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Rayn Phillips, MSW, LSW: How Gaudenzia’s Internship Program Has Evolved

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April is National Internship Awareness Month. Here at Gaudenzia, we’re immensely proud of our multidisciplinary internship program, which offers experiential learning opportunities in areas within the behavioral healthcare field that include counseling, social work, nursing, information technology, risk management, and food service and safety.

Rayn Phillips, MSW, LSW, Gaudenzia’s Clinical Internship Program Manager, is at the helm of helping our organization cultivate tomorrow’s professionals. We took some time to catch up with Rayn this week and reflect on her role, how the program has grown over the last year, and what’s on the horizon for Gaudenzia’s interns.  

Rayn Phillips, MSW, LSW, Clinical Internship Program Manager at Gaudenzia

How Has Your Role as Clinical Internship Program Manager Evolved Over the Last Year?

Substantially! My role is broken into 3 tiers: internships, collegiate partnerships, and collaboration with HR for the permanent hire of successful interns. Over the past year, I took a lot of care and concern in establishing the structure of our internship program. I considered what our recruitment process needed to look like to accommodate all our college/university partners across four states while leaving room for applicants from colleges and universities that we haven’t partnered with (yet!). I also took time to identify gaps in training and education for our interns, and gaps in the support I provide to our program staff, who ultimately support and host our interns.

Let’s reflect on our own professional journeys for a moment. From our last internship or apprenticeship to our first paid direct service role, to becoming seasoned in the field — a lot of change happens, and a lot doesn’t happen, depending on the caliber of your internship and the supervision provided. Interns transition into their profession the moment they can see the coursework come to life. They become practitioners when they’re able to adapt to the needs of clients and programmatic realities while remaining aligned with evidence-based techniques and treatment modalities. They become professionals when they find another method or pathways to continue the work within their industry, whether it’s continuing their education through licensure, advancing their degree/certifications, or working towards another position within their organization.

This leads me to consider how I have designed supervision using multicultural relational perspective theory with a trauma-informed lens to encourage our interns to be culturally aware, attuned, and responsive — not just for clients, but towards themselves as well. I want people to have longevity in their careers, because we work in multifaceted conditions in public health, mental health, and social services.

What Are Your Goals for the Program in the New Academic Year?

My goals for the internship component this year are:

  1. Designing and implementing a training plan for interns on RELIAS — our organization’s virtual training platform — to complete before their first day on-site.
  2. Designing and implementing training for staff members who are supporting interns.
  3. Implementing Group Supervision for our counseling and social work interns.

What Are Some Lessons You’ve Learned Growing This Program Over the Last Year?

The first lesson I learned is not to be afraid to implement changes the moment I notice a need or gap that would impact the program — which is a hard reality to consume when something is new. The semesters move quickly, and because some facets of change take longer to come to fruition, there is no harm in starting today. It’s not that I didn’t know this to be true, it’s just different when you’re in the position to make decisions.

What Are Your Proudest Accomplishments with the Program so Far?

So far, my proudest accomplishment is having 114 interns since the inception of my role at the agency. This semester has been our largest cohort, with 46 interns agencywide. My second proudest moment is seeing our interns hired into full-time, permanent roles. Watching someone grow confidently into themselves as a professional and being able to offer them employment is a wonderful experience.

What Have the Biggest Challenges Been?

My biggest challenge has been managing the expectations of others and managing my own expectations in relation to others in partnerships work. I think, objectively, that partnerships work and community collaboration is oversimplified. Our partners are not just colleges, universities, and higher education initiatives. Our partners are our staff here agencywide. Our partners are our interns. Our partners are our clients. Not only does that make this work more meaningful, but it also makes it more delicate and nuanced. There is an interplay between the transitions and advancements we make in the agency and the transitions and advancements in higher education, and it is my role to balance that through this internship program.

Bill Wilson, Chief Program Officer at Gaudenzia (left) with Rayn Phillips at Gaudenzia’s 28th Annual Women with Children’s Conference

Can You Describe a Day in the Life as the Clinical Internship Program Manager at Gaudenzia?

