Training Tomorrow’s Therapists at Eagleville Hospital
Eagleville Hospital is one of the largest non-profit, in-patient addiction and behavioral health treatment organizations in the greater Philadelphia area. That translates into a uniquely intensive practicum experience for the next generation of clinicians.
Each year, Eagleville accepts 15 to 18 interns across three separate tracks: counseling, social work and psychology. Interns are typically Master’s-level students, but candidates may also be working toward a bachelor’s degree as well.
“At Eagleville, interns encounter every level of drug and alcohol addiction and a diverse range of mental health disorders,” explains Paul Toth, PhD, Eagleville’s Staff Development Manager and Clinical Supervisor. “And they’ll often engage with their patients every day throughout the duration of their treatment here, which many students find to be especially beneficial to their training.”
Nicole Chunta (pictured) would agree. Now a permanent staff member, Chunta first connected with Eagleville during her spring 2017 semester at Villanova University, where she was pursuing a master’s degree in counseling. She started off as a practicum student, with similar responsibilities but fewer hours than an intern, before returning as an intern in the fall on the co-occurring male unit.
“I love working within the overlap between mental health and substance abuse,” Chunta says. “It really reinforces what I’ve learned in school and it’s so prevalent in our population.”
In the initial phase of the internship, students observe individual and group therapy and learn the documentation requirements and our operating system, all under the direct supervision of a dedicated staff member, Toth explains. As their clinical experience grows, the interns begin leading their own therapy sessions.
“From the students’ point of view, they get to see everything they’re learning about in class, but in real life and in real time,” Toth says.
Within her first two weeks, Chunta was co-facilitating open-process group therapy sessions, which were usually comprised of 10 patients, with her supervising therapist. Once she became comfortable, she started leading them by herself. She also began leading a psychoeducation group, which ranged from 20 to 40 patients.
“That’s a unique and hugely marketable skillset: the ability to handle and run a group of that size,” she says. “On top of that, I was given an average of three patients a week to work with individually. I got a wide range of hands-on, clinical experience.”
Chunta credits the supportive culture fostered by Toth for the seamless progression in her training and responsibilities. “The team support really makes for a fantastic experience and learning environment,” she says. “And it flows right into the work we do with the patients. If you have an encouraging team, it feeds each member’s interaction with the patients.”
Since the launch of Eagleville’s internship program in 2002, about a quarter of accepted interns have gone on to join the staff. Chunta is among them: she earned her master’s degree in May 2018 and now works as an evening therapist in the very unit where she interned.
She conducts individual exit therapy sessions with patients who are about to be discharged, addressing any concerns or questions they may have about their recovery beyond Eagleville. She also runs two or three groups sessions each night.
“Group work is one of my favorite forms of therapy,” she says. “It’s such a powerful dynamic, responding to and growing from the insight and support the group members give each other. My internship really reinforced that.”
Chunta received multiple job offers upon her graduation, but Eagleville was always her first choice, she says. “This amazing environment made it an easy decision. I’m fortunate to be here.”