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3: Getting Started at the Site

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    The aims of Chapter 3 is to offer information, suggestions, and activities to help new interns get started at their internships. This material addresses issues such as, how to discover the way a site operates, thinking about some of the more common protocols agencies may use, as well as when and where it is appropriate to express individual thoughts and opinions. It is hoped that by the end of this section, you will discover the benefits of professionalism and networking.

    Key Words

    • Confidentiality: Spoken, written, and behavioral communication practices designed to provide and maintain an individual's or group's privacy. Includes licensing and HIPPA requirements.
    • Professionalism: Acting in a way the reflects the ethics, standards, and practices associated with a group recognized as providing a particular type of service. Professionalism in human services consists of such things as conforming to the ethical standards of a profession while exhibiting courteous but conscientious behavior in the workplace.
    • Transference: A Freudian term used to describe a client's unconscious positive or negative feelings or behaviors triggered by another, often the therapist or clinician.
    • Countertransference: A Freudian term used to describe a professional's unconscious feelings and behaviors aroused by a client, patient, consumer of services, or even a supervisor. Countertransference is natural and may be positive or negative in its tone.

    The internship is intended to be a positive experience that will help you prepare for a professional career in human services. It is an opportunity to learn new skills and often includes becoming aware of potential mistakes one could make in the workplace setting without being completely responsible for them. One goal of the internship is to explore real-world professional possibilities while learning about them. In other words, the primary goal of an internship is to learn about and experience the duties of the profession in a specific environment, hopefully one that interests the student as a potential professional. Keep in mind that although the internship does have the character of an upper-level service-learning opportunity and real-work responsibilities, it is also intended to be a rewarding experience to help prepare you for a successful career in the future. It may be helpful to keep in mind that the instructor and the agency staff typically want you to do well, and they are usually happy to help make that happen.

    Networks and Networking

    Another aim of an internship is to offer the individual an opportunity to either lay the foundation for, or even increase, the ability to connect with other professionals and the resources they offer through "networking." Good networking is, of course, a two-way street where professionals share information, techniques, resources, and common goals with each other. Networking with other professionals, agencies, and community resources is important because, as a human services worker, you are constantly working with people who need services or who provide them. The stronger, broader, and more positive your network is, the easier it will be for you to be effective in your work. A good network also has other benefits, such as building a positive reputation, expanding career possibilities, and reducing the possibility of burnout.

    As a student, it is important to begin building a network of professional connections with other professionals and agencies in your field of study as early as you can. After all, during the time of your internship, you will meet many new people and deal with other organizations than just the one with which you are interning. It may be helpful to realize in this regard that in some sense, you have already been networking for a long time. It is something human beings do as social creatures. After all, you helped create and were a part of a network of friends in high school and another one in college. The difference now is that your reputation affects the lives of others, namely those with whom you work. Therefore, it is important for you to be mindful about networking and how others see or respond to you as a professional. One helpful suggestion is to remember that everyone you meet at your workplace is a potential success, resource, ally, or opportunity. Never dismiss anyone as being unimportant as the person you ignore one day may be the person you need in order to get your job done on another. Simple rules of conduct that our parents taught us, such as being kind, polite, honest, and friendly, are the glue that turns relationships into connections.

    Employment Opportunities

    The overall aim of the internship experience is to help train you for a job in the field. If you do well, which includes effective networking, the internship experience might lead to an actual job offer. In fact, the editor of this book who teaches internship courses has seen this satisfying development occur every year. Even if your internship does not result in a job offer, or if it does and you do not wish to accept it, good performance and networking are likely to result in positive references that you can list on your resume, along with the names of the people you networked with at the agency. Often, these contacts either offer leads to positive recommendations or to job opportunities. In other words, taking the internship seriously and trying your best to do a good job can open doors for other potential opportunities – or close them if you fail to take advantage of those networks.

    Seeing the Internship as a Learning Experience

    Students will gain experiences while working at the site. Most of the time the internship will be a good fit, especially if you had a role in selecting it. However, students might find themselves faced with a situation where they must have an internship to graduate and take the first one that comes along. At other times, what looks like a good internship site at the beginning does not necessarily end up feeling that way. It is helpful to realize in these circumstances that if an internship site is not what you expected, it is not the end of the world. You can still learn a lot about the field, basic skills, and yourself.

