Acacia Spotlight: Therapy Interns

Acacia Spotlight looks to highlight the clinicians, staff, and programs that make Acacia what it is today.

In every hopeful student’s eye is a glimmer of the unknown. Perhaps for some, there is panic or fear, for others excitement or joyous anticipation. Keenan Cashen-Smart, a graduate therapy intern in the Acacia Minneapolis office, takes on his first intake as a member of the team.

It was one of those situations where I knew I was prepared in theory, I had rehearsed the intake process about a million times, but I had no idea what it would be like sitting so intimately with another human’s pain.

Before they can call themselves a licensed therapist or a clinical psychologist, it takes years of studying, role-playing, supervision, and well-documented hours in the field before these students can claim their titles. Like with many professional careers, you have to put in significant time to feel comfortable and established working alongside peers and coworkers but for budding therapists, psychologists, and counselors — time in the field collecting your appropriate hours for licensure can stretch well past comfortability.

As these students look for ways to earn their hours and grow their clinical experience, a strong internship can go a long way to informing their future practice, goals, and direction. At Acacia’s Minneapolis and Davis locations, the opportunity to bud has begun for three (of a few) graduate students: Miriam Lechuga, Casey Peterson, and Keenan Cashen-Smart.

Reflecting back on your time before starting your internship, what were your initial thoughts of Acacia? What were you feeling before you went through training?

Miriam: Before starting at Acacia, all I knew was that it was a private practice and I was feeling a little uncertain and doubtful in my abilities as a therapist but that quickly shifted as I got to know everyone.

Casey: I thought Acacia was a really cool clinic, and had an awesome mission of helping college students! Before I went through training I was definitely nervous, but also excited to jump in and get hands-on experience as a therapist.

Casey Peterson, Acacia Minneapolis. Photo by KorbyQuan Reed.

How would you describe your first session?

Miriam: I had the opportunity to shadow some clinicians during their sessions when I first started at Acacia (with the permission of clients), that in addition to what I had learned [in graduate school] thus far was incredibly helpful as I prepared for my first session. Definitely being able to sit in on a session was enlightening and made the experience of my first session less daunting.

Casey: I think my first session ended up going fairly well! Once I was able to shake off the initial nerves I was feeling, I think I did a good job asking follow-up questions and getting to know my client.

Keenan: It still feels a little like a blur! I remember feeling silly that I was so focused on presenting competence to the client even though they hardly seemed to notice me and were just interested in telling their story. I’d say it did go well, better than some of my later intakes even. The worst part was the introductory bit in the beginning where I went through confidentiality, supervision, etc, but it’s surprising how natural it feels once that part is over.

How do you think you are able to accomplish shaking off your nerves now? Or are you no longer nervous in/before a session?

Casey: I still get a little nervous before intakes, just because you can’t fully anticipate what the client is going to bring with them into your office, but over time just going through the process of doing more intakes and building on my experience has eased my anxiety. I also have been able to reframe the way I think about it, seeing it as an exciting thing to get to know someone new, versus feeling unsure and uneasy because I do not know what will happen.I’ve learned a lot about myself during the practicum experience. Early on it becomes clear how vulnerable the process feels…

With the growing demand of mental health services on college campuses [1], Acacia’s mission stays true to providing longer term therapy options for college communities. With that in mind, Acacia wants to provide a space for novel counselors to learn, engage, and grow alongside current clinicians in the Acacia teams. Acacia Minneapolis has strong connections to multiple nearby universities in the Twin-Cities area, allowing many graduate students the opportunity to seek an internship spot.

Allowing space for studying clinicians to hone their skills and pairing them with the communities Acacia’s serves, could help meet the growing demand for services on college campuses.

Do you have a better understanding of what you want to do in the future from this experience?

Miriam: The experience was empowering and overall influenced me to keep pursuing the clinical social work path. I will be pursuing my LCSW and I am more open now than before to working with adults. Before Acacia I had a sole interest in working with children, youth, and families.

