Benefits of Interning at a Community Mental Health Agency

There can sometimes be a stigma surrounding community mental health agency work with some programs suggesting it is  “lesser” than working in a private practice, a hospital, or other office-based setting. Greg Czyszczon pointed out that home-based counseling is often categorized as being at the bottom of the counseling hierarchy with the least trained individuals working with the clients with the highest needs. 

Despite this stigma, agency work can actually provide a level of flexibility and financial stability  that you might not find in other settings as you search for an internship site. If you find the right agency, it can even offer you a salaried job long after you graduate. Keep reading to explore some of the benefits of completing your internship at a behavioral health agency. 

Option to choose telehealth and/or in-person 

While many private practices are still figuring out how to continue to see clients, a number of agencies are giving employees the option to do either or since we still provide essential services such as case management or mental health support. This flexibility in service-type will allow you, the intern, to choose which setting works best for your particular needs. Still can’t figure out how to work a telehealth platform? You can see clients in person. Want to prioritize your health and safety? Do sessions over the phone or through a video app. In some ways, this makes formerly “home-based” work safer and more reliable than work in other settings such as  hospitals, prisons, or even schools.

You get to work with diverse populations 

As a mental health provider in an agency setting, you will have the opportunity to work with clients from a variety of cultural backgrounds and intersections who are dealing with all types of challenges. If you aren’t sure which population or diagnosis in which you would like to specialize, working in community mental health will give you exposure to every option. Another benefit is that the fast-paced, challenging nature of the job will prepare you for working multiple settings in mental health. The owner of my agency always says “Once you do this kind of work, you can do anything in this field”.

More likely to get a paid internship 

In my program, working with an agency meant I could work a salaried job while working towards my internship hours. I know a number of school counselors who had to take a year off of work and take out loans or save up to survive while they finished their unpaid internships. In a market where unpaid internships are the norm, a paid internship can give you financial stability as you finish your degree. I also love paid internships for the fact that they allow those without access to deep financial resources to work and obtain a degree. That way, we’re not just seeing one type of student from a very privileged background work in this field. 

High chance of being hired on after internship 

As a student close to graduation, you’re probably equally concerned as what you’re going to do after graduation as you are with finding an internship site during the circus that is 2020. The good news both for students and agencies is that it takes a lot to train a mental health professional. You’ve invested a great amount of time and money into your degree and the agency will in turn invest a lot of time and money training. It’s incredibly difficult to replace an entire caseload and to get a provider credentialed with insurance, so it’s in the agency’s best interest to keep you on after you graduate. During a pandemic, it’s not a bad idea to consider job security in your job search.

You will definitely get your hours 

For better or worse, community mental health is known for its large caseloads. On the upside, this means you have the opportunity to earn all of your hours before your peers who are working in other settings. A CACREP accredited program requires its graduate students to complete  a 100 hour practicum with a minimum of 40 hours of direct service with clients and a 600 hour internship with a minimum of 240 hours of direct service with clients. If you’re concerned about finishing your hours, an agency will ensure you have access to a large enough caseload to meet your required hours. 

Hazard pay 

Hazard pay doesn’t make up for the risk we are taking right now as we continue to see clients in-person, but it certainly helps us take care of our own financial needs. In my state, they are offering $250 to each essential worker who has continued to provide face to face services. My agency also offered hazard pay to all employees whether or not we were doing full teletherapy. If you’re a supervisor at an agency or you own an agency, there are also grants you can apply for to pay your employees hazard pay. Here’s an example of a grant they’re offering in Pennsylvania for small business owners to pay their employees hazard pay. Be sure to check out your state’s website to see if similar grants are offered in your area. 

What are some other benefits to agency work you can think of? Share in the comments below. 

Be sure to check out the other articles in the series “Working in an Agency” to explore what it really looks like to provide mental health services in an agency.

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