    In fact, having an internship site that is not the “right one” offers an unexpected value, such as avoiding that career path early on instead of spending many unhappy years in it just because it is a job that pays your bills. Of course, it is also helpful to remember that an internship is not a permanent position. In addition, most internships involve class time with the instructor and other students who may have internships at different sites. Each one represents different learning opportunities, procedures, practices, and so on that you can learn from as your colleagues share their experiences. In other words, there are many ways to learn from your internship experience.

    The Basics

    From the student perspective, starting your internship often begins with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is exciting -- after all those classes, you finally get to do something! On the other, it can be a little scary -- most of us worry about looking stupid or “messing up” at work, especially in the beginning of a placement. It may help to remember this type of reaction is normal. Even so, there is reason to approach the first day with some confidence. Your instructors have been there before you and the classes you took have at least provided a good cognitive map of what this field is all about. Viewed this way, the internship represents an opportunity to experience the work environment in action, to get acquainted with members of the staff, and to begin to learn about the job. Your internship is the perfect opportunity to practice skills and values you have been striving to embody.


    It is important to figure out a schedule that works for you and for the site. To that end, you should work with the site’s supervisor or director to arrange the hours that are best for all parties. Some sites will be very accommodating with your scheduling needs. Others may have more rigorous requirements. In all situations, it is important to remember that the agency is being generous enough to give you supervised clinical duties. Sometimes they depend on you being there to help address client needs. So, remember to be open and honest with the person doing the scheduling in order to avoid conflicts.

    If a schedule conflict does occur, be sure to talk to the supervisor in advance about what is best for the agency and yourself. One of the worst things you can do at an internship is to be erratic in your attendance or to change schedules frequently since doing so can disrupt the lives of clients, the duties of the person supervising you, and the function of an agency. The primary editor of this book has found that scheduling difficulties is the single most frequently reported problem that agencies have with interns, so it is to be avoided.

    Keeping track of hours might present similar issues. On one hand, you are not an employee and can “leave” any time you want. On the other, the class and the agency require accountability, especially if there is an hours-worked requirement. Some sites will give you a copy of the schedule but leave it to you to track the hours needed for the internship. Others might require signing in and out. One helpful idea is to print out a personal schedule log to manually track the hours. There are also phone apps that can help you track your hours. You will need to find a method that works for you and the site.

    Dress Code

    Most placement sites will have a dress code of one type or another. During your interview, make sure you learn what your site expects in this regard. First impressions go a long way, so do not give the staff or clients the wrong impression by dressing inappropriately. A typical dress code is “business casual,” which usually means clean slacks, a shirt or blouse, and appropriate footwear. Wearing tight clothing, low-cut shirts, short skirts, or sandals are not appropriate. However, while knowing the dress code makes it easier to fit in, it does take some planning. For example, the site may have a “dress down day,” which could turn awkward if you dressed “up” instead of “down” that day. Forethought is the proverbial ounce of prevention that can make all the difference between being “just” an intern and being a “good” one.


    Displaying a positive attitude and its corresponding behavior is also important. Your manner can affect the type of experience you have. It also can determine your reputation with potential employers. Wearing a smile, always being courteous, and comporting yourself in a mature fashion are great ways to demonstrate that you are a professional. In contrast, displaying a poor attitude and behavior can quickly have a negative impact on your reputation and follow you into the future.

    Getting Comfortable

    It is not uncommon for beginning interns to feel awkward or even anxious about fitting in to the social culture of the agency and its staff. That reaction is normal and is best seen as reflecting a desire to do well. It may help to remember at this point that your internship is a learning experience, that others know that too, and that no one expects you to be perfect. Learning is a process that involves uncertainty and trial and error. So, in one sense, you are not expected to know everything, which is a real luxury when you think about it because everything changes when you take a job. Dealing with mistakes now can help prepare you for the future when the stakes are likely to be much higher. Therefore, it is helpful to see doubts, confusions, and mistakes as providing you with an opportunity to learn and to grow as a developing professional in the field.

    One thing that can help deal with this “ego alien” part of the learning process is to organize your knowledge of the agency and what is expected there. You may wish to consider, for example, making a list of all the important people, titles, and duties that you will need to remember. This list can help you to recall important details when they are needed and show you what you need clarification of until you have a sense of your place, duties, and self in the organization.

