Mission & Training Philosophy
The doctoral internship in health service psychology at the Texas A&M Counseling & Psychological Services exists to help interns cultivate entry-level skill in each of the profession wide competencies within a university counseling center context. We believe that an important component of this aim is the “counseling center context.” While our interns secure employment in many diverse settings, our training program sets out to prepare interns to function with excellence in a university counseling center context.
The foundation of our approach to training is a practitioner model. The emphasis is on learning through the practical application of evidence-based practice in psychology. "Evidence-based practice in psychology is the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture, and preferences" (American Psychologist, May-June 2006). The intern is expected to increase their knowledge/skills by providing mental health care to clients while under clinical supervision. On top of an understanding of current science/research in the field, it is the intern's relationships with clients, supervisors, other practitioners (including other interns) which provide the basis for learning.
We take a developmental view of our training mission, aiming to help the intern transition from the student--trainee role to professional colleague. This begins with the selection of well-prepared intern applicants who value a life-long learning process. During the early phases of the internship year, the intern is oriented and immersed in the life of the agency. Throughout the entire year, interns are respected and valued as important and contributing members of the staff. As the intern makes progress through the year, he or she is encouraged to act with increasing independence and autonomy.
Clinical supervision is a fundamentally relational experience, and it is only when the authentic self is engaged, that the full power of supervision is available. A use-of-self orientation to supervision enhances the alliance and increases the supervisees trust (Knox, Burkard, Edwards, Smith, & Schlosser, 2008), in a relationship where supervisees struggle to be honest (Pisani, 2005). Effective supervisors cultivate a safe relationship where trainees can thoughtfully consider the filters through which they view relational processes, including how such filters came to be incorporated into the self, and how they impact their perceptions of people, pathology, and the change process. Dewane (2006) defined use-of-self as the “melding of the professional self of what one knows (training, knowledge, techniques), with the personal self of who one is (personality traits, believe systems, and life experience),” and suggested that it is the “hallmark of skilled practice.”
The assumption underlying a use-of-self training philosophy is that trainees have characteristics that they bring to each interpersonal encounter that either facilitate or undermine therapeutic interactions. As supervisors, our goal is to empower trainees to become more attuned to these variables, recognizing how this insight allows the trainee to connect in deeper, more meaningful ways in both therapeutic and supervisory relationships. The use-of-self model assumes that the working alliance is an essential ingredient in helping relationships, and consequently supervisors challenge trainees to cultivate personal qualities that will promote effective working relationships.
A use-of-self training philosophy holds that diversity is relevant in all interpersonal connections. Trainees will approach their work with preconceived, often unconscious, assumptions that are rooted in their unique cultural heritage (Hays, D.G., & Chang, C.Y., 2003). While this is part of being human, the most powerful supervision draws on the ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” and helps the supervisee gain insight into cultural forces so that they may be employed for good and not harm.
Fostering a supportive and trusting environment in the supervisory relationship is key, for it is within this relationship that trainees will unpack their authentic reactions to certain ideas, systems, assumptions, and cultural contexts (Wong, Wong, Ishiyama, 2013). This can sometimes be a messy process characterized by intrapsychic tension. Such personal exploration should occur only when the supervisory relationship is safe and respectful. Clinical supervision will always be distinct from psychotherapy and honoring appropriate boundaries is paramount. Although a use-of-self training approach may illuminate ways in which the supervisor and the trainee are different, differences are explored openly and diversity is always valued.
We believe exiting interns should exhibit a high degree of professionalism. This includes:
- adherence to appropriate ethical and legal standards,
- a scholarly approach to their work,
- an awareness of significant challenges and trends within the field,
- the development and implementation of life-long professional development activities,
- awareness and skill with individual and cultural diversity,
- a continual examination of personal world views and their impact on professional functioning,
- effective organizational behavior,
- a healthy relationship between personal and professional life,
- and a sense of responsibility to contribute to the welfare of the profession and society.