Skip to main content

Practitioner-Scholar Model

The internship at the Counseling Center trains doctoral level clinical and counseling psychology students in accordance with a practitioner-scholar model. The internship is viewed as an opportunity for interns to integrate areas of knowledge acquired through formal academic training and apply this learning in an intensive clinical experience. Interns also build on their existing knowledge base with recommended readings and didactics particularly relevant to clinical work at our site. Interns participate in a variety of didactic seminars that are particularly intensive at the outset of the internship and continue throughout the year with an increasing focus on application to growing clinical responsibilities. Seminars draw on the rich and varied expertise of training staff at the Counseling Center as well as the larger training community in Washington, D.C. Interns are encouraged to utilize critical thinking skills and hypothesis testing as they regularly review their clinical work in supervision and seminars.


A mentoring relationship is a key element of our training model. Mentoring includes both support and challenge in a training process that involves didactic, observational and experiential learning. Interns develop close working relationships with multiple staff members in seminars and supervision. They also have ample opportunity to work alongside staff members while co-leading groups, covering urgent care rotations together, and working together in administrative meetings to address the practical functioning of the center. Thus, interns have regular opportunities to receive support in their practice of professional activities and to observe professional role models. Further, within the alliances of these varied mentorship relationships the training can be tailored to the intern's individual strengths and needs.

Developmental Approach

Our model incorporates a developmental approach toward integrating, refining and enhancing clinical skills and ethical understanding throughout the year. Developmentally, interns are expected to proceed from an intermediate level student clinician to an entry level psychology practitioner. To facilitate this growth, at the outset of the year interns and their supervisors assess existing skill levels and formulate goals together for the training year. These goals are reassessed periodically and interns engage in ongoing supervisory discussions to work toward steady progress on goals throughout the training year. Internship tasks are sequential and graded in complexity. For example, interns engage in an extended orientation during their first months of internship. During this period, they build caseloads gradually and spend proportionately much more time in didactic seminars. In varied presentations and discussions with staff, community scholars/practitioners and campus partners, interns have the opportunity to develop foundational skills before proceeding to more complex clinical situations and a larger caseload. With various responsibilities, such as intake, urgent care, screening clients for group therapy, and outreach, interns progress from utilizing higher degrees of supervisory support to practicing more independently. The professional tasks expected of trainees increase over time in intensity, frequency, duration, complexity, and difficulty. As interns become increasingly comfortable with their developing expertise and as they increase their knowledge about practice in a university setting, they engage in more independent consultation and collaboration with our community partners such as the Student Health Center and the Dean of Students.

Professional Identity Development

We view internship as a critical time for the development of professional identity and behavior and we strive to create an environment that fosters optimal professional and personal growth. Over the course of the internship year, the mentoring relationship progresses from that of a student-supervisor role to one of emerging colleagues. As part of a maturing professional identity, interns are expected to incorporate the attitude of openness and collaboration to a multiplicity of clinical problems/issues as well as professional interactions and relationships. The developing professional identity incorporates a sense of courtesy and respect for all working relationships and recognition of the work of all members in a community. This professional mindset also includes the attitude of openness to life-long learning and the continuous development of skills. The maturing professional is also expected to have an understanding of ethics that involves not only legal issues and professional boundaries, but also incorporates ethics as a "professional conscience" that considers the welfare of the clients as a primary consideration.

Several seminars are specifically devoted to professional development. In these seminars training staff address topics that are particularly relevant to early career psychologists, such as the licensure process and career choices after internship. Various seminars, including the Cultural Competencies Seminar, Training Director meeting, and Professional Development Seminar, provide opportunities for interns to reflect on their professional growth and examine their own work together as interns. In addition to general professional development, the internship also provides opportunities for interns to learn about professional specialization in Higher Education Mental Health. Interns participate in the varied activities and roles of Counseling Center psychologists, such as intake and urgent care assessment, outreach, crisis management, consultation with campus partners, time-limited individual therapy and process and theme oriented groups. Professional identity development within a Counseling Center setting is also addressed specifically in the Clinical Issues seminar, which is focused on a variety of clinical issues relevant to a Counseling Center population.

Cultural Competence and Diversity

A fundamental component of the training mission is to cultivate cultural competence. The student body at American University is culturally rich, including representation from over 146 countries and all 50 states. The university demonstrates a commitment to supporting a diverse student body with various student service programs, such as those for first generation college students, Pell eligible students, veterans and international students. Thus, in a range of roles and clinical responsibilities interns' growth in cultural competence occurs experientially, in contact with a culturally heterogeneous university community.

Across training experiences, interns are encouraged to cultivate their awareness of culture as a critical variable in understanding the experiences of their clients. We aim to create a training environment that respects individual differences and that encourages dialogue regarding culture, privilege, social justice, diversity and identity. We share a belief that an understanding of self in terms of one's own history, background and identity is crucial in learning to understand, respect and honor the differences of others, whether clients or co-workers. Conversations about culture occur throughout the internship experience; additionally, interns participate in a 9-month seminar that focuses on cultural competence. This seminar provides a dedicated space and time for interns to learn and dialogue about issues of diversity and how to incorporate this knowledge into clinical work. In this seminar interns are also encouraged to explore various aspects of their identities and how this influences their clinical work. In recognition of the importance of cultural competence and the significant amount of work that interns devote to this during their training year, interns give a year-end presentation to staff that illustrates cultural dynamics in their clinical work.