In 2015, IU’s Department of Psychology and Brain Science (PBS) began a Clinical Psychological Science Certificate program for undergraduates, through which students interested in clinical psychology can learn the foundations of the field, participate in PBS research, and gain internship experience with local community partners.
Although many departments offer internships, the main goal of the program is unique. As Ke Anne Zhang, Assistant Clinical Professor and Director of the Certificate Program explains, the goal of the Clinical Psychological Certificate program is “recognizing the barriers to delivering the most effective mental health care to the people who need it most.” Through cultivated community partnerships, Zhang hopes to provide students with more than a window into the profession; she wants them to envision how they can contribute to reducing such barriers in the future.
Students in the program can intern with several local initiatives, depending on their interests. For students interested in sexual health or substance abuse, one option is to work with the Community Capacity for Prevention & Education (CCPE), a federally-funded program for HIV and substance abuse prevention and education for 13- to 24-year-olds that is run by Centerstone of Indiana, one of the largest mental health care organizations in the country. CCPE promotes the use of evidence-based practices, techniques, or treatments determined to be effective through controlled research or other objective measures. You could say that evidence-based practices are one of the primary ways in which science is translated into practice.
CCPE partners with other institutions – including Indiana University Health, the IU School of Nursing, and Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana – to offer free, rapid HIV testing to teens and young adults. Practicum interns are trained to administer an evidence-based approach called Counseling, Treatment, and Referral (CTR) as clients wait for their test results. In hands-on, one-on-one interactions with clients, interns learn how to use the techniques of motivational interviewing to aid clients in identifying behaviors that may put them at risk. Since CCPE implements multiple evidence-based practices, interns also have the opportunity to participate in a prevention-focused communication assertiveness workshop.
For Matthew Clay, the Program Manager at CCPE, this direct engagement with the community is crucial for helping interns determine whether they want to work with clients in the future. It has also led interns to the next stage of their professional lives. As Clay notes, “Three PBS student interns have already gone on to work for Centerstone in some capacity” – a real testament to their positive experiences, appreciation for preventative work, and evidence-based approaches to mental health care.
Ashley Judge, a 2018 IU graduate who majored in math and minored in psychology, completed an internship with CCPE in the spring of 2017, which shaped the course of her career. Although Ashley realized during her internship that she did not want to work with individual clients, she has nevertheless stayed with CCPE to pursue her interests in health care implementation and analytics. Judge is now in IU’s Master of Public Health Program, with a focus on epidemiology. She also leads CCPE weekly workshops, in partnership with Girls, Inc., to reduce risk factors for future substance abuse in 5- to 8-year-olds
Lynette Krick, a dual major in psychology and Spanish, was an intern through Zhang’s course last semester. She sees the practicum as an opportunity to apply what she has learned through her coursework and research experience. She mentions that Clay’s mentorship, the other interns, and the Centerstone staff, especially Misty Flinn (a Prevention Specialist at Centerstone), have been invaluable to her, as has the training. One of the most rewarding aspects of her CCPE internship, she says, is the opportunity to integrate science with practice. For example, a structured fidelity checklist helps interns keep track of how closely their work at CCPE resembles a list of practices shown to work in the lab.
Sydney Whiteford, a senior in psychology with a minor in public health, completed a CCPE internship last spring and has been working with the organization since the summer. She notes that even in the short time it takes to get HIV test results, most clients have genuine conversations with interns. “CCPE breaks down the power dynamics present in many client–provider interactions,” she points out. Clay agrees that student interns are both care professionals and peers to CCPE’s target population: “Because they have an ear to the ground when it comes to what’s going on in the community, they can provide relevant insights and relate to clients.”
Krick, Judge, and Whiteford concur that CCPE runs on teamwork and that Clay plays off their different interests and strengths. From Clay’s perspective, finding each intern’s intrinsic motivations and providing them with access to different client populations and resources is all in a day’s work. On days when CCPE is not running the assertiveness communication workshop or doing rapid HIV testing, the team is brainstorming outreach and social media strategies, tabling at health fairs, and generally “looking for any excuse to be out helping community organizations.”
The group is energetic and tight-knit, and you get a sense of how much enjoyment they get out of their work, even though sometimes it can seem like an uphill battle. Each of them spoke about the challenges they face when working with the stigma of HIV or substance abuse and handling the general lack of awareness about these issues. Clay acknowledged that working with a stigmatized community can be difficult, but that PBS interns are genuinely interested in the work at CCPE: “You’re going to have tough days. You work with at-risk groups, and seeing this ‘data’ as people, rather than data points, can be overwhelming. However, we have a really good team with a strong mission and purpose and that really helps overcome these challenges.”
Interns joining the CCPE team gain a unique perspective on the challenges as well, says Zhang. “They see Clay and the CCPE team apply evidence-based practices in this community, see the barriers to public health impact, and contribute creative solutions to overcoming them.” For more information on the undergraduate practicum, check out the Clinical Psychological Science Certificate program page.