By Mpheng Thamae (Intern Counselling Psychologist), and
Dr Solomon Makola (Internship supervisor and mentor)
The Health Professions Council of South Africa requires a one year internship as one of the requirements before one can practice as a psychologist in South Africa. While clinical psychologists (and some counselling psychologists) do their internships in hospitals, educational and most counselling psychologists do their internship mainly through education intuitions.
Like other masters students I applied and was offered a position as an intern psychologist at the Welkom campus of Central University of Technology in the Free State. The amount of growth I attained from this one year training has matured me into a grateful human being. I hope to capture the salient experiences of my internship in the following subtitles.
I reported for duty on the 6th January 2016. I had never lived in Welkom; my only familiarity with Welkom was from the times the bus would pass through Welkom from Pietermaritzburg to Bloemfontein and the pictures of the town which I had seen on Google that was it!
The first few days I was oriented to the operations and procedures of the campus. This carried over for a short period of time since the campus is small. Walking around campus I observed the environment; the students and the staff members, before long I was also walking around like part of the environment. Looking back I can say that except for supportive team at the wellness department and approachable colleagues throughout the campus, speaking the main language of the environment (Sesotho) might have catalysed the orientation process. I say this because of my one year schooling at the University of KwaZulu Natal, where I experienced the effects of moving into a city whose main language I did not speak.
The internship at Central University of Technology (CUT) is structured in a way that the psychologist function is also included in the daily operations of the Wellness department. Being part of other activities of the department allowed me a relationship with other colleagues (not just my clinical supervisors). It allowed me a chance to work in a team, where a particular contribution was expected of me. This made me learn a lot of communication and accountability in the work place. For example I learned about accountability mainly from the student workshops that I was entrusted with. This meant I had to research and qualify the content that I would share with students, then discuss it with a colleague before presenting it.
I was fortunate to have worked with cooperative and supportive colleagues from the wellness department. It meant I could ask for assistance and clarification every time I felt lost, especially in the early days when I was learning the routines and procedures of the environment.
As a student myself it is always interesting to see student culture in other institutions. My interactions with student extended beyond the therapy room because of the other activities I was involved in. For examples in the student ‘Wednesday workshops’, I was impressed at how informed the students were regarding safe sexual behaviour, how most of them were already aware of who they were and where they were heading to in life. I say this because I personally was not that self-aware at their age, my future plans were not as clear and as well thought-out, as seemed apparent for most of the students I came in contact with.
I was more impressed by their attitude towards these purely voluntary workshops, I believe most of them got resolutions to their individual challenges in those workshop, it felt like an exploded version of group therapy for me.
Active Involvement with the department’s quarterly wellness weeks (a week were seventeen to twenty stakeholders offering mostly health and financial services come to the University to inform and serve student) was also very impressive, it showed that access to health services was important for students.
The culture of seeing a psychologist on campus
I found it interesting that a significant percentage of my clients were male. Most of which came because of (intimate) relationships problems. Most of the female clients came because of adverse childhood experiences. In all of the clients I was impressed at how psycho-educated they were. The understanding and the will to seek psychological services proved a healthy campus community for me.
The hardest part about my internship year was trying to apply a ‘purist’ approach to my cases. For the sake of learning and being established in the different therapeutic frameworks we were advised to focus on one therapeutic framework per case, in my first year of Masters. Still carrying on with the principles of properly taking an eclectic approach, I found that I had to be a bit flexible in how I handled my cases. I realized the importance of rapport, which was emphasized also in my first year of masters. I learned that when there is a healthy rapport between a therapist and a client the therapy session becomes less mechanical.
I thought the most drastic change of my life happened during my first year of masters. I had worked for four years before returning for Masters and so it was a very stretching season. I had to adjust to being a student again, both cognitively and socially. But I learned that internship year is much more challenging because it’s a less ‘protected’ environment, there is more application than there is theory. It was very intimidating in the beginning but I learned to trust myself as a clinician. Because of the immense support from my supervisors I found myself gradually growing as a psychologist from one client to the other.