Students in the Addictions Counseling (ADDC) and Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH) master’s programs are required to complete 880 hours of an internship to get real-world, supervised training.

We asked several ADDC and IBH students to share their insights and pro tips about the internship experience. Here is a summary of their responses.

How do you balance school and an internship?

Overall, the key is to find what works for you. One student did their internship over one semester and didn’t take any classes, while another student was able to take four classes and work 30 hours a week. Focus on finding a balance right from the start. Talk to your internship site and your employer if you have one.

Self care is critical, especially for students who haven’t worked in mental health before, as this type of work can be draining. But it does get easier, the more you do it.

Speaking of self care… why is that so important?

The internship is an extension of the classroom, and it is an essential part of the learning experience. Countertransference (when a clinician’s feelings shape the way they interact with a client) can happen; it’s normal. Your instructors will teach you how to handle it. But you may have to deal with and talk about issues that are uncomfortable.

There is also a lot of role-play in these graduate programs, which can give you “whiplash” when dealing with real people. It’s important to ground and take care of yourself. Advocate for yourself. If something doesn’t feel right, ask a question.

Why do some students do 440 hours and not 880 at one time?

Doing an 880-hour internship in one semester will get you closer to becoming an LADC (licensed alcohol and drug counselor) more quickly. But it isn’t always feasible and may not be the right choice for students. If you are crunched for time or money, don’t force yourself to do it. The internship prep class will go through the details of both options.

How do you find an internship site?

The details will be thoroughly explained in your internship class. You’ll fill out an intent form, and your coursework is reviewed to see that you’ve completed what you need to. The internship advisor (Ann Ingwalson) can even talk to an internship site to explain the master’s programs.

You may find your own site and work with a population you want to, as long as you get approval and the site can supervise you. Consult your connections, instructors, and peers to help you to find a site that is right for you. Ask the site questions, like what model they use. Be curious and open to options.

Also, don’t apply, interview, or accept an internship until you’re completely ready and cleared to do it. Take your time, especially if you’re not in the mental health field already.

What is one major takeaway from your internship?

Here are just a few of the takeaways IBH and ADDC students had after their internships.

  • One student had prejudgements about people but realized they really enjoyed working with their clientele. Their empathy grew.
  • Another student said it gives them “hope for humanity” to see people working toward recovery. It gave them ”new light on being a therapist.” 
  • Another person called their internship “a life-changing event.”
  • A few students were surprised by their competence and noted how everything they learned clicked and made sense.
  • Another student appreciated that clients continue to show up after what they’ve been through.
  • All in all, the relationships they built with their clients was impactful.