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How To Find Top Student Interns To Grow Your Practice

There is an “it” factor when looking for interns to train in your private practice.

Here’s how I’ve found amazing interns that stay at my clinic even after graduation.

Over the past several years I have trained and mentored many graduate students and new graduates working toward clinical licensure. Working with interns has been a great way to build my practice, leverage my time, and satisfy the part of me that loves mentoring.

Most graduate students who train at my clinic during school are offered a therapist position after graduation which creates a win-win situation — the student gets a job they’re already trained for and I get to add talented and enthusiastic therapists to my team! After interviewing several therapists, I’ve learned to be very selective about who I bring on at Wasatch Family Therapy.

I recently consulted with a private practice therapist who has a waiting list for new clients. As we started exploring the option of hiring a graduate student to train she expressed some concerns. Her biggest questions were:

  • How do you find talented graduates students?
  • When interviewing potential student interns, what qualities do you look for?
  • How do you know if they’re going to be a good therapist and work well with your private practice clientele?

So, here’s what I’ve learned after several years of interviewing and hiring student interns…

How do you find gifted graduate students?

  • Contact local graduate programs in your discipline and see if they are  looking for internship/practicum placements for their students.
  • Fill out the necessary paperwork to be an approved placement at local schools, even if you’re not quite ready to bring on a student. When you’re ready to train an intern you’ll already be approved.
  • Reach out to traditional and for-profit schools. I’ve found that the for-profit programs (Argosy University and University of Phoenix in UT) are more flexible in terms of internship start times and the number of clinical hours per week required. I have been very pleased with the caliber of students from private, for-profit universities.

When interviewing potential student interns, what qualities do you look for?

  • After interviewing grad students for several years now, the biggest “it” factor I look for is likeability. I know that sounds simple, but it’s true. If I enjoy talking to them and I trust them during the interview process, then it’s likely they will quickly put clients at ease, too.
  • I look for people were “born” therapists and just need the formal credentials and trainig in order to actually to all themselves a therapist.
  • I look for people who have long-term goals that include working in a private practice setting, like mine, beyond the internship.
  • I always ask about their style of handling conflict, feedback, or direction in work settings and discuss several scenarios that might arise in private practice.

How do you know if they’re going to be a good therapist and work well with your private practice clientele?

  • You don’t. There’s no guarantee that someone will be an effective clinician. I suggest that you make sure that there is a clause in your contract that you can stop training a grad student that isn’t working well with your clientele.
  • I often require that interested graduate students volunteer at my clinic for several months before securing a clinical internship. There is such a high demand for interns in my area that we can be extremely selective. This volunteer time gives us both a chance to make sure it’s a good fit.
  • A 3-step interview process helps screen potential interns before bringing on.  I do an initial interview, a second interview, and a “mock” case presentation at team meeting. While I ultimately decide which intern we will “hire,” I trust my team’s input as to whether the student would be a good fit.

While it’s always a risk bringing on a new student to my team, I find comfort in the fact that the number one predictor of client outcome is the strength of the therapeutic alliance. Generally, if it’s easy for me and my team to connect with a grad student in the interview process, it’s safe to say that clients will feel the same way about them. Ultimately, it’s your practice and your reputation on the line as the owner of your practice.

Have you trained interns in your private practice? I’d love to hear about where you find them, how you screen them, and if it’s worked to build your practice!

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About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.



Do you look at all at their grades? Recommendations? Work history? Theoretical orientation and stance? Background (gay/straight/LDS/Christian/Muslim/Jewish/middle class/poor/rich)? Or have you found that these qualities are less important than likability, the instincts of a therapist, and the ability to function in an organizational setting?

Julie Hanks, LCSW

TPG, Good questions. Yes, I screen resumes and look at GPA and work history before I’ll interview interns. In the 1st and 2nd interviews I discuss theoretical orientation or openness to learning my theoretical orientation. I don’t look into their background other than I try to get a sense during the interview that they have done their own emotional work and have a handle on their own issues. I also ask whether or not they are comfortable working with, and respectful of, spiritual and religious issues in therapy since many of our clients are religious. Once an intern has passed the interviews I always contact references to make sure that they are highly recommended by supervisors, professors, or previous places of employment.


Hi Julie,

thanks for this post. I co-run a small practice in two locations in Warsaw, Poland. The practice is still young (est. 2010), developing and has place for clients. I have psychology students (in Poland you finish a 5 year MA program in psychology, then you can go to psychotherapy school which is 3-5 years post grad and then you can apply for a license) emailing us for internships at least twice a month. It’s also quite possible for us to be approved by a good local Uni. My question is what do interns actually do at your practice? How do you “make best use” and provide them with an opportunity to learn something, not just do the nasty paper work? I have only had internships during professional training in clinics with a well established intern programs, with video materials to watch or one way mirror rooms. Yes, we had to fill in some papers, we were close to the clients and action. I am affraid I cannot provide the same in my scale of practice and was wondering how to benefit from the students in another way. How do you do that at WFT?

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