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Clinical Experience Conundrum


coffeekid
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I am in a bit of a conundrum. Last year, I applied to a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program (yes, only one, for odd ideological and geographic reasons), got an interview, and was rejected. Although I know for a fact that my GPA, GRE, and general accolades exceeded that of their average ACCEPTED student (they publish them), their reason for my rejection was that I "lacked clinical experience", which is true.

I'm done with my bachelors now and working on a masters in religion and philosophy in the mean time (it was free), taking as many courses in psychotherapy and clinical assessment as possible, with the intention of reapplying to the Ph.D. when I'm done. My problem now is: how do I acquire the "clinical experience" so that they can't reject me on the same grounds next time? I've inquired to one clinical practicum, but they said I needed to already be in a clinical program to be considered. It seems that I need clinical experience to get a clinical degree, yet need the clinical degree to get the experience. Hmmmmm.

My question is: How do I do this! Can anyone give me any insight from actual experience as to what they mean by "clinical experience"? The best thing I have going for me is a field study in my masters to work for a semester at a crisis line. Would this count as clinical experience? I feel that this is something so easy to get that it probably won't impress anyone.

Does anyone have any specific suggestions or advice on how to get my foot in the door? I would even consider taking a year off after this degree and before I reapply if it would mean gaining that experience.

I'd really appreciate any thoughts.

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The best thing I have going for me is a field study in my masters to work for a semester at a crisis line. Would this count as clinical experience? I feel that this is something so easy to get that it probably won't impress anyone.

The clinical experience most programs are looking for are not necessarily "impressive" (as-in-impressively-difficult) experiences, but rather, simply, experiences. Programs want to know that you have gotten your feet wet in the world of clinical psychology, and that after getting your feet wet, you are still gung-ho about working in clinical psych. Or perhaps, more accurately put, what can be impressive to a clinical psych program is that this clinical experience has some how shaped your desire to become a clinical psychologist (again, this has little to do with whether or not the experience itself was a difficult or out-of-the-ordinary experience).

So, yes, working at a crisis line counts as clinical experience. And in your case, you are combining clinical experience with clinical research, which may be doubly impressive.

Of course, different programs are looking for different qualifications in their "clinical experience" requirement. So, while I believe this answer to your question applies fairly generally, there may be specific caveats to this answer that may vary by program.

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The clinical experience most programs are looking for are not necessarily "impressive" (as-in-impressively-difficult) experiences, but rather, simply, experiences. Programs want to know that you have gotten your feet wet in the world of clinical psychology, and that after getting your feet wet, you are still gung-ho about working in clinical psych. Or perhaps, more accurately put, what can be impressive to a clinical psych program is that this clinical experience has some how shaped your desire to become a clinical psychologist (again, this has little to do with whether or not the experience itself was a difficult or out-of-the-ordinary experience).

So, yes, working at a crisis line counts as clinical experience. And in your case, you are combining clinical experience with clinical research, which may be doubly impressive.

Of course, different programs are looking for different qualifications in their "clinical experience" requirement. So, while I believe this answer to your question applies fairly generally, there may be specific caveats to this answer that may vary by program.

I'm only a second year undergrad student but the grad students (in Clinical) have stressed this to me.

Volunteering at a crisis centre has often been suggested to me.

I personally plan to volunteer at a local hospital (that allows volunteers to volunteer in specific areas of the hospital) or at a mental health centre.

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I agree with everybody else's responses. I'll just add my few cents. They will be brief so let me know if you need reclarifications.

Research:

- Considering PhD programs - especially psychology PhD programs - require research, this will make your application more well rounded when reapplying again. In addition find out if you could get authorship in any research that you've participated in, it will be a plus for PhD programs.

Volunteering:

- On top of everybody else's suggestions, also try to find possible volunteer internships at mental health clinics or private practices. This will create a doorway for you to get first-hand exposure to a "clinical experience".

