Benefits of Training Interns and Externs Flow Both Ways
“The most important part of education is training.” — Plato
Putting Plato’s truth into action, the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School (O-School) in Chicago has more than a 100-year history of incorporating a practical training model into a therapeutic day school and residential milieu dedicated to treating students with significant emotional and mental issues. Hundreds of educators and clinicians have launched their careers at the O-School, working directly with some of the most challenging and complex young people in the country and being mentored by some of the field’s most talented and highly experienced professionals. These trainees have the unique opportunity to experience educational, clinical, and psychiatric interventions up close, and many have gone on to have successful professional practices across the United States and the world.
Interns (or “externs,” depending on the educational track) enrolled in master’s or doctorate programs have come to train at the O-School from a variety of academic institutions. Students studying psychology have come from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Social work and counseling students have come from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, Northwestern University, National Louis University, the University of Illinois’ School of Social Work, and Northeastern University. Teaching interns have come from DePaul University, Northeastern University, Chicago State, Columbia College, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Psychiatric fellows and medical student interns have come from the University of Chicago and Rush University Medical Center.
Establishing a training program at a school like the O-School has so many benefits to both the student trainees and the organization.
The benefits to the student are fairly clear. The student enters a training environment that has been specifically designed for the purpose of gaining practical experience under the supervision of a professional in the field. In fact, the O-School setting is quite unique and ripe with learning opportunities. The O-School provides long-term therapy and treatment, which is different from many other training settings, which focus on short-term or outpatient models. Thus, student trainees get the opportunity to do more intensive therapeutic (or teaching) work; there is more time and more exposure, allowing interns and externs to work with students to address deeper, underlying treatment and educational issues. Interns and externs at the O-School truly get to know their students and are a significant part of their students’ treatment and education. Student trainees play a role in the process of building and maintaining strong therapeutic relationships with the students. These interns and externs are on the front lines and are part of the school’s milieu and community. This amplified engagement increases the dedication of O-School interns and externs, which again is a “win” for the trainee, the child, and the school.
Of course, interns and externs are not thrust directly into the position of providing therapeutic care to students. but rather they are allowed a period of orientation during which they are closely supervised, educated on the school’s policies and procedures, and taught the basics of the school’s behavior management plan (TCI verbal de-escalation). During this period, they become more familiar with the therapeutic milieu and are able to understand the guidelines and expectations of their new role.
They are officially assigned to a master’s or doctorate level supervisor with at least five years of experience in the field. Each student trainee receives one hour per week of clinical supervision with the assigned supervisor, during which time, the student and supervisor might discuss challenging cases, connect their theoretical framework to the practical experience, and process the emotions and psychological transference that arise for them at work. In addition, many interns and externs take part in formal group supervision and consultation led by professionals in their particular fields of study (an opportunity offered by few other sites). When working on the dormitory floor or in the classroom, an intern or extern works alongside trained O-School staff members (including counselors, teachers, therapists, nurses, administrators, etc.) to learn precisely how the work is conducted. Interns and externs benefit from the school’s multi-disciplinary team because they have the experience of working collaboratively with professionals in a variety of fields (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, teachers, and speech and occupational therapists). This collaborative approach across departments provides an excellent professional training opportunity, no matter which professional track the students are taking.
For the training institution, the benefits of having interns or externs are many. First, they are not paid, so an additional workforce is added at no cost. Typically, they are individually selected so that the training institution can handpick individuals who demonstrate potential in the field and whose personal educational mission aligns with that of the organization. Also, the process allows a program to supplement its offerings for clients. For example, the O-School has hired interns and externs who specialize in dance therapy to expand opportunities for students at the school and introduce a different treatment modality. Interns and externs are generally motivated to get the most from their field experience and offer energy, new ideas, and different perspectives to the role. Supervisors are positively challenged to accurately describe and implement the training modalities and to be open to the learning and teaching process. In addition, during the one- and two-year internship or externship, students are trained professionally so that they can be competitive applicants for long-term positions when they graduate from their programs. Finally, if they take positions in other organizations, they are in a unique position to inform their colleagues about the work of the school and potentially provide referrals; a significant number of the O-School’s current students were referred by their treating professionals who had once trained or worked at the school. These former interns, externs, and staff members are uniquely aware of the clinical and academic profile of students who do well at the O-School and often provide appropriate referrals, having seen the school’s work from a close perspective.
While developing and maintaining a training program within an organization requires a great deal of time and dedication, the benefits far outweigh the costs and can positively affect an organization’s culture and ability to provide the best treatment and education to those it serves.
Authors Lauren Berebitsky, Psy.D., serves as Director of Therapy and Assessment and Programs and Kristin Friesen, LCSW, as Director of Admissions for the O-School. To learn more about the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School’s (O-School) residential and day programs, please visit our website. If you have a child or loved one who you believe may benefit from the O-School’s or BWC’s services, please visit our contact page here or call Kristin Friesen, at 773-420-2891.