    Remember important locations so that you do not have to ask for help each time you are sent to find something or someone. Knowing where individual offices or supplies are located can be helpful. For example, if you have a question about finances, it would be helpful to know that Sue deals with finances. This way you do not go to the wrong person, like Desmond, who helps with placing the clients and doesn’t deal with finance questions. Such a simple practice as knowing a person’s name and what they do may also make you look like you either know what you are doing, or you are a quick learner. Just think of how good it feels when someone remembers your name and what you do!

    Policies, Procedures, & Politics

    After completing the first few days of the internship, it is important to understand the administration’s rules and regulations. This practice is important for several reasons, but the most important one is to keep you and the people you work with, including other staff and clients, safe, on the right track, and out of trouble. An agency’s standards and procedures are so important that it is a good idea to ask for a manual or the code of conduct rules and then study them well.

    Some people find it helpful to take notes for future reference about how the agency runs. Policies and procedures manuals also often include an outline of daily duties, the dress code, important phone numbers, the code for the security system, and other pertinent information. The agency may even provide you with your own copy – if not, you might ask to read it during breaks or as a part of your initial duties. After all, agencies always have a set of rules to follow, and it is part of your job to follow them while interning there.

    While it is easier to read through this type of material, some agencies are so informal that they do not have much in the way of written policies to show you. In this case, a great way to learn about policies, and to help the agency, is to ask if one of your duties can be to collect them and write a draft of a policies and procedures manual. The agency can then review and revise it for the staff or for a future intern to have. If the site approves this request, the project can also be a good opportunity to start becoming a member of the team.

    Fitting in as Part of the Team

    Many new interns find themselves wondering where they fit into their agency and its culture. Sometimes trying to determine exactly how to fit in socially and professionally can seem a bit daunting, especially at the beginning. You may experience being nervous or uncertain about how to handle something. These reactions are perfectly normal. For instance, if you think about how many times you have had to start out as a new student, member of a team, or as an employee in your lifetime, you will know that this feeling of awkwardness and uncertainty will pass. As an intern, you also have the freedom to ask for help when needed, to take time to get comfortable, and to feel good when you have mastered the job’s challenges. In many ways, starting the internship is like starting a new job, and you have probably done that before, too. The bottom line is that fitting in usually takes time, which means that it helps to be patient.

    It should not take long to get an idea of what the site’s culture is like. Some offices will have a lot of camaraderie and will be a pleasant place to work. Other sites may be more formal and structured. In addition, all agencies have their “pecking orders,” office politics, and interpersonal challenges. All are opportunities for you to learn how to fit into a professional social environment—now and in the future. You also have one important advantage that should bring some comfort: You are expected to be a learner, which means that you do not have to be perfect and your time at the site will have a clear end-date.

    Finding Your Own “Place”

    During your internship, you may be moved around from office to office or from spot to spot in order to see how different parts of the agency work. Moving around like that may make you feel out of place or in the way. So, it may help to recognize that experiencing different places or locations provides an opportunity to learn more about the job and to add to your developing professional network. Even so, it does help to have an actual office or physical location to call your own as a personal space can provide a sense of familiarity and stability –like a “safe spot.” Some interns are fortunate enough to have an office or desk assigned to them. Most of the time, however, agencies do not have such space available, which means that you need to be more creative. For example, you can bring something to the workplace that makes you feel more a part of it, such as a favorite coffee cup, or you can find a quiet area to consistently use.

    Asking for Help

    Throughout the course of the internship, you are likely to face situations, conversations, or tasks that you will be unsure about. Sometimes interns think that asking for help is a sign of weakness and will try to avoid it. However, doing so is often a mistake, sometimes a serious one. Interns are not expected to know everything, but should ask for guidance when they need it. That responsibility is a part of your role, not the agency’s. The real danger is not asking when you are unsure because that could lead to even more problems. Since you are dealing with other people’s lives in a human services agency, failing to ask questions could be detrimental to clients and to you!

    You may not always know what the right thing to do is, but you can always consult with the staff at the site. Again, that dimension of being an intern is a part of your role and responsibilities. Ideally, you should feel comfortable about initiating a request for assistance with your site supervisor. Since you must rely on a supervisor for guidance, it is a good idea to start building a good relationship with that person right from the beginning.

    Most internship courses set aside time to meet with your instructor and fellow interns in the class. If so, you have lots of resources and support available, as well as a time and place to access them. Sometimes, as an intern, you will not feel especially comfortable with a supervisor or have one that is so busy that they cannot give you the time you feel you need. In these cases, there are other options to consider, such as talking with a worker at the site with whom you feel more comfortable or discussing issues with your instructor.