In combining research/volunteering:

For me, I was fortunate enough to get a volunteer position as an undergraduate intern at a mental health clinic for a day out of the week. Moreover, I am creating an annotated bibliography (I suppose this would be clinical research) which further complements my experience at the mental health clinic because they both overlap each other. My suggestion for you is to try asking psychology professors at your school, preferably clinical or counseling psychologists first, if they know a practice that is looking for volunteer help.

Hope this helps!

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The answers here all good ones but let me stress the research one. An example of what you could do would be to volunteer/(hopefully find a paid position) as an RA for a lab that does work on some clinical topic (say PTSD or depression). These labs often use structured interviews to assess their experimental participants, and often have well trained RAs conduct the interviews.

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As far as gaining clinical experience (not research experience), look for local residential treatment facilities (5-day or 7-day treatment centers) and hospitals in your area. They frequently have volunteer opportunities. You may want to call local elementary or middle schools as well and inquire about special education programs and see if you can volunteer to work with kids with special needs.

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Thank you all for the constructive thoughts and insight, especially those regarding specific opportunities for volunteering and research.

The one thing that I am taking from this all is that there needs to be a further distinction with "clinical experience" between "clinical research experience" and, simply, "clinical experience", i.e. - volunteering in a clinical context. One thing that might have been helpful to mention is that this clinical program, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, is unique in its heavy emphasis on psychodynamic, phenomenological, and humanistic approaches to psychotherapy. I am well aware that this is counter-cultural in academic psychology (I'd appreciate being spared from proselytizing!), but the significance of mentioning this is to highlight the significance of "psychapplicant2011"s comment (thank you!) regarding the disparity between what different departments consider to be significant. Am I right to presume that heavy empirical research might be helpful, but ideologically incongruous with their methods?

I suppose that the burden is on me to inquire further regarding what this specific program might desire in terms of "research". Thank you all again for helping me flesh this situation out, but I imagine that others might benefit from this thread continuing to elaborate the situation of gaining clinical experience, broadly.

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I'm only a second year undergrad student but the grad students (in Clinical) have stressed this to me.

Volunteering at a crisis centre has often been suggested to me.

I personally plan to volunteer at a local hospital (that allows volunteers to volunteer in specific areas of the hospital) or at a mental health centre.

Thinking back, another thing I keep on my CV is respite work with a client who was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder. Not sure if this would count as 'Clinical experience' but it might be something to consider

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...The one thing that I am taking from this all is that there needs to be a further distinction with "clinical experience" between "clinical research experience" and, simply, "clinical experience", i.e. - volunteering in a clinical context....

Generally speaking, would Clinical research experience count as clinical experience? Hmmmblink.gif. I wonder?

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Generally speaking, would Clinical research experience count as clinical experience? Hmmmblink.gif. I wonder?

With the proviso that I'm not in a clinical program (though I applied to one or two schools), I think it depends on the type of work you do. For instance, administering structured interviews would be easy to consider clinical experience, but just doing a little data entry in a clinical lab would be a bit of a stretch (though likely still valuable in its own right if you're applying to research oriented programs).

Edited by neuroJ
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  • 1 month later...

I can't tell you what they're looking for but I can tell you what I have and what it's been considered. I volunteered at an inpatient psychiatric unit in a hospital for a semester, followed by volunteering in a homeless shelter for mentally ill women the next semester. Those two were part of my "fieldwork" sequence in undergrad and were considered clinical experience. Now I'm volunteering on a research team at a nearby college to gain research experience. I think both look good on a CV and cater to different programs. One thing I was told that might sound simple but I find is very effective is the placement of these experiences in my CV. For PsyD programs I would list clinical experience first and then research. Vice versa for PhD programs. I was also told to be more specific with my clinical experience for the PsyD's vs. less specific for PhD's (but more so if it's research experience). You know, highlight the good for specific programs.

While paid positions would be great, don't take volunteering for granted. Many people are impressed when I tell them I volunteered for a year because it shows dedication to the field without compensation. That is of course if you can afford to volunteer.

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