Working with an Intern Therapist: What you need to know before working with a graduate student therapist

At Fava Counseling Associates of Atlanta, we sometimes have intern therapists as a part of our team. Working with a therapy intern can be a unique experience for clients. It offers its own set of advantages and considerations. You might be wondering, what are the differences in working with an intern therapist versus a licensed therapist and are there any things to consider before making that decision?

What exactly is an intern therapist?

An intern therapist, or therapy intern, is usually someone who is completing their graduate degree (Masters, Doctorate, etc.) in the fields of counseling, marriage and family therapy, social work, or psychology. These interns have to complete multiple internships while completing their program in order to gain more relevant experience before they graduate and can pursue licensure. Typically these internships occur at the end of a student’s graduate program, and they likely already have received some counseling experience through a practicum, as well as through their graduate studies.

What type of supervision and guidance does an intern therapist have?

An intern therapist will be working under close supervision of more than one licensed therapist. Typically they are required to have a supervisor at their internship site, as well as a university supervisor, both of which meet weekly with the intern counselor. This means that they are typically getting 1-3 hours a week of dedicated supervision, as well as being required to submit audio and video recordings of their sessions for further feedback and learning. 

Are there things intern therapists can and can not do?

Every graduate program has slightly different requirements, but in general, intern therapists can not bill insurance for their sessions, and can not provide superbills if their practice site is not in network with insurance. They also will require supervision in order to diagnose mental disorders. In fact, their clinical experience falls largely under the license of their supervisor. The supervisor has to sign off on much of an intern’s paperwork, therapy notes, etc. which increases the oversight an intern receives. 

Are there positives to working with an intern therapist?

Yes! There are many great reasons why a client would choose to work with an intern therapist. 

Here’s a look at some of the benefits for clients to work with interns during therapy sessions:

1. Fresh Perspectives:

Clients may benefit from the fresh perspectives that interns bring to therapy sessions. Interns are often well-versed in the latest therapeutic techniques and approaches, which can offer new insights into their challenges and provide innovative solutions.

2. Increased Availability: 

Having interns as part of the therapy team can increase therapist availability, potentially reducing wait times and making it easier for clients to schedule appointments. This can be particularly beneficial for clients seeking immediate support.

3. Collaboration: 

Clients may find that working with an intern introduces a collaborative element to their therapy. Interns are typically open to client input and may be more receptive to exploring alternative therapeutic methods based on the client’s preferences.

4. Diverse Backgrounds: 

Interns often come from diverse backgrounds, and this diversity can enhance the client experience. In addition, interns may be more sensitive to cultural and demographic differences because of the emphasis placed on diversity and multicultural competence through their current graduate studies, contributing to a more inclusive and culturally competent therapeutic environment.

5. Structured Learning: 

Interns receive structured supervision and guidance from experienced therapists. This ensures that the therapy provided by interns aligns with professional standards and ethical guidelines. Clients can have confidence that their treatment is carefully monitored.

6. Potential for Lower Costs: 

Some therapy practices offer sessions with interns at a reduced cost. This can make therapy more accessible to clients who may have financial constraints.

7. Potential for Future Collaboration: 

A successful therapy experience with an intern can lead to a future therapeutic relationship. Interns who complete their training may transition into licensed therapists and may continue to work with clients who initially started therapy with them during their internship.

Are there potential downsides to working with an intern therapist?

Yes. Despite all the positives to working with an intern, the main disadvantage is you are getting someone who does not have as much experience as a licensed therapist who has been working in the counseling field for a much longer time. You also may not get all the specialized training or certifications that someone who has been counseling for a long time has received. 

How can I know if working with an intern is right for me?

The best recommendation is to do your research. If you know a practice you are considering working with has interns providing therapy, ask questions of the practice manager or director, or consider chatting with the intern directly before starting counseling. Here are some ideas of how to do that and what to ask:

1.Schedule a free consultation call with the intern. 

Most interns in counseling practices will offer free consultation calls, and this will give you a chance to talk with them about their counseling experience so far.

2. Ask about their experience level and if they’ve already completed any internships. 

Someone who is in their first internship versus someone who is in their third internship could have very different skill levels. In addition, many graduate counselors are getting experience through volunteer or other work opportunities, despite not being licensed yet. This all can add to the experience level of an intern.

3. Ask about specializations. 

A graduate program in Marriage and Family therapy is going to include a lot of training on couples and family counseling. Some graduate programs have special emphasis on Addiction or Trauma, for example, and may provide additional classes and training for their students, making them very qualified to assist clients. Knowing about any specializations will help you decide if an intern counselor will be able to help with what you are looking for. 

In conclusion, working with therapy interns in Atlanta can offer clients a range of benefits, including fresh perspectives, increased availability, and a diverse and inclusive approach to therapy. While there are some limitations, clients can generally expect that their therapy with interns is structured, supervised, and in adherence to ethical standards. It’s also an opportunity for clients to contribute to the development of future therapists and potentially continue their therapeutic journey with the same individual once they become licensed professionals.

If you have more questions, or would like to get started with one of our Atlanta intern therapists, schedule an appointment with our team here.

About Liz Fava, LPC

Liz provides individual and couples therapy for adults, including counseling for dating, engaged, and married couples. She also conducts couples workshops, and training and supervision for therapists.