    In general, asking for opinions and advice lets the staff know that you appreciate and value their experience and insight. Taking time to ask questions to ensure things are being done correctly also shows people that you are engaged in the experience, respect the facility, and take your position very seriously – just as an intern should. Asking relevant and timely questions may also help create positive relationships and even strengthen your network at the agency. Remember, most people who work at human services agencies like helping people and your role as an intern gives them a chance to show someone else what their profession entails.

    Making Comments and Suggestions

    Input can also go both ways, so upon occasion it is appropriate to make suggestions to a supervisor or staff member. Of course, there is always a chance that the staff person or supervisor may disagree and say ‘no.’ However, if the comment or suggestion results in a positive response, then it is a win-win for you and the agency. It shows, for instance, that you are paying active attention and trying to connect with the facility. Offering input can also convey the impression that you are capable of independent professional thought. When speaking up, it is important to do so in a timely, respectful, and professional way.

    Keeping Busy

    Downtime, which is to say periods when you do not seem to have anything specific to do at the site, is likely to happen at various times during the semester. There may be times when neither the supervisor nor any of the other staff members will have the time to assign you to specific tasks. Even though these times may seem confusing or frustrating, they are opportunities to take some initiative at the site. The following suggestions may give you some ideas about how to go about making such an opportunity work for you and the agency:

    • This time could be used to start a project that the agency wants to move forward on but has not had time to do yet. Or, you might offer to start one they have not thought about. For example, one student who was visually handicapped asked if he could organize a set of therapeutic and referral sources for therapists to offer visually-handicapped clients who are a part of the caseload. That agency continued to offer these resources for therapists and clients to use long after the intern left!
    • Even if such a project “only” involves copying material, organizing a backlog of files, or updating file information, the work has value. Most agencies get behind in such work because it has a lower priority than dealing with clients, yet the work must be done for funding or regulatory purposes. Every time an intern does something like this for an agency, it means that the regular staff can help people more and not be distracted by paperwork. In other words, you are providing a service to the agency it would have to either pay for or pull someone off more important duties to get done.
    • Agencies usually have several people doing different types of work. When not engaged in your own duties, it may be a good idea to ask if you can shadow other staff members. This activity not only exposes you to different aspects of the field, but it also gives you a chance to expand your network. After all, most people appreciate it when someone takes an interest in what they do, and you may learn more than you expected.

    Be willing to help others. Making yourself available to a variety of experiences that may come along is helpful with your growth. Asking questions pertaining to the job and offering suggestions at the appropriate time are good ways to display a positive behavior and a genuine interest in the agency. The more you show that you are willing to expose yourself to as many areas as possible and a willingness to learn and grow, the more receptive mentors will become.


    Successful interns can usually expect to be given an increasing degree of job responsibilities. Moving from simple to more complex tasks is a sign that you are mastering the duties and growing as a professional. If things go well, you may even begin to feel more like an employee than an intern. These developments mean that your skills are improving, that the agency has some measure of confidence and trust in you, and that you are viewed as competent enough to handle the job.

    When performing your internship work, it helps to be responsible and commit yourself to the duties that are assigned to you. At the same time, it is important to seek out new and more advanced experiences to grow with and learn about in the field. However, interns should never overstep their boundaries. Nor should they take unnecessary risks to engage in activities that they do not feel trained to do. In those cases, it is absolutely vital that you are able to say “no.” In the event that you feel like the job is more than you can handle, you can ask for help, discuss the issue with the supervisor, or even simply refuse if you think your well-being or that of a client is at risk. Be sure to discuss such events with your course instructor – preferably in advance.

    Of course, how you handle such events or requests matter too. It is better to say, “I’m sorry, I cannot do all of these tasks and continue to be efficient and effective,” or “I don’t feel capable of doing that at this point in my training.” Remember that you are representing yourself and the college during the internship, so how you say “no” is almost as important as knowing your limits.

    Making Contributions

    It may be easy to overlook the contributions you make at the internship site. For example, you may have “pushed a lot of paper” and feel you did nothing important. Seeing things this way makes it easy to forget your own value. There may, indeed, be times when you feel that the work you are doing is pointless, without value, or contributes nothing to the agency. Keep in mind that the other staff members already have years of experience, education, and training in the field. They had to start somewhere, too, and it was usually at the bottom. Therefore, it is likely that they did the same entry-level or basic work that you are currently doing. It may be helpful to realize that while some tasks may seem small and useless, helping to complete them makes it easier for the agency to keep running effectively, especially if they are short staffed.


    Paperwork, such as filing, copying, or running statistics, may be one of the least exciting tasks that can be given to you. Yet, without proper records, the agency can lose funding, which means that staff lose jobs and, consequently, that clients lose help. As you can see, then, paperwork and other mundane tasks have their own important place in running a successful agency. The same may be said for other, smaller tasks interns often do, such as mailing letters, making phone calls, and looking for resources. All these less prestigious tasks substantially lighten the workload of one or several other employees. The result is that more services are directed to the people who need them the most. While you may not appreciate the value of these smaller things until you have your own caseload, it is possible to take pride in knowing you have contributed toward the greater good of the agency and all who work there.

    Working with Clients

    Some students have already had volunteer or job experiences that involved working with clients in a human services setting. Many, if not most, have not, so the internship may be the first time they experience direct client interactions as a developing professional. It is important to remember that even as a new human services professional, you are participating in this internship to help the clients of the agency and to work with them. While these duties may involve a lot of new responsibilities, it is important to keep in mind that your previous instructors and course work provided valuable information and knowledge. These resources, along with your own personality, can now be applied to a real-world professional setting and the clients it serves.


    Professionalism is listed in the box of key terms for this chapter because it should always be your goal to learn how to comport yourself in an appropriate manner. A professional demeanor for a human services worker includes maintaining agency and clinical standards as well as being courteous, conscientious, punctual, and focused at the workplace. Whether you are dealing with staff or clients on either a professional or personal level, it is important to remember that what you say can affect others. Your words and actions may even follow you for months if not years later, especially if you live in a small town. Knowing that, it is good practice to keep conversations clean, respectful, and appropriate. Always be aware that you are representing the college, the agency, and the discipline, as well as yourself.

    Eventually, you will be able to feel more relaxed and comfortable--as well as more professional--at your site. This type of comportment is helpful because new situations can arise at any time, and this manner of self-presentation prepares you to respond appropriately to them. Being open in this way can also de-escalate situations.

    Transference and Countertransference

    Transference and countertransference are key words in human services. Transference, which involves a client consciously or unconsciously responding to you as a professional, is based on unresolved conflicts a person has from their past. For instance, if you are in a position of authority and are working with someone who has had conflicts with authority figures in the past, that person may “transfer” their anger or resistance to you. This transference causes them to react to you in way you did not intend. If you also have unresolved issues, then you may counter their transference with your own, which is called countertransference.

    Your course work should have taught you about these types of relational dynamics and many human services workers are in positions that evoke such conflicts. Sometimes the unresolved issues generate positive feelings, and sometimes they evoke negative ones, which is why they are called positive or negative transference or countertransference. For example, if a person resists your authority by treating you negatively, they may be living out unresolved conflicts they have with their parents. If you, as a clinician, “like” a client because they consciously or unconsciously remind you of someone you care for, you may become too attached to them and extend to them extra time or favors at the expense of others.

    Knowing and setting boundaries are standard ways of managing transference and countertransference in the human services settings. Depending on the type of work your agency does, clients do not typically understand this dimension of their interactions with you. One good indicator that negative countertransference is occurring between you and a client is that you find them “getting under your skin.” Another warning signal is finding yourself thinking about them too much. These signs should remind you to bring up the possibility of transference and countertransference with your supervisor or instructor. Doing that early usually helps avoid unnecessary problems. This dimension of human services work is important to know about because it also involves unconscious feelings concerning gender, race, social class, age, and so on.


    Sue, a client you have been working with daily, may not view you as part of the professional staff because you are “only” an intern, and she develops feelings for you. If a client asks for a date, remember to remain professional and establish clear boundaries; be firm but polite in doing so. In Sue’s case, you might explain that dating a client is both unprofessional and prohibited by the agency, and you aren’t willing to violate these standards. If the client continues with inappropriate behavior, be sure to bring that up with your supervisor.

    Safety Issues

    You may have already learned that human beings are often unpredictable. Therefore, there are many safety issues to keep in mind in most types of human services work, including internships. For instance, if an internship involves in-home or off-site visits with clients, you must remember to be aware of the possibility of danger and take appropriate precautions. Learning, remembering, being aware of, and following agency and instructor safety guidelines are the first steps in this process.

    In general, it helps to notice your surroundings whenever you find yourself in an unfamiliar environment. Always note potential hazards and possible alternatives for “escape,” such as the location of exits, phones, and others who can help if you need it. Be careful not to turn your back on people who are angry or impulsive. Always make sure co-workers know where you are. Once in a great while, an intern may be in a situation where they have that “gut feeling” that something is wrong. Do not ignore it! Again, your safety is always a primary concern.

    An internship site aims to provide a guided opportunity to obtain the experience necessary to enter your field. Do not be afraid to say “no” if you feel any given situation seems dangerous to you or even just unsafe. Once the internship is over and you have joined the workforce, a supervisor or co-worker will not always be along for all encounters with the public, so now is the time to ask questions about how to handle safety issues.


    Most people feel a little uncomfortable when taking on new responsibilities. This anticipatory discomfort often comes with being in a new environment or feeling unsure of oneself when other people depend on you to know what you are doing and that you are doing it well. However, if you are asked to do something you are not qualified or trained to do, then it is important to speak up. Failing to do so could put the agency, its clients, the college, and yourself at risk. There may be times when the most responsible thing to do is to acknowledge your limitations and ask someone with more experience to take over.


    You work with a variety of cases, some of which may include theft or other relatively minor violations. However, you find that the client was raped, and you know you are not trained to deal with that. In this case, it is important to let the supervisor know that you need to turn the client over to more experienced staff or have intensive direct supervision. Understanding your limitations does not mean you should never try new things --the idea is to gradually acquire more skills. Although you should not be the primary contact person for the individual in this case, it might be a good idea to see if it is possible to participate as an observer, like a medical student learning how to see people in a physician’s office. Always consider your own limits when determining your ability to help clients. When in doubt, ask for help or advice before jumping right in without the proper preparation.

    The Internship and the Classroom: Instruction with Support

    As indicated earlier, most internships include some sort of a classroom experience to go along with it. The idea here is to combine theory with practice under the guidance of an experienced instructor and to learn how to operate as a member of a team or group. This standard clinical or professional training format is also a good way for the instructor to monitor progress, head off problems, and facilitate your professional development. Typically, undergraduate or first-time internships provide this level of instruction in a group format. It involves several students going out to their sites during the week and then coming to a regular class meeting to review and discuss their experiences with their instructor and fellow interns.

    This format has additional benefits. One of them is to give students the opportunity to learn about or even vicariously experience other internship sites and career possibilities in the field by listening to you colleagues describe their experiences. Having interns share experiences in this way reduces the sense of isolation while offering support since all of you are going through the same learning process but in different settings.

    These meetings provide support to you during this process and provide an opportunity for you to share experiences and other events encountered during the week. Questions and concerns are addressed by the instructor, which often benefits other members as well. Remember, instructors do not like to be surprised by problems, especially after they occur, so if one seems to be brewing, it is best to discuss it as early as possible. After all, even basic problem-solving skills include knowing that it is easier to deal with minor problems early in the process than after they have become major problems later.

    Student Colleagues as Resources

    When settling into the internship, it is helpful to realize that your fellow students in the internship class are a part of your network both in and beyond the course. During the semester, they can also become an important resource for your development as a professional. Providing the rules of confidentiality set down by the college, instructor, and site are appropriately honored, talking with classmates about your experiences at the site provides an opportunity to compare individual internship environments as well as opportunities in a field. For example, work environments can be as small as a single office in a courthouse or as large as an entire floor of a building. The inner workings of each facility will differ as well.

    By talking about the styles of supervisors, roles of staff members, and the unique aspects of each facility, these discussions may provide insight into numerous areas within the field. If there are several people in a class working in a similar setting, you may also see that they vary considerably by how they approach helping people. In some very real sense, the classroom portion of the internship experience is like having several internships at the same time. After all, you can learn from the experiences your colleagues share and come to know things about different types of sites as career possibilities. Such groups may also help you prepare for something called “team meetings.” These are times when the staff members of an agency come together as a group to help clients by reviewing notes, establishing comprehensive treatment programs, evaluating client progress, discussing client issues, and so on.

    Professional Presentations

    Human services professionals are often expected to make presentations at their site and in the field. The audiences for those presentations can vary, from presenting a case at a team meeting to presenting information to a large group of professionals. Many instructors help students prepare for this part of the job by having them learn how to do a report on their agency and present their role in it to the class as a part of the internship. Sometimes, especially in more advanced internships, the agency may ask the intern to develop and lead a presentation either at the site or in a field setting.

    Since many people feel uncomfortable with public speaking, it is best to practice a presentation in a safe setting first, such as a class or a small-group meeting. Practicing a professional talk often means doing some research on a topic or service your agency specializes in, developing a PowerPoint presentation, and then taking the class through the slides so that you know what to do when the real world calls on you to make a formal presentation in the future. Here are steps to keep in mind while preparing a presentation:

    • First, pay attention to how you present yourself. The way you dress for a presentation is the first impression your audience will have about you. Professional dress can vary, of course, but it typically includes dress pants/slacks, a blouse/dress shirt, a suit or an appropriate skirt, and appropriate footwear. Your demeanor is also one of the first things your audience encounters, so make sure it is positive. Remember, people look better when they smile, so do your best to “be” the part as well as to “look” like the part.
    • Second, having visual aids for the presentation not only adds interest, but it also helps the audience better understand what is being said and keeps the audience’s attention. There are some general rules to consider. One is that PowerPoint presentations are helpful because they add a visual element to the talk, which makes it more stimulating. But remember, PowerPoint is meant to guide you through a presentation, not “be” the presentation. Make brief points on the slides for reminders as to what to talk about, so don’t include a word-for-word script of what will be said during the presentation. Yes, the bells and whistles are fun, but they distract both the presenter and the audience. Be sure to keep the PowerPoint simple and to the point. Putting too much print on a slide or just reading them to the audience may cause what is called “Death by PowerPoint.”
    • Third, preparing handouts in advance allows the audience to take something away from the presentation. This technique also allows them to reflect on what was said and to remember it better. However, it is also important to give your audience some time to look at or read the handout before going over it. If you do not, you are likely to find that the audience is paying more attention to the handout than to you!
    • Fourth, show up early anytime you are giving a presentation. This simple courtesy shows the audience that you are dedicated, conveys a sense that you believe that what is being presented it important, and it also lets the audience know their time is respected. Showing up early also enhances preparation time, allows one to check equipment, and make last minute adjustments, if necessary. Sometimes, it seems like there is a cosmic “law” that says, “If something can go wrong it will,” and showing up early helps to prevent that from happening. Finally, an early arrival allows you to begin the presentation on time, which helps reduce worries about time constraints.
    • Rehearsal: Many people benefit from rehearsing their talks because that ensures you know what you are going to show and learn what needs to be cut or expanded. After all, practice makes perfect. Others find a rehearsal too constraining or that it reduces their ability to be spontaneous during the talk. In that case, preparing good notes or outlines may be helpful since “winging it” is a last resort and not recommended. It is also a good idea to prepare for questions at the end of the presentation. If you do not know the answer to a question, do not panic. Instead, be honest by saying, “I don’t know,” and then follow up with, “I will find out and get back to you on that.”
    • Finally, pay attention to the details and be flexible. Whatever the details may be, whether a time limit, a small space or a small audience, or a surprisingly large one, be sure to keep these presentation tips in the back of your mind. If you worry about running out of time because you talk too fast and may run out of things to say, then prepare a few extra slides you can use at the end. If you tend to go slow or the questions take longer to answer than you anticipated, know ahead of time which slides you can skim or skip without hurting your presentation. These practices may help you create a professional, formal-sounding presentation. Keeping them in mind can also reduce public speaking anxiety by giving you more confidence.


    Confidentiality is one of the key concepts taught to most human services students because it is a crucial dimension of human services work. The need for confidentiality is also a part of your obligation to the practicum class, as well as the agency and its clients, both during and after the internship. It is likely that you have heard about the importance of confidentiality in your other courses or maybe even know about it from your experience with the health care system’s HIPPA requirements.

    Confidentiality is usually a legal obligation, though it may have modified forms, such as in law enforcement, public records, or certain clinical situations involving abuse, homicide, or suicide. When a site indicates that something is confidential, it means just that! However, sometimes students do not realize that this rule may also apply to their training and even classroom situations, especially when they are talking about their clinical experiences or hear others talk about theirs. Consequently, it is important to remember to “disguise” your training experience when talking about them. Common ways of protecting confidential information include omitting or substantially changing names and identifying information of clients, staff, and agencies – sometimes even your own site!


