The Briar Patch: Thorny Challenges for Directors
Vic Pantesco, Ph.D.

They Keep Getting Younger

Many clinics experience the general trend in the field to have younger and younger applicants to the doctoral programs.  I mean this in both chronological and maturational terms. This may reflect  prescience within the developmentally-sensitive competencies movement and competency-based evaluations in practicum clinics.  There are multiple challenges arising from this phenomenon, presenting recognizable pressures to educate these young clinicians in areas ranging from proper boundaries (in both “old fashioned” as well as social media interactions) to navigating their youth and inexperience in the predictably stormy provocations of older clients.
    How many of us have sat in supervision with someone who looks and sounds like they are sixteen years old as you observe them trying to be professional and credible to an emotionally exhausted couple in their 50’s? (That’s meant to be a rhetorical question.)    We often wonder to what degree having good hearts (as Don Peterson prescribed for all clinical psychology doctoral applicants) and intellectually strong raw material is enough.  How do we train within and about the simple life gaps?  What does a professional “voice” look like at such an early age?  What do we realistically expect?  Are we being ethical in pairing such a youngster with a complex trauma case?

Dulling the Thorn
I already mentioned one help to us here:  having a strong faculty supervisors  team that meets, supports, engages the conversation.  Perhaps an anomaly, our group  of six supervisors has been together for 13 years.  We rely on each other a lot.  We are able to talk at levels of exposure well suited to both honesty and clarity of goals and possibilities.  As a result of these, we have arrived at specific aspirations and orientations. 
    We first will not dilute our training of the students, and this at times means pushing and confronting in ways to speed yet not compromise their insights and abilities.  This predictably invites harder discussions with students as a team and in supervision, but we feel it is worth it.  At times we just have to be clear and tell someone it is not therapeutically helpful or ethical to sit with clients in a bar.  As out of fashion direct “no” messages can be, they remain attention getters if not crucial at times.
    New this year, we have been using Clara Hill’s Helping Skills as a text that has chapters to be read weekly and then brought into supervision.  For example, in listening to a recording it is common for us to stop and point out how an exploration nicely fed the next interpretation, or not.  So far, supervisors and students are responding well to this addition.
    Finally, we hang on to our own perspectives of our histories and the mentors we had who tolerated, inspired, corrected, and modeled for us in ways that mattered,- regardless of our age or our own notions of our skills or maturity.

Vic Pantesco