A formative field experience

Psychology student challenges biases and finds career path through internship

Internships provide students with field experience. They can also be an opportunity for personal growth. “My internship allowed me to work with populations that don’t get a lot of attention, and it helped me better understand how people engage with the world,” says Philip Mitchell. “It had me challenge what I thought I knew.”

Mitchell is a psychology student who interned at the Human Development Center (HDC), a nonprofit that is the largest provider of mental health and social services in the areas of Duluth, Two Harbors, Superior, and Cloquet.

He found the HDC through the internship preparation course offered to psychology students. “Since the major is so broad, it’s often hard to figure out what jobs to do,” he explains. “The internships can give you an eye-opening view of what you can do with the degree, and they cover things vital to the major.”

His work at the HDC involved shadowing the practitioners who work there, primarily in Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) and Child Therapeutic Social Services (CTSS). ARMHS focuses on helping adults with mental illnesses, providing resources to help them develop skills and reach goals such as putting a down payment on a house or securing a job. CTSS is more hands-on, engaging children in activities and games to help them develop skills they need, such as clear speech and proper communication. 

While Mitchell primarily worked in those two programs, the HDC provides over 20 other social work services such as crisis response, addiction intervention and recovery programs, therapy, and case management. 

The internship gave him a good idea of what therapy looks like in practice; an application of the theories taught in classrooms. It also helped him get a better idea of how to help others deal with their struggles. 

The experiences Mitchell had during his time at the HDC were invaluable. One particular experience that stuck with him was working with individuals at the Carlton County jail; he recalls it as being a positive experience, one that helped him change some of his biases. 

When he first started his internship, he was unsure whether he wanted to pursue psychology or social work. Working at the HDC was the deciding factor. “It took a lot of time for me to understand myself and how that related to me wanting to go for psychology,” he says. “It took seeing how therapy can help change people for the better and how my own therapy had helped me work through some trauma.”

He discovered that he would like to focus on the more personal side of mental health and getting to know a client on more of an individual basis, placing an emphasis on their mental state rather than helping clients in a broader sense. 

After graduation in May, he plans to eventually pursue a master’s degree in psychology and become licensed as a professional clinical counselor, aiming to be able to practice therapy. In the meantime, he will continue to work at the HDC, now as an employee instead of an intern. “I think I’ve also learned a lot about myself and what’s important to me, and how I want to continue forward in the career I want,” he says.