My Very First External Practicum

Kiersten Eberle

I have officially started my first external practicum (aka ‘externship’ or ‘field placement’). There are a dozen ways to say it, but the deal is as a UNC doctoral student, I am now working off campus at a university counseling center.

First things first – the application process was insanely stressful, probably more stressful than it needed to be because I was coming off of comprehensive exams and awaiting my results throughout the entire process. Shockingly, I was still a bit stressed from that. On top of this, there is no match process for external practicums and this means applications are due whenever, interviews scheduled across multiple months, and offers being made before other interviews may have even been scheduled. But that is a whole other conversation. I want to talk about the other side of the process, the practicum that I got!

I’ll start off with the negatives – because I want to get them out of the way and there are not many. Well really—there is only one. I wake up at 5:30 twice a week to ensure I get to my site on time. I get home those days at 7:30 and proceed to collapse on my couch when I get home. In order to only have to commute two days, it required that I work 10 hours both days. Add to this over an hour of commuting and you’ve got yourself an exhausted grad student who now needs to get some more work done before bed (yeah—that doesn’t always happen). On the other hand, I have my back to sunrise and sunset during both ends of my commute and get a view of the sunrise on the Rockies each morning. It’s the small pleasures.

But I dread winter commuting.

Ignoring the commute and the exhaustion that has become my permanent companion, I love my site. And I’m not just saying it because they could totally find this online by googling my name (Hi!). But there is something truly wonderful about getting off campus, away from the place where I am “student” and “teacher” and “clinician” and “researcher,” and going to a place where I am just … “counselor.” I am part of an amazing team, doing exactly what I’ve been wanting to since middle school – and only that! There are no papers or reading assignments, just work. On top of this, the culture at my site is welcoming and I truly feel like I belong on the team.

There are some things I have learned though, leaving my campus for the first time (like literally, it feels like I never leave UNC!). For one thing, the whole system is completely different. The electronic medical record system is different (and gives me a bit of a headache), the note templates are different, and the session limits and types of sessions you have are new. I am also being supervised by a whole new set of people. There is a difference between changing between professors/supervisors who all fall under the same umbrella and going into a completely new program/system. It feels weird and you are bound to make mistakes—trust me.

Even seeing clients feels different. I never expected to be so nervous for my first client at my external practicum. I have now been doing this for years! And yet, I was sweating and shaking and trying to remember everything I had to ask and do. I was painfully aware of the camera taping me. Yet, thanks to this practicum, I have also already been exposed to clients and presenting concerns I have never dealt with before. And I am learning to work with them in new ways and from new perspectives.

I believe these new experiences have stretched me and challenged me in so many ways. And they will continue to do so as I move through my experience. And it has been completely worth it. It is making me a strong clinician and a stronger note writer J.

The fact is, there is something simply unique about leaving the shelter of your program clinic and entering – for all intents and purposes – the real world. Nothing can mimic the experience gained simply from leaving your bubble. My advice: be ready for the newness, accept that you are going to make mistakes and stumble, and be ready to take feedback. New place, new rules.

Also, make sure you are willing to make the commute you sign up for! And find a good podcast, or six.


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