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Being in Utah, I believe there is a misconception regarding the lack of diversity experiences. However, my experience has been quite the opposite. There are several steps that I took, which I feel were important in gaining diversity experience as a graduate student. These are outlined below. More importantly, I hope this forum will create some discussion around diversity for other graduate students here in Utah, who might also be focused on gaining experience prior to internship.
Identify an interest in gaining diversity experience
From my very first clinical placement, I made a dedicated effort to seek out and express my interest in working with diverse clients. My experience was that supervisors and faculty were open to this commitment and helped coordinate this work.
Once identified as an area of interest, I think it is important to get involved and take part in the various opportunities that may present. In my experience, there were several opportunities to gain diversity experience, such as: practicum placements, coursework, professional conferences and organizations, supervision, teaching, and discussions with faculty members. Additionally, I have been fortunate to be involved with several research grants, all of which focused on diverse populations or included a diversity component. It was helpful for me to continue to have discussions around diversity in various settings and interact with populations of interest.
Be open to learning
Having identified an interest and now getting involved, I think the next step is being open to learning. In fact, the best advice I ever received was from a psychologist who encouraged being OK with making mistakes, normalizing this process, and highlighting the fact that there is always room to grow. Drawing on my work with Hispanics, I believe my early clinical work involved making too many assumptions about this population. For example, there is a lot of variability around what it is to be “Hispanic” or “Latino(a)”, considering those who identify as Mexican-American, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Chicano(a), along with others from central and south American countries. I learned that it may not be appropriate to group individuals within certain categories and vice-versa. For me, it was important to get the perspective of the client and understand how they identify.
Challenge yourself to work with populations outside your specific area of interest
My interest is working with Hispanic populations, but I have also challenged myself to work with clients who hold other identities. I was able to gain some experience working with LGBT populations, women, and those who identify with the LDS religion. As a graduate student, I believe this developmental stage is an excellent time to gain these additional experiences.
It is critically important to seek supervision around diversity experiences. My supervisors were open to and encouraged these discussions. Additionally, I found that other areas, such as research experience, also generated fruitful discussions around diversity.
Prepare for APA internship
I truly believe gaining diversity experience as a graduate student has helped shape me into a well-rounded clinician. My belief is that we should always strive toward multicultural competence, understanding that this is a process that occurs throughout our careers. I look forward to the next step in my career, where I can continue to learn and grow. My experience is that APA internship programs highly value prospective interns with diversity experience, but more importantly show a desire to grow in this area.
About the author
Alberto Varela is a doctoral candidate in the counseling psychology program at the University of Utah. Alberto identifies as Hispanic and is passionate about serving the needs of this population. He will complete his pre-doctoral internship at Utah State University Counseling and Psychological Services beginning fall 2017.