Too Many Psychology Students, Not Enough Internships

Increasing numbers of graduate clinical psychology students are forced to delay their graduation because they can’t fulfill a crucial component of their degree requirements — the internship. This means that for many students, although the course work has been completed and dissertation preparations are already under way, they must remain without doctoral degrees simply because there are not enough internships to go around.

The shortage of internships has been plaguing clinical psychology students for several years, but the latest numbers of students without internships are the highest ever, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). In fact, 24% of students who applied for internships last year did not get one, according to an article in the New York Times. That was approximately 937 students left without internships, some of whom had to delay their graduations because of it. All doctoral students must complete a year of supervised clinical training before they’re allowed to graduate.

"It means that there are people who are taking student loans and spending years in this training who could go out and provide a service to the public, and they’re stuck," Robert E. McGrath, director of the clinical psychology doctoral program at Fairleigh Dickinson University, told the New York Times.

Students in graduate clinical psychology programs go through a complex ratings system to get matched up with the best internship opportunities. Every year, students apply for internships by picking the hospitals and clinics they want to work at most and rank those choices. In turn, the internship programs at those hospitals and clinics rank the applicants. A computer then takes all of the rankings and uses an algorithm to link up applicants and programs in the most mutually beneficial way. However, with more applicants than there are internships available, some students are inevitably left out of the entire equation.

One way to complete the internship requirement is to opt for an unaccredited internship, which is not part of the matching process. However, though unaccredited programs may still be high-quality and allow students to graduate, it may not be well-received by potential employers.

In addition, solving the internship shortage is not as easy as just telling clinics and hospitals to offer more internships. "If [internship numbers] get too big, we won’t give out stellar training," Susan M. Sussmann, the director of psychology education at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital, told the New York Times. Hospitals may also be wary of increasing internship numbers because of the costly nature of running those programs — each intern is paid for their work, though patients who see them may not be charged for the service. In addition, the psychologists who train and supervise those students could lose face time with their own patients.

The crisis is one that may take years to solve, especially since every student needs to have a high-quality training experience before graduating. "Psychology needs an integrated system of education and training with a strong quality assurance mechanism, in order to maintain public confidence in our preparation of professional psychologists," Cynthia Belar, executive director the APA’s Education Directorate, told the APA. But whether the best way to rebalance the student-to-internship ratio is to reduce the number of clinical psychology students or to increase the number of internships remains to be seen.

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