    One intern mentioned in the classroom portion of their practicum that a staff member at the site said that she had just found out she was pregnant at age 43. The intern mentioned the woman’s first name and added that the individual was distressed by the news and did not want to tell her family about it until she figured out what she was going to do. Unknown to the intern, the woman was the mother of one of the other students in the class, so that student had just found out -- a long with everyone else in the class -- that the student’s middle-aged mother was pregnant.

    The same type of guidelines may apply to agency material, such as handbooks and policies. Caution is especially important when it comes to using social media because once something is online, it is impossible to fully erase it. If you must make a reference, say something such as, “at work.” It is also important to make sure not to gossip in the classroom about happenings at the site if they are not relevant to the course. After all, there is a difference between professional dialog and just spreading gossip. Confidentiality is so important that colleges may even dismiss students from an internship or even the program for sharing confidential information. Be sure to understand expectations concerning confidentiality with your instructor as well as your supervisor. Finding out what the rules are and adhering to them are part of what it means to be a professional.

    Progress Not Perfection

    Although you may have years of schooling and other job training, they are not likely to have fully prepared you for your first internship. Your education has helped to develop ideas about how things work and armed you with information about effective approaches. However, many real-world problems that people face during their internships will not always fit textbook definitions. After all, there is a difference between theory and practice. Similarly, someone who has performed quite competently in previous jobs may find the tasks assigned and carried out during an internship significantly different.

    In general, the process of acquiring new and complex skills moves slowly, which means you do not have to learn everything overnight. Instead, it is best to try to keep an open mind about your progress. For example, keep in mind that when your instructor or supervisor critiques your work, it is because they care about it and see potential in you. Similarly, it is just as important to acknowledge and accept positive feedback because this helps reinforce growth and build confidence. If a supervisor takes the time to tell you that you are doing a good job, it means you earned the compliment, so enjoy it!

    Challenges Along the Way

    Along the way you will encounter obstacles that will make starting the internship seem difficult. One common problem is finding yourself in the situation where you must start at the internship site later than other students. This predicament is particularly frustrating because it forces you to get the required hours done in a shorter time period and puts you behind on gathering information for your presentation, paper, or whatever closing activities are required for the site or course.

    Another example is that even if you find and start an internship early, not scheduling hours effectively can put pressure on you near the end of the semester when time is running out. Sometimes, students encounter problems because they complete the required hours at the site too soon in the course and then have nothing left to contribute to class discussions. Instead, it is best to try and space your internship hours out evenely during the semester, though it is also a good idea to finish at the site a little before the end of the semester so that you are not overburdened at the end. Pacing is important, as learning takes time, not just work.

    Finally, it may be of value to try to schedule your days at the site when there are richer training opportunities. For example, a site may do individual work on one day, group work on another, and schedule team meetings or training on a third. Finding a way to be exposed to all three opportunities would create a more meaningful internship experience than just participating in one or two of them. Sometimes agencies offer special continuing education activities for staff or take them to local, regional, or even national conferences where major speakers present material. Talking with your supervisor about attending these higher-level professional opportunities is a good idea because what they offer can be added to your resume as additional forms of advanced training. Remember, no one will know that you are interested in attending such events unless you bring it up.

    Tools for Chapter 3

    Activity 1: What Would you Do?

    While interacting with a client, they begin to ask questions that you are uncomfortable answering. The questions could be about your family, your school, or any other details about your personal life. You want to respond without being rude or too revealing. There are four courses of action you can take. Think about or discuss the advantages and risks of each choice.

    • Kindly let the client know that those are questions that you do not feel comfortable answering.
    • Ask the client why those questions are important to them.
    • Share what you are comfortable with if it will benefit the clinician-client relationship without oversharing.
    • Talk with your supervisor about the interaction.

    Activity 2: Testing your knowledge (True or False)

    • Since you are not an employee, it is unprofessional to offer a suggestion to the organization.
    • If you are unsure of a task, you can always ask your supervisor.
    • Bringing visual aids to a presentation is not a good use of your time and is, therefore, discouraged.
    • Once you get familiar with your internship site, you are then allowed to work without supervision.
    • It is your responsibility to track your hours.
    • Wearing a smile is a good way to present yourself when meeting someone.

    * Answer key:

    1. False 2. True 3. False 4. False 5. True 6. True

    This page titled 3: Getting Started at the Site is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Christopher J. Mruk & John C. Moor (Bowling Green State University Libraries) .

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