Casey: Yes I do! I have enjoyed work doing one-on-one therapy with the clients I have seen at Acacia, and the college population has been extremely rewarding to work with. It feels good to look back on the experiences I’ve had and relationships I have built with my clients, and being able to take all I have learned with me going forward. It also feels a little sad. I know it will be hard for me to say goodbye to my clients, as well as all of the amazing people I have had the chance to get to work with at Acacia, but I am so happy to have had this time working here.

Keenan: I had always anticipated working with kids because most of my background is with that population, but working at Acacia has built quite a passion for working in higher-ed mental health. I’m actually looking into college counseling centers as a likely next step for my career. Also, more fundamentally, I think my experience at Acacia has given me much more confidence that being a counselor is the right fit for me and that I’m where I belong. I’ve learned a lot about myself during the practicum experience. Early on it becomes clear how vulnerable the process feels, from watching the videos of our sessions to the constant constructive feedback. It facilitates a lot of growth, but it makes you intimately aware of yourself and your behavior.

If you could describe your time at Acacia in one honest word or phrase, what would it be?

Miriam: Life changing.

Casey: Eye-opening.

Keenan: Maybe this is corny, but Acacia is all about the tree metaphors and being a part of it has felt like starting as a small twig off to the side, desperate to grow and filled with endless support from the rest of the tree, slowly transforming into a supportive branch myself. So I think the best word to describe it is “Nurtured.”

A therapy space in the Minneapolis office, typical of what a graduate therapy intern would utilize. Photo by KorbyQuan Reed.

If your therapy was a song, what would that song be?

Miriam: You Learn by Alanis Morissette

Casey: Make My Day by Common

Keenan: Put Your Records On by Corinne Bailey Rae

Looking forward, there will be more graduate interns joining the Acacia team, gearing up for their futures as clinicians in whatever capacity they seek. It’s important during this stage of their development that they have a supportive environment which can lead to a more stable and rewarding professional experience [2]. Haran Kingstan, PsyD, Training Director at Acacia Minneapolis, took lead of the training program for the graduate interns for the 2018/19 year — previously assisting the school year prior.

It’s amazing to know that the interns I get to work with are also taking a little bit of me and my experiences into the work with their clients.

What were your feelings around taking the lead in this program? Where did you find the most reward?

Haran: Being in a teaching position has been the one thing I’ve always known I wanted to do, so having the opportunity to use my own training experiences to hopefully contribute to others’ was a dream role for me.  I was of course a little nervous about starting it from scratch, but I loved being able to reflect on what was most impactful for me and try to pass it on to others. 

The most rewarding aspect has definitely been seeing the interns utilize some of our trainings together with their own clients — and have it be successful!  It’s amazing to know that the interns I get to work with are also taking a little bit of me and my experiences into the work with their clients.

Dr. Haran’s space for therapy and supervision. Photo by KorbyQuan Reed.

Reflecting on your early clinical experiences, how would your supervisors react to your approach as Training Director?

Haran: Great question!  I think it probably depends on where I was at in my own training experience: early on supervisors would probably be surprised; back then I was like a sponge and just wanted to absorb as much information from others as possible.  With more experience, I started to incorporate more of my own style and approach and collaborate with others, so I bet the supervisors during that time would definitely be able to see me in more of a training position.

Miriam Lechuga practices in the Davis, California, office under the direct supervision of Kevin Cavazos, ASW, and Daren Casagrande, LMFT. Casey Peterson and Keenan Cashen-Smart practice in the Minneapolis, Minnesota office; Casey under Haran Kingstan, PsyD, and Keenan under Ross Gubrud, PhD. If you are curious about becoming a clinician, visit here to learn more about the process.

Stay tuned for more insights with Acacia Spotlight and comment below with any other topics or people you want us to cover.

Author, KorbyQuan Reed

[1] Wolverton, B. (2019, February 21). As Students Struggle With Stress and Depression, Colleges Act as Counselors. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/education/learning/mental-health-counseling-on-campus.html

[2] Skovholt, T. M., & Rønnestad, M. H. (2003). Struggles of the Novice Counselor and Therapist. Journal of Career Development, 30(1), 45-58. doi:10.1177/089484530303000103

Leave a Reply