Jan. 11, 2016

Mentorship programs put students in the front lines

Partnerships like Werklund's Counselling Psychology mentoring program engage students and practitioners alike

Practicum placements and mentorship opportunities are common practice for most professions these days.

Nursing students practise their skills in a range of community settings, law students article, education students spend time in classrooms as pre-service teachers, and a variety of internship opportunities have increasingly become an expected, and anticipated, requirement for students preparing to enter professional careers.

In the case of counselling psychology, students are placed in a range of environments. From schools and community clinics to a variety of health-care settings, graduate students are paired with experienced practitioners who provide them with crucial supervised field experiences that help them to build on academic learning and foundational skills provided at the university.

“Supervised practicum experiences are an organized component of our program, a requirement of our accrediting bodies, and a signature training pedagogy,” says Michael Zwiers, director of internships and practica for the Counselling Psychology program in the Werklund School of Education.

“Supervisors are experienced practitioners who oversee and scaffold the learning experiences of students while socializing them into the profession.”

While the students often say the personal insights they gain from these field supervisors are a key part of their education, they may not realize the mentors are learning from them too.

Psychologist recognized by practicum students for his mentorship

Late last fall, Werklund School of Education students and academics in the Counselling Psychology program invited its community partners and practitioners to campus to celebrate the student-mentor relationship at the Third Annual Practicum Supervisor Appreciation evening.

Michael Enman, a psychologist with the Outpatient Mental Health Program at Alberta Health Services (AHS) says he was surprised and very honoured to be nominated by his practicum students and then selected for the Excellence in Practicum Supervision Award.

“The students I’ve supervised have made the work easy and enjoyable, and they have encouraged me to continue to grow, personally and professionally," says Enman. “They keep my curiosity alive and well.”

Mentoring requires practitioners to question everyday practices

Enman says it’s the best possible situation for all — the organizations, the clients, and the students themselves — when they are engaged in a front line capacity.

“AHS has an opportunity to work with its community partner — in this case, the Werklund School of Education — to help train future health-care professionals, many of whom eventually come to work in with us.

“These Werklund School professionals-in-training are of the highest calibre, and very well trained and prepared for their time in our program," he says. "Our clients benefit a great deal from the quality of care they receive from our students.”

Chris Pawluk, another mentor and the lead psychologist for the Rocky View School Division, agrees. He says mentoring students requires practitioners to think about and explain why they engage in everyday practice in the manner they do. Pawluk says this encourages critical thinking and mindful awareness of the practice.

Two-way street with mutual benefits for students and specialists

Perhaps most importantly, mentorship can serve as a two-way street, with both the student and the practitioner learning new things.

“The students often expose our specialists to new ideas and research," says Pawluk. “We benefit from having our practice questioned and challenged by the students, and by the more recent knowledge they may bring. We also benefit in many cases through having very keen people to carry out activities that we would not ordinarily be able to get to.”

Zwiers also sees the mutual benefits. "The university works with our community partners to help students develop into skilled practitioners. Partnerships like these are crucial for the development of our students and allows the university to connect with and contribute to the community."