Alumni, Community and Student Engagement Initiatives

Archive for July, 2009

The First Step in your MFT Career: Finding the Right Internship Site By Susan Valentino-Hersey

Susan Valentino-Hersey

Susan Valentino-Hersey is a second year student in the MFT program at Fairfield University. Susan will be beginning her Practicum in August, and has found placement at two sites… Catholic Family Services in Bridgeport and Stamford Counseling Center, where she will be working in their Probation Program.

The majority of graduate students look forward to the beginning of their clinical work with an equal mix of anticipation and dread; the latter being minimized by the support of a caring supervisor, a comprehensive education, and, of course, the right internship site. The right internship site can provide all the necessary supports to ease an intern’s nerves when approaching that ever stomach-wrenching, very first client session. However, the task of finding the right Practicum and Internship site can be a daunting procedure for some.

Having just finished this process myself, I have compiled some thoughts and tips that I found helpful during this period. At first, when handed the list of 50 or so sites in or around Fairfield County, the advice I received was to call the sites in your area. Well, being brought up in a bedroom community where many commute an hour into Manhattan every day for the “right job” my first thought was “Well, these sites are ALL in my area.” So the first task I set upon myself was to narrow down that list of 50 possibilities to a more manageable number: my goal was 10.

Here are my tips to figuring out which sites to contact:

Ask Around: Your fellow students are always good resources for information. For the most part they will tell you that they love their site. Try to get more information and make sure to ask specific questions on why they love it. Be on the lookout for that 1 in 10 student who says she doesn’t like her site; ask where and why.

Do your Research: The list the school will give you will have some specific details about the sites, if at all. Maybe one fifth of the sites have a brief description. If you think a site may interest you, see if they have a web site. If that fails, never be shy to call them to gather more information. The director in charge of placing interns will be more than happy to answer your questions which may reflect well on you in a future face to face interview.

KISS Principle: If you really want to have as many possibilities as possible go down the list and contact the sites with one simple question: Do you have an internship opening at the time I am looking for? Keep It Simple Stupid: If a site doesn’t have an opening, that is a fair reason to cross them out as an option and narrow down your list. This is also a good way to make a broad spectrum of professional contacts at the same time.


Once you have made your initial contacts with all of the sites you are interested in, the interviews will likely be set up quickly. These practicum/internship interviews should be handled just like any other job interview. However, being MFT specific, there are a few things you can do to prepare and although every site is different, I found the following tips important to keep in mind:

Know thy site: Some interviewers start with a lengthy description of their site, they may even go into vast detail about themselves. Be cautious: at the end, they will ask you why you contacted them and why you are interested in their site. Make sure you go into the interview with a working knowledge of the site, a.k.a. their population, their mission statement, type of agency etc. You should basically try to get as much information on the center and your interviewer as you can.

Know thy Self: As in any interview, you will be asked questions about yourself. As most people go into interviews thinking these will be the easiest questions to answer, they can end up being the hardest. It is important to spend time prepping for the interview by thinking about yourself and the answers you will give. Make sure to review your resume. Also, make sure to review your class notes- these supervisors and directors will want to know about your studies, what classes you have taken and what you have learned. The hardest question for me is “Tell me about yourself.” It may feel a bit salesman-ish but it makes the question a bit easier to answer if you have a slightly rehearsed 30-second pitch in your back pocket.

See into the Future: One of the last questions an interviewer may ask is “Where do you see yourself down the road?” This is a good opportunity to discuss your future goals. However, pay attention to their reaction; this is also a good opportunity to flesh out if that particular site’s goals are compatible with yours.

Before the interview ends you will have the opportunity to ask the interviewer a few questions; don’t miss this chance. Interviewers want you to ask questions; asking intelligent questions will make you look more competent, organized, and prepared.

Here are a few of my Internship Site questions:

What is the transition period for beginning interns? As “Prac” students most of us will be entering our internshipsite without ever having met with a client; different sites handle this differently. At some you will meet with clients right away, at others you will shadow your supervisor for a period and at some; you will go through a short training program. Picking something that is comfortable for you is important.

What is the referral process for clients? The answer to this question will give you a lot of information on the number of clients that flow through the site on a daily/weekly basis, the agencies position within the community, and the type of clients you are going to see.

What have people gone on to do after finishing their internship here? Some interviewers will name a select few lucky interns that were placed at their sites after graduation. Dig further, the answer to this question will give you a good idea as to where past interns ended up after their internship.

