November 22, 2011

An Insider's Perspective: The Great and Not So Great Things About Community Mental Health

As I'm nearing the close of fall quarter in the second year of UCLA's MSW program, I wanted to take some time to reflect upon my experience interning as a Child and Family Therapist for a Community Mental Health (CMH) Center in Inglewood, CA.

From the moment I started seeing clients, my internship experience accelerated from 0 to 60 faster than I can say "self-care." Between learning agency norms, to deciphering Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) acronyms, to absorbing how to document clinical sessions (writing progress notes), to staying present in 8 hour trainings, I feel as though I'm in a constant state of playing catch-up. Someone important to me recently made an analogy that, in several ways, captures how I feel on a day-to-day basis at my internship. In describing his own experience at a new and very demanding job, he said that, "It often feels like I"m drinking from a fire hose." I too, feel as though information is gushing my way at a tremendous speed. Part of me questions how viable it is for an intern, who only works 20 hours a week, is supposed to absorb all the non-clinical information, all while trying to deliver mental health therapy sessions to a caseload of 7-10 clients?

Despite feeling behind most days, working in a CMH setting is tremendously fulfilling and has validated my decision to transition from the corporate sector to the humanity sector. On the not so great days, I always remember what a privilege it is to provide services to struggling individuals. And while the business of relationships is exhausting, it certainly is worthwhile.

Because I am a big fan of lists, below is a brief list of the great, and not so great things about interning in CMH.

Not So Great:
  1. The ungodly amount of paperwork
  2. Frequent client cancellations
  3. Shortage/lack of resources (includes offices to conduct therapy sessions, office supplies, broken bathrooms, etc.)
  4. Being at the mercy of the Department of Mental Health
  5. Shortage of trained translation staff
So Great:
  1. Clinically fascinating cases
  2. Tremendous support from other agency employees (psychiatrists, nurses, other therapists, interns, directors, coordinators, administrative staff, etc.)
  3. Client diversity (culture, religion, diagnosis, family dynamics, immigration status, etc.)
  4. Number of hours of supervision (5 hours/week or 25% of my time is spent in supervision!)
  5. Ongoing learning opportunities (primarily through continuing education seminars and group supervision)


Emily said...

I've worked in Community Mental Health with adults who are in the criminal justice system with mental illness. I've been doing this for 5 years now and I LOVE IT. It's challenging, demanding, draining and frustrating but the other side of the coin makes it so worth it.

I truly believe that it takes a special person to work in CMH. Good luck with everything ahead of you :)

Laura said...

Thank you Emily! I know I've got my work cut out for me, and I appreciate your kind words of encouragement.