Feature

Call it a crisis or call it an imbalance, the fact remains that the number of psychology doctoral students annually seeking internships significantly exceeds the supply of positions available.

That’s largely why 846 students — or 23 percent — of those seeking an internship did not find one through the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers’ Match in February. The problem has been mounting for more than a decade. From 2002-10, the number of internship seekers grew by 27 percent, while the number of new positions increased by only 13 percent.

Not matching is a nightmare for many students. Some wait and try again in a year, often putting their quest for a doctorate and licensure on hold while accumulating more debt. Others look for training opportunities outside the match system or scramble for the few unfilled internship slots, often not APA-accredited, available through APPIC’s clearinghouse.

“We really, really need to handle this crisis head-on right now, otherwise, we’re going to have an even bigger problem on our hands,” says Rachel Casas, chair of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students.

APA gathered leaders from all five psychology doctoral training councils with representatives from APPIC and APAGS in 2008 to develop solutions to the internship imbalance. Since then, the groups have addressed the issue in a variety of ways.

In February, the Joint Conference of Training Councils in Psychology unveiled a Web-based Psychology Internship Development Toolkit, to help psychologists and administrators at community mental health centers, hospitals, college counseling centers, and other potential internship sites develop their own internships. The toolkit guides these facilities in how to pursue funding, adopt a budget, build an organizational structure, set up supervision and select candidates.

Programs often find that not knowing the full scope of what they need to do is the most challenging part of developing internships, says Clark Campbell, PhD, who led the group that created the site.

“It becomes daunting, and I think it becomes easy to give up along the way,” Campbell says.

To offer assistance to current internship sites, the Council of Chairs of Training Councils conducted a survey last spring that identified about 350 internship sites that are interested in expanding their numbers of interns or becoming APA-accredited. The survey also found that approximately 150 psychology doctoral programs are willing to offer assistance to these sites by providing licensed psychologist faculty to supervise intern work and lead group training sessions. Doctoral programs will also help internship programs complete the “self-study” evaluation process necessary to apply for APA accreditation.

A CCTC work group is linking up potential internship sites with contacts from nearby doctoral programs, says group chair Cindy Juntunen, PhD, adding that the survey collected the names of 245 faculty members and internship staffers who want to work on the expansion initiative at the local level.

“[It was great] to see so many folks willing to say ‘Yes, I’ll put my time and effort toward doing something here,’” Juntunen says.

Other solutions and improvements to the match experience on the horizon include:

  • Better information for students. APA’s Commission on Accreditation already requires graduate psychology programs to prominently post match rates on their websites, and APPIC was working to post match results for individual doctoral psychology programs, including a 10-year average and the specific percentage for 2010, online by June. That information will give students who are interested in applying to specific programs more information about their prospects for matching, and help them pick programs to apply to that have better records of match success.

  • More accountability for doctoral programs. Training council leaders have asked psychology doctoral programs that fail to match 75 percent of their students within the APPIC process to dedicate funding for new internships, says Sharon Berry, PhD, APPIC Chair. Eventually, doctoral programs would be expected to reach a match rate of 90 percent.

  • Improving the clearinghouse. APPIC is looking into creating a process through which students who don’t initially match automatically enter a second round online, with a set timeline of two to three weeks for identifying unfilled internship positions, submitting applications and interviewing with program directors by telephone or in person. Giving students and internship programs more time will make the process less “frenzied and stressful” for everyone, Berry says.

  • Seeking more federal funding. APA continues advocating for increased federal funding through the Graduate Psychology Education program, to support psychology internship training with underserved populations, says Nina G. Levitt, EdD, associate executive director of APA’s Education Government Relations Office. About $23.7 million in federal funds has supported professional education and training since 2002, but more support is needed, Levitt says.

These efforts to boost the growth of new internships are heartening, says Casas, but long-term, psychology doctoral students need to see that APA’s leadership is continuously and comprehensively trying to address the sources of what APAGS describes as a crisis, and encouraging solutions.

Catherine Grus, PhD, associate executive director for professional education and training for APA’s Education Directorate, says these efforts to address the internship imbalance have been, and will continue to be, a high priority for APA.