Relational Hours? Ahhhh, relational hours… Magic words… Do they have them? Make sure to ask if interns of years past have done alright getting them.

Practicum and internship sites are there for you and if you do the proper research and networking, you will get placed in the one that is the best fit for you. Keep in mind that you will likely not get offered a place at every site that you interview, and given the competitive and tightly-knit community that is MFT you may know the person who gets offered the position instead! Things happen, but that is fodder for another article.

In Their Own Words…

Betsey Lebow

Betsey is a second year student and is doing her internship at Trumbull Counseling Center in Trumbull, CT. She will graduate from the program in May 2010.

Fairfield University’s MFT program has opened up a whole new world for me.  The faculty, staff and students have been a tremendous source of support and inspiration.  When I discovered the program I had been searching for a graduate curriculum that would fit my educational needs but hadn’t found one yet that was exactly what I was looking for.  I researched  social work  at NYU and Columbia.  They were outstanding programs but something wasn’t quite right for me.  A friend suggested the MFT program at Fairfield.  Right away I began my due diligence and realized quickly that I had found my new home. The application process itself was the beginning of my new journey; writing a resume, getting recommendations, dusting off my 23 year old undergrad transcript, etc.  I matriculated in May 2007 and have never looked back.  My internship has been more than I could have hoped for with interesting cases and supportive supervision.  In addition to my coursework (excellent classes!) and clinical training I have had the opportunity to work as a graduate assistant.  It’s a fast paced environment in which I thrive.  My co-grad assistant Laura Fishman and I share responsibilities in our little office as we help support our in-house clinic (the Family Counseling Center at Fairfield University), our professors and fellow students.  I graduate next spring and am looking forward to a stimulating and rewarding future as I continue to learn in ways that will help me help others.

In Their Own Words…

Kristen Orakwue, LMFT

Kristen is a clinician at FSW, Inc. in Bridgeport, CT, she coordinates the Fairfield U. Urban Grant Initiative and is co-owner of Collaborative Counseling Group in Trumbull, CT. She graduated from Fairfield U’s MFT program in 2007.

It’s true what they say…”do what you love and everything else will fall in to place”. As soon as I read the description of the program on Fairfield’s website I knew that the MFT program was for me. With each class I was more invested and excitied about doing the work. A unique set of circumstances sent me to Europe for part of my internship, and I was very fortunate to get a job at a great agency after graduation where I have continued to get an excellent clinical education. A year or so after graduation I was asked to speak on a panel about life after graduation in Dr. Haug’s class. Some months later one of the panelists who I had previously only met once before asked me if I would be interested in becoming a member of the CTAMFT board of directors. Prior to being asked it had occurred to me that I should get more involved with the CTAMFT, to have a better idea of what was going on in the MFT community and maybe for networking purposes… talk about going from zero to sixty.

Maintaining relationships with some of the faculty from the program has also resulted in other enriching opportunities that otherwise would not have come my way. From time to time I have referred to myself as having great professional “luck” however after further reflection it seems to me it’s more of a combination of great training, a thirst for knowledge and the recognition that the more I know, the more I’m interested in learning.

With Experience Comes Professional Confidence

I’ve been working with a couple lately that I’m really enjoying.  They’re a young attractive couple with two young children and when they first came for therapy it seemed that there was very little hope for their marriage. Of course it’s never enjoyable to see people in pain or on the edge of divorce, but I think what I’m enjoying  is feeling very competent and knowledgeable in working with them and designing interventions and homework assignments that so far seem to be working and receiving positive feedback from the clients.

As a student  I remember asking a professor about how long post master’s degree it would be before I really felt like I knew what I was doing? She said about three years and that feels about right. What is reinforced in my work every day is while every individual, couple and family are different, people are generally longing for the same things… to be heard and understood, to be validated and valued, to have meaning and purpose in their lives, to feel special, wanted and safe.

Many people marry the person they believe understands and values them the most, but by the time they seek out couples therapy they are often disillusioned and lonely. In my experience with couples, the ones that fare best are the ones where each member of the couple is willing to own their role in creating their circumstances, is willing to risk being hurt in the positive pursuit of a more fulfilling relationship, and is willing to re-negotiate long held beliefs or expectations about how their relationship or their partner “should” be.

Very often couples therapy gets a bad rap, but when an experienced clinician meets a willing couple and it works, it really works and few professional outcomes are more gratifying.