A day in the life of the Clinical Internship Program Manager… It’s both different and routine all at once. I start by looking at my inbox to prioritize my responses. I download any emails I receive of student interns’ coursework so I can review it at the end of my day or the following morning before meetings and provide feedback. I provide MSW/LSW supervision to all our interns in the social work, counseling, and human services professions that do not require LPC/LCSW supervision.

Currently, we have 33 interns for Spring 2023, and 30 of them are my supervisees. I also schedule meetings with our university partners to discuss the status of student interns, debrief, and plan for the next semester. My day also includes reaching out internally to schedule meetings to discuss prospective internships in different departments and at program sites. I try to keep at least two hours in my day open. This is to either return phone calls, review applications and schedule interviews, conduct research for program development, or design new aspects of the internship program to roll out the following semester. My time is also spent doing outreach for prospective collegiate partners for internships and continuing education.

How Do You Take Care of Yourself to Prevent Burnout?

A constant word of advice to myself is to move firmly with practice, patience, and grace with adaptability. It’s a kinder way of doing things differently and accepting it. Self-care is multifaceted and offers duality. There’s self-care in relation to myself as a professional, and there’s self-care in relation to myself as a person. That doesn’t mean I don’t have days where I am feeling either overwhelmed, underwhelmed, challenged, or stagnant. It means that I am open and honest with myself when I do, and I support myself in ways that are actionable, based on the circumstances of that day. Sometimes, I go and take a walk if I’m frustrated with scaffolding information or find myself back at square one. This is related to my biggest challenge currently: managing the expectations of others and myself. No one is harder on me than I am, and people-pleasing does not bring about helpful or healthy support or change. I learned this in direct service with clients in graduate school. You really must have boundaries and balance in place to ensure the well-being of yourself and others.

What Advice Do You Have for New Interns?

Three things. First, making a mistake and not knowing are common realities when you’re new to the profession and new to an academic program. It’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you have a solution to move forward with. It’s okay not to know everything and not always having the answer — just don’t let that be THE answer. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out,” but then you need to go and find out. I know, as a former intern and young professional, that you want to impress your supervisors. However, balance and boundaries will give you longevity. You have the rest of your career to cultivate and gain new experiences to grow. An internship is the beginning of your career, not the end of it. Do not over-commit and leave yourself with nothing. That is how you’ll burn out.

Second, move firmly in practice, patience, and grace with adaptability. In the helping professions, practice is about applying the theories, techniques, and knowledge we learn in our coursework. Being adaptable in practice means after you obtain the degree, you continue to learn through books, articles, workshops, continuing education trainings, and professional development opportunities — not for the sake of licensure renewal, but sincerely for the care and concern of clients, and for the advancement of your practice as a mental health professional.

Patience is about being able to accept or tolerate setbacks without getting upset with yourself or others. It [setbacks] happens with clients, colleagues, and programs. Sometimes, it will have nothing to do with you — sometimes it will. Take a deep breath, ask for assistance from a trusted colleague or mentor, and move forward. Sometimes, moving forward means you may have to focus on another aspect of the work, because it’s just not possible right now, or you may have to refer a client to a higher level of care. Moving firmly in grace also means you navigate yourself and your working relationships with others thoughtfully and purposefully. Although this is very true to myself and my professional beliefs, I learned all this from having the privilege of working with a former classmate, friend, and then colleague of 21 years and watching them transition in their career.

Lastly, ask yourself, “What is my epicenter of practice?” When the challenges get tough, and there’s a dip in morale, it will help you reach a hard reset to move forward. I do everything from the epicenter of love, and as Bell Hooks says:

To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients — care, affection, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.”

It is about our intentions and actions to provide care and concern for others in the world that we have right now, and as we plan for the future.

Gaudenzia’s internship program accepts applications on a rolling basis. Find more information on our internship program and how to apply here.

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