A counseling practicum is a requirement for many undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology and counseling and consists of a work experience at a school, hospital, church or mental health agency. A practicum may last more than one semester and typically requires a specific number of field hours for the student to obtain a counseling license. Field hours include direct client interaction that involves counseling both individuals and groups, meetings with a practicum supervisor, classes and group workshops. The entire practicum is logged to ensure the student completes the required number of hours, and the student receives feedback throughout the process.
Before participating in a counseling practicum, a student usually has to complete prerequisite college courses in counseling theory and professional ethics. If the student is in a program that teaches a specialty, such as student or marriage counseling, then he may first need to complete specialization courses related to these areas. Some degrees, however, require the student to take a practicum as the last course in a program. The number of hours of experience the student is expected to achieve through a practicum depends on the credential the student is seeking and where he lives. The student will be counseling clients during the process, so he usually needs to obtain professional liability insurance prior to beginning the practicum.
Depending on where a counseling practicum is being done, a student may perform group counseling, individual counseling, career counseling and student counseling under the supervision of a licensed counselor. Each counseling session typically consists of an intake interview with the client, the actual counseling session and the documentation of case notes and the client's progress. Other administrative tasks include calling a client who misses an appointment and closing a previous client's file. Direct client contact makes up a large part of the required practicum hours, and the student will be evaluated throughout the process to receive feedback on his sessions.
Workshops and classes also make up a significant portion of a counseling practicum and give the student an opportunity to learn new counseling techniques, improve his current skills and review feedback received during counseling sessions. Classes usually include group interaction and role playing, and the student may have homework assignments and exams just as he would in a traditional course. Meetings can occur at both the counseling site and the student's university.