So You’re Tackling The Essays

Internship sites talk about wanting someone whose personality will mesh with the culture of the site, someone whose personal interests and personality are as compatible as their professional interests. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find a logical way to list your clinical style or your hobbies on the CV. Enter the essay section of the APPI: an opportunity to sell your personality, interests, and unique style (in four concise blocks of 500 words or less).

I recommend starting work on your essays early, just after you finalize your site list. As with your CV, you have the option to upload multiple versions of your essays to send to different types of sites. Please do not take this to mean that you need to write individualised essays for every site. It means that, if you apply to forensic hospitals and VAs, you could tweak your essays to highlight your personal interest in each of these types of sites. Also, as with your CV, make sure that you have others review your essays for content. Unlike with your CV, though, I recommend choosing two or three readers at most, otherwise you risk receiving conflicting feedback that will cause you undue panic rather than actually improving your writing.

As usual, this post is written based on my individual experience applying for internship. You might read this and decide to do the exact opposite of what I did, and it might work out great for you. Also, when I was writing my essays, I found this resource to be invaluable in organizing my thoughts and figuring out how to get started.

So what exactly is expected from you in these essays?

  1. The Autobiographical Essay. This essay can be incredibly intimidating to write, since the prompt is “Tell me something about yourself.” Sites are equally vague about what they are looking for from the essays, and it has been suggested that this is because DCTs don’t actually know what they want from you. If you are applying to more than one type of site, I highly recommend writing more than one version of the autobiographical essay. I approached this essay as an opportunity to identify myself to sites as a real person who has been shaped by my history into who I am. I opened with a story from my childhood, followed up with an experience I had in college, and then tied these events together as a description of what led me to the field and to my current clinical interests. My biggest challenge with this essay was narrowing down what I wanted to talk about. It’s tempting to try to cram every piece of information about yourself, but there is simply not enough space. You have to decide what is it about you that you want to present to sites, what information is vital to who you are as an applicant that is not available on other parts of the application.
  2. Theoretical Orientation. In my first draft of the second essay, I emphasized my knowledge of my chosen orientations and tried to discuss general approaches to conceptualization and treatment, working in as much jargon as I could so that sites would see how smart I am. Then I threw that draft in the garbage and started over. Good clinicians don’t recite textbooks; they put their knowledge into action. Instead, I chose two clients that I felt demonstrated my preferred orientations and discussed my approach to their conceptualization and treatment. Two is a good number because it shows more range in your clinical skills than you could provide with just one example. Three is possible but more challenging because of the word limit. I opened with a brief, two sentence description of my preferred orientations and jumped into my case examples. I also tried to convey a willingness to be flexible with my therapeutic approaches based on each individual. The 500 word limit does prove to be a challenge. Remember, everyone is held to the same limit, and sites can only expect so much information in this essay, which is why many sites also request a work sample as a supplemental application material. Again, if you are applying to more than one type of site, I suggest making different versions of this essay with examples from the demographic with which you would be working.
  3. Diversity Experience. This essay was hands-down the most frustrating for me to write. Why is the diversity component of my clinical work sectioned off into its own little corner? I ended up taking the multicultural components out of my second essay for the sake of space, and I felt like I was writing off some very important issues in my case conceptualizations because I could include those components in this essay. Personally I think it would be better to combine essays 2 and 3 into one longer essay that would allow applicants to discuss diversity issues as a component of their theoretical orientations, but no one asked me. For my diversity essay, I wanted to focus both on my interactions with clients from different backgrounds and on how my own background and culture impacts the therapeutic relationship. I ended up using three case examples because I had so much trouble choosing only two instances that I felt encompassed the scope of what this essay was asking for, but this of course made it even more difficult to stay at the 500 word limit. In the end I broke each case example down into a description of how the client’s background factored into the therapeutic process, and how my background influenced the relationship. And after days of editing, I finally was able to cut down my essay to exactly 500 words.
  4. Research Interests. The biggest research project you do as a graduate student is your dissertation, so I started this essay with a description of my project and where I was at in the process. You can also bring up your timeline for completion to show the site that you will not be ABD for years after internship. I also talked about some other research projects I have worked on throughout my graduate career and mentioned areas in which I would be interested expanding on these interests in the future. This essay really varies in importance based on the internships you are applying for, so know your sites. If a site requires 10 hours per week of research, highlight how your research experience and future interests are in keeping with those of the site. This is probably because I did not apply to many research-heavy sites, but this essay was probably the least stressful for me to write.

There is no one way to approach the essays, and they easily become overwhelming due to the vague instructions. Try not to over-think the details of what you write and be open about who you are as a clinician and as a human being.

Next week’s topic is cover letters. Enjoy the weekend, and remember to take care of yourself!