervision — and most don’t participate in a regular consultation group, either.
This is, of course, ethically concerning because the best therapists are aware that there are unique situations for learning with every client and we can’t assume we know all the answers. The only way to find out what we don’t know is to talk with other colleagues who do know.
Having feedback and hearing suggestions and perspectives from other colleagues helps a therapist grow their skillset and become just plain better at their art. An intern not only receives more feedback more regularly, but they are also more likely to actually be receptive to the feedback.
6. Current training (evidence-based practices)
Coming from very recent training in evidence-based practices through their graduate program, interns are more familiar with the most recent research and evidence-supported practices in the field.
This is especially beneficial if you consider that many mental health licenses don’t require continued education in the state of Michigan and many therapists don’t actively seek it on their own (without being required to).
Consider a therapist who has been fully licensed for 10-20 years and perhaps hasn’t received any training or education in up-to-date practices or techniques in the last decade or two. This is clearly concerning. But with an intern, you would never need to be concerned about this!
7. No assumptions!
A therapist in training is a pretty blank slate to start.
They don’t have a specialty so they’re eager to learn about literally everything. They often have more free time so they do extra research and planning between sessions. They are up-to-date on the most recent research in the field of psychology and counseling. And as if that weren’t enough, they don’t have any preconceived notions about you based on past experiences with clients.
If you’ve been practicing as a therapist long enough, you start to notice that you’re hearing the same small collection of stories retold in literally a thousand different ways. After all, we’re all connected and the human experience is a shared experience.
These commonalities can be very beneficial in some ways in learning approaches that might work well with a client based on a past client. But it also can work against the client if the therapist makes assumptions that there are more similarities between two clients than there really are.
As humans, we like to see connections and patterns.
But if a therapist makes too many connections between a current and past client, they’ll miss a unique and important variant in the new story — and this can be a huge detriment to the progress made and relationship developed.
Interns, as blank slates, have few assumptions or expectations. They’re simply here to learn, support, hold space, offer education and tools, and find their own seat as a therapist.
8. Willingness to try new things
Since interns don’t have any established specialties or favorite approaches or styles, they’re willing to try whatever might work for you!
Sometimes a therapist might be a little less structured or a little less direct than you might prefer. While a licensed professional might (unfortunately) get a little bristly hearing this feedback, an intern will take your feedback to heart and be willing to look into your suggestion.
They’ll put effort and intention into addressing your concern in ways a more established therapist might not.
They also might be more likely to pull an eclectic array of tools from their therapist toolbox.
After practicing for many years, and especially without a regular opportunity for consultation, a more experienced therapist may have a tendency to lean into their practiced and familiar tools, resources, and spiels.
In essence, we might forget that we have a wrench at the bottom of the bag. An intern, on the other hand, has been staring at their toolbox and is well aware that there is a wrench under there — and in fact they’re looking for more and more tools to add to the box. Their flexibility can be a huge benefit to you as the client.
When clients call our office looking for a therapist, the main reason they feel turned off by an intern is because they are hesitant to embark on a therapeutic relationship that has an end date.
While it’s true that an intern is only available for 4-8 months, and that this certainly could be challenging for a variety of reasons, there are also some tremendous benefits to a short-term approach to therapy.
Short-term approaches to therapy have an impressive ability to challenge your avoidance tendencies. With longer-term therapy, you have more time and space to put off facing some of the hard stuff or making changes that you’re wanting for your life.
But with short-term therapy, the limited amount of time pushes you, as the client, to seek change a little faster.
Shorter-term therapy can also be helpful if you have never tried therapy before. Working with an intern is a great introduction to therapy as it helps you learn what works best for you in a therapeutic relationship. You can learn what you should look for (or avoid) when reading profiles and searching for a counselor.
If you’re on a waitlist for another therapist (or three), working with an intern could be a great opportunity to receive support while you’re waiting. After all, whenever you make the call to a therapist is when you are the most motivated to dive in.
You might as well capitalize on your motivation and get started right away, knowing that when the intern is finished or you’re offered a spot with the other therapist, you can of course switch over.
10. Helping them build their skills!
And of course, last but not least, one great reason to work with an intern as your therapist is to help them become a better counselor!
To be good at their trade, they need experience. Lots of it. And, of course, we all know how important it is to have skilled mental health professionals. By working with an intern, you’re helping them to improve their skillset and be a better therapist for you and all of the clients to follow you.
There you have it! 10 wonderful reasons why it could be beneficial to work with an intern.
Now, it is probably very important to note that not all situations are created equal and that interns are not the most appropriate choice for all clients.
If you are in crisis, an intern might not be the best option for you.
If you want to try couples counseling “as a last resort,” probably you should pick a more skilled therapist.
If you feel concerned for your own safety or the safety of others, an intern might not know how to best support you and help keep you safe.
Outside of these scenarios, an intern could be a great immediate, low cost, passionate, and adaptive option to receiving mental health and relationship support.
And if it doesn’t work out, that’s totally fine! Have a termination session with them to let them know and then continue your search for a licensed therapist. It could also be helpful, if you’re finding that it didn’t work out well, to keep in mind how important it is to find the right personality fit between you and your therapist.