Reflections of a former intern counselling psychologist
Every year, unknowing educational, counselling and clinical psychology students depart from the path of student psychologists into the realm of intern psychologists. I ventured onto this journey at the Ububele Therapy and Assessment Centre. I was privileged to have commenced on this trek with three fellow psychology interns. Looking back at the year, I cannot fathom the possibility of embarking on this journey on my own – as many interns at times have to do. The internship year is filled with so many personal, contextual and situational dynamics and challenges. To me it felt important to engage with individuals who were experiencing a similar journey.
Choosing an internship site was in itself a daunting task. I personally applied to sites that were linked to my interests. My reason for applying to Ububele was based on their focus on the importance of attachment, and with it their recognition of the importance of early caregiver-child relationships. The primary focus area of Ububele is thus on infants and young children, whilst I was particularly interested in how the experiences of early childhood impacts and manifests in adult behaviour. The internship programme at Ububele provided exposure to different forms of interventions. These included the Baby Mat programme, Parent or Caregiver-Infant Psychotherapy, Child Psychotherapy, Adult Psychotherapy, Parenting work, Assessment, and the Bus Play group. I believe that the diversity of programmes provided me with an opportunity to explore my possible passions and interests. I found myself surprisingly pulled into the world of Parent and Caregiver-Infant-Psychotherapy, as well as the potential this intervention has for an individual’s life course.
The reality of the South African context One of the most challenging, and equally rewarding parts of my internship year, was working within a context faced with many structural inequalities, as well as the implications of those disparities. When I initially decided to pursue a vocation in psychology, I carefully examined the different programmes available. I applied to Wits, because they offered a Masters in Community-based Counselling Psychology programme. Although I was passionate about the potential of individual counselling, I believed more strongly in the criticality and the need for broader interventions that could drive and sustain systemic change on societal and community levels.
My internship at Ububele provided me with the opportunity to work closely in, and at times with the Alexandra community. Our baby mat sessions were held at various clinics in Alexandra, we offered therapy at the Brownhouse at Alexandra Clinic and some of us had the opportunity to do home visits. An intervention that was however particularly close to my heart was the Bus Play Group. It involved us driving to a particular site in Alexandra with the Ububele bus, which was filled with reading material, toys and mats, and engage with the children residing at the site.
I initially felt very excited about the play group, but soon became quite ambivalent about going every week. It was immensely difficult, and I knew I would return to the office feeling both emotionally and physically exhausted, but I also felt devastated when something prevented me from going. The playgroup reminded me of all the different reasons I applied for a programme that was community-based and, yet it was also difficult to work within the reality that many of the children I had come to care for, had to manage daily. I had to remind myself continuously that community interventions require intense work and at times refocus. Of the different play groups, there was one play group that had community input and parental involvement. Though I felt so inspired by this group, it reminded me that different sites could not be viewed through one lens. As such, the team for our playgroup continuously strived to find ways of connecting with the families and role-players and searched for interventions that worked for our children at our site. The experience taught me that there was no ideal scenario, though I found the process to be a deeply enriching experience.
Final thoughts Though I realise that every intern’s journey will be unique, I’ve taken the liberty to include a few notes that future interns may find useful on this sometimes-turbulent expedition…
Grasp every opportunity Recognise that every moment during your internship is an opportunity to learn – either about yourself, the workings of the human mind or the dynamics of relationships. You won’t know where you may find yourself in the future, so grasp onto every source of knowledge that those brilliant minds around you are willing to share.
You are the instrument A central learning during your internship is how to sit with your own emotions and how to work with it in therapeutic relationships. So, remember that you are a human being with emotions! Sometimes you need to honestly ask yourself, whose feelings you are really dealing with in the therapy room, on the baby mat or in the play group and how is it impacting the work that needs to be done. Writing the transcript
It is not only for supervision… When you are still new to world of psychotherapy, and exploring the potential of your own knowledge and skills, there is nothing more valuable than an honest transcript. Noting the cringeworthy elements of your transcript is most likely one of the most powerful ways to learn. You may not be able to go back in time, but you can do better in your next session.
Appreciate supervision! It may not always feel nice hearing what other people may have to say about what you do in the therapy room, but being defensive about it won’t encourage learning. During your internship year, any form of critique is a good thing!!! You have the opportunity to think about the critique received, and if you choose to, use it to improve.
Accept the limits of any intervention Any intervention is likely to have its unique set of limitations. Be willing the accept the limitations of even your most valued intervention, and think about how it could be further improved upon.
Recognise your own limitations None of us are perfect and that’s okay. You are in your own personal therapy, right?
Support Systems If you don’t have an amazing support system inside the site, ensure that you have an amazing support system outside of it. Even if you do have an amazing support system inside the site, still ensure that you have an amazing support system outside of the site. Whether your support system comprises of friends or family, make every effort to spend quality time with them.
You, You and You Know yourself beyond the therapy rooms, corridors and corners of your internship site. Your internship year requires incredible dedication and work ethic, but ensure that you maintain a balance and can recognise when you are starting to run on empty. Always remember… Your internship year has the potential to be tough, but so do you!
Lynne Goldschmidt Counselling Psychologist