My internship lasted from June to September 2020 at The Happy Leaves Autism and Special Needs Therapy Centre. My initial choice was to do an internal internship with the School of Psychology, but it was cancelled at the last minute due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I eventually chose this external internship with The Happy Leaves as I wanted some exposure to work in a psychology field. I appreciate both the school for being considerate and lenient in the application deadlines for internship placements, as well as Dr Marieke, the internship supervisor, for guiding and helping me with my questions. As it turned out, the internship took place at just the right time: between the first and second Movement Control Orders imposed by the Malaysian government, and I am grateful that it happened this way.
In my psychology classes, I had learned about behavioural therapies such as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) as tools to help children cope with their autism. However, the centre showed me other ways to approach the same issues, by using an integration of behavioural and developmental theories known as Integrated Behaviour Therapy (IBT). As this was a new topic to me, I was fortunate to be able to have a one-on-one briefing session with my supervisor, where I was able to ask questions and learn more about the process. My supervisor was also attentive and provided the guidance that I needed, including asking me questions and testing my understanding of the IBT process.
One of my first tasks was preparing materials such as worksheets and art and craft for the therapy sessions, keeping in mind that each child would not have the exact same therapy program, but a tailored one to address their individual needs. Preparing these materials awakened my inner child and certainly helped me to empathise stronger with the children. I also had the opportunity to participate in case discussions and general meetings where I could suggest ideas as well as learn more about how the centre operates.
As I became more confident in my skills, I was invited to attend briefings and practical training on various topics like psychological assessments, play therapy and counselling. The briefings on psychological assessments was the most interesting to me, as I got to see in person these assessments such as the Wechsler's Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) that I had only briefly studied in my classes. The assessment manuals, stimuli and scoring sheets were made available for reference, and I enjoyed reviewing these materials. The centre ensured that I got all the knowledge I could, and that is what I liked the most about this place.
Finally, I got the chance to shadow the therapists in the centre and to observe their daily practices. In some sessions, I acted as a prompter by demonstrating physical actions for the children. This included holding their hands to guide their motor movements while giving verbal or non-verbal instructions for them to perform to actions, such as touching their own heads or clapping their hands. I also assisted teams conducting the Diagnostic Interview, which is a pre-therapy consultation with both the children clients and their parents. The parents would be interviewed by a clinical psychologist while a junior therapist helped to take care of and assess the child. As I mainly assisted the junior therapist, I developed the skills to observe and assess the child's current developmental condition with reference to typical age-specific developmental milestones.
Before this internship, I had very limited knowledge about what a clinical psychologist does. After working with clinical psychologists and special-needs therapists, I realised how interesting, meaningful and dynamic this job could be. Being with children for the past three months deepened my interest and passion in working with them; I had always enjoyed interacting with children but I did not expect that dealing with them in a clinical setting would be fulfilling too.
I am more than grateful for this internship as I obtained valuable lessons I could never get from textbooks or lectures, which is to reflect on myself and to empathise. When I take the time to understand each child's difficulties, I begin to empathise with their hardships rather than simply treating them as another case study. I feel like I did not merely build a therapist-client bond, but also established precious relationships between me and the children. It was indeed an unforgettable experience!