Expectation and actuality in clinical psychology practica: Students' perspective

Steven Marc Gross (2003)

Practica are a crucial part of the training and professional socialization of doctoral students in clinical psychology. However, this aspect of training has been less studied and less regulated than other aspects of training, including graduate academics, internship, and post-doctoral positions. This study's main concern dealt with what students expected from their practicum training versus what they actually received in fundamental domains including supervision, client contact, assessment, and research. This study also explored what students did if there were shortfalls in their training. Other domains researched included: students' perception of the degree of training orientation of the practicum; students' level of satisfaction on various domains; and narrative feedback students had for their training sites related to how they trained students and served clients. The survey, which was conducted via the internet, yielded 321 responses from doctoral students in clinical psychology. These students were diverse on a number of demographic variables, including gender, prior schooling, type of practicum setting, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Most were trained at American Psychological Association-accredited programs. This study found that while the majority of students received what they expected in terms of basic elements of training, a substantial minority of students did not. These shortfalls affected as many as a third of those surveyed; for example, more than a quarter of students revealed that they received primary supervision from someone other than a licensed psychologist. In terms of the training orientation of their recent practica, students indicated that they felt fairly neutral, however, they also indicated that training at a site that values feedback, disclosure, a training orientation, accurate expectations, and other training-related dimensions was important to their development as psychologists. On satisfaction measures, students indicated that they were mildly to moderately satisfied on all indices; satisfaction with their professional development was most intimately tied to satisfaction with their practicum, even more so than their academic training. Narrative responses outlined a wide range of feedback that students would provide to their sites, if they had a chance. Limitations of this study and recommendations for future avenues of research conclude this study.