Observing therapy and intake appointments, conducting assessments, planning treatments and activities, and overseeing outreach are just a few of the responsibilities that Knox College students take on as part of Clinical Psychology Term. This immersion term, one of the more rigorous academic and professional experiences offered at Knox, takes place once every two years.
“Our main goal really is that students can get an understanding of whether or not this is something they want to do,” said Assistant Professor of Psychology Sara O’Brien, who directed Clinical Psychology Term when it took place during the 2020 winter term.
Clinical Psychology Term selects applicants, all psychology majors, and places them in internships at sites in Galesburg. At these sites, students often work with the chronically mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, families and children experiencing a variety of difficulties in adjustment, and women and children who are the victims of domestic abuse. Concurrently, students are enrolled in two 300-level psychology courses on campus.
During the 2020 winter term, the organizations where the 11 participating students interned included the Center for Youth and Family Solutions, The Consultants, Grounded Perspectives, KCCDD, Galesburg Rescue Mission, Safe Harbor, The Salvation Army, and Seminary Manor, all offering a wide range of clinical work experience. Students logged four or seven hours at their site every week throughout the term, depending on whether they were taking their internship for a full or half credit. “We require that [students] have at least 50% of their time being some direct kind of contact with clients or people there,” added O’Brien. “So they really get some real world experience of what it’s like.”
Clinical Psychology Term was founded by Emeritus Professor of Psychology Tim Kasser in 2003, and each time the term is offered, the required courses adjust to fit the expertise of instructors participating in Clinical Psychology Term. Theories & Methods of Psychotherapy, taught by O’Brien, and Interoception, taught by Visiting Instructor of Psychology Andy Arnold, were the required courses for winter term 2020.
Student Dianell Vega '20 said that in the Theories and Methods class students “learn about different psychotherapy paradigms” and other “skills and techniques that therapists conduct in therapy, like how to have empathy, how to ask questions, how to gauge the room.” She added that these lessons are what “you would learn in grad school, which is really awesome.”
Clinical Psychology Term students also met once a week to learn about and discuss their internships. “It helps the whole class to learn not just about what their site does, but what it might look like in different areas as well,” said O’Brien.
Here is a brief look at some of the internship experiences during winter term 2020:
- Vega interned at Grounded Perspectives, a local counseling center, during Clinical Psychology Term 2020. “They feel like the community just really needs help in general,” she said, “so they kind of do a little bit of everything.” Vega did a little bit of everything there as well, getting a fuller understanding of “the logistical business kind of side of having a private practice,” and “observing therapy sessions and things like that—even sometimes participating in them.”
- Maggie Corlew '21 interned at Safe Harbor Family Crisis Center in Galesburg. Her clinical work was intense—she spent time participating in group therapy, offering support to families and survivors of domestic violence at the courthouse, and helping with Domestic Violence Class, an obligatory educational experience for perpetrators of domestic violence. Her work had the potential to weigh heavily on her, but Corlew said that O’Brien made sure to provide students with the necessary tools to decompress after their work days.
- Katie Anderson '22 interned at Seminary Manor, a local nursing home and senior care facility. She said that “talking to patients or clients and learning about their hard situations, it can affect you as a therapist. One of the biggest struggles is to try and separate other people’s problems from your own and not take them with you.” Both Corlew and Anderson spoke about O’Brien’s attention toward students practicing self-care as a way to leave their work at the workplace.
Across the board, students expressed that they’ve gained an appreciation for how difficult conducting therapy really is. “There's this perception about how therapy works, that the therapist just sits there and you guys just talk, but I think learning about all the actual paradigms and the methodology and stuff, there’s so much that goes into it,” said Vega. “You’re not just paying someone to just listen to your problems. The person actually knows what they’re doing.”
This newfound rigor and difficulty inspired Vega and many other Clinical Psychology Term students to pursue further work in the helping industry.
“I definitely see myself doing this,” said Vega. She added that Clinical Psychology Term “was just very self-validating and reaffirming, and I think anyone interested in going into clinical psych should definitely do it.”