Tomorrow begins my 8th week at my internship, and I couldn’t be more excited. Only three more weeks till I’m done! Then I have two weeks off, one more semester and I G R A D U A T E.
Most days, this position is very gratifying. I’m interning at an inpatient psychiatric unit with a team of psychologists, behavioral health workers, shift supervisors, program directors, additional interns, residents and fellows and rotating nurse practitioners and psychiatrists. When a client asks for a one-on-one with me, of all people, I feel honored to be a part of their treatment planning process. It feels good to develop rapport with people experiencing crisis situations. This internship is different from what I expected: From the hands-on assistance to team work, I’ve learned a lot so far. Here’s a few things off the top of my head:
1. Inpatient services accommodate a range of needs. If someone enters our facility on a 72 hour hold, requiring them to wear scrubs, we need to have clean laundry readily available. I haven’t had to do the laundry, but I’ve cleaned rooms before our residents arrive. I’m not above helping with the janitorial aspects of our psychiatric unit, even if it’s not considered clinical work.
2. Cigarettes cause some major drama. If someone joins the unit without cigs, you’re gonna have a bad time. By contrary, I’ve had some of the best conversations with clients on their smoke breaks versus intakes. If smoking cigs is relaxing, I try to take advantage of this prime time by building relationships with clients while they’re smoking outside.
3. Don’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve been treated very well by clients that came across as intimidating, guarded and down-right mean, initially. But people are capable of change. Every person comes with his or her own story, and if you’re patient and kind, they will share it with you.
4. Inpatient psychiatric work is not for everyone. You cannot take anything personally that someone says to you, towards you or about you. It is what it is. You gotta stay strong, and hold your own at times.
5. Not everyone is psychotic or experiencing psychosis. A lot of our clients aren’t nearly as “crazy” as you would think. I can’t elaborate on specifics, but they’re human just like everyone else.
6. Group therapy proves powerful, yet again. I loved running groups at ICCS last semester, and my recent placement is no exception. Between the recreational and art groups I run at the ATU and the Cooking Group I lead at a local group home, I couldn’t be more thrilled to continue this type of therapeutic work. Research offers evidence explaining why group therapy has grown in popularity in recent years; I’m a firm believer in strength in numbers.
7. Working in a team environment versus a private practice setting couldn’t be more different. For the last 8 months, I’ve tiptoed around a private practice office where many therapists appear to compete against each other, so I tend to keep to myself. At the ATU, we share a large room with several computers and conceptualize cases together. Sometimes it’s distracting when others are talking and you’re practicing writing SOAP notes, but I appreciate having nearby support from my coworkers.
8. Boundaries are of the utmost importance. The epitome of burnout is working harder than the client, for the client. Give your best and save the rest. Leave a little of yourself for yourself at the end of the day.
9. An internship like this is bound to change a person. I can tell just in the last two months how much more patient I’ve become with people in general. I’ve also developed a stronger backbone and threshold for vicarious trauma. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
10. Treat people how you want to be treated, plain and simple. Keep a strengths-based perspective and always look at clients with unconditional positive regard.
Working in this setting has been eye-opening to say the least. I look forward to continuing my hours this summer, but in the meantime here’s this: