So I'm still a little bitter over the whole brew-ha-ha about blogging about work. That said, I'm still going to blog about my feelings without getting into the details of my actual experiences; I've got to be safe that way, right? If not, I'm calling the frickin' ACLU.
I posted on Facebook earlier this week that I'm oddly surprised that during the past week I've experienced more days that I've enjoyed my job than not. I've only been at this whole therapy-for-inmates thing for a little over three months, but I've gained so much knowledge about what's involved by being a state employee, how the mental health portion of the Department of Health Services works in conjunction with the Department of Corrections, my direct supervisors' expectations of me, my own expectations of myself (and how unrealistic they've been), the support that is available from my coworkers and supervisors and, in some small ways, how to manage all of that in addition to the stress of working with the clients that I have on my caseload. Even though I've only been there for a bit over three months, I feel like I could write one of those "if I knew then what I know now" letters to my three-month-ago self. Here's what I'd likely tell myself on May 20, 2013:
Girlfriend, welcome to the state of Wisconsin, not as where you live, but as your employer. There are going to be people who pay more attention to what you wear on your feet than they do to inmates violating policies. Deal with it. You've worked with people like this before and you probably will in the future. You've got six months of probationary status staring you in the face, so choose your battles wisely. At this point, shoes are not worth fighting over.
Be prepared to give up some things in order to enjoy the seriously substantial pay increase you just received, the fact that you're going to get paid for a holiday after working here for all of five days, your insurance premiums are going to go way down and you'll have much better coverage compared to where you came from, and as of 7:46am today you're already accruing personal holiday time and sick time.
Parking is going to suck. Consider that it will take you about 10-12 minutes to get from your car to your desk and you need to be at your desk at 7:45am each day. And that's if you don't get "caught up in count" when you can only move around the North Building once "count has cleared." Because you're new, people are going to wonder who you are when you pass them in the hall; make sure your state issued ID is clearly visible and say, "Hello" or "Good morning" to everyone. (I'd do that anyway because I'm generally a friendly person.)
Don't try to impress people with how much you think you know about counseling. The closest you've come to experience with this population is when you co-facilitated the court-mandated domestic violence men's groups during your internship three years ago. These guys are going to make those guys look like pussy-cats. And remember how you initially struggled with those groups? For the first three months of your internship you considered quitting co-facilitating these groups on a weekly basis and yet you listened to those who knew more than you did, bitched and moaned about your struggles when you needed to and when those who knew more than you did told you to "have faith in the process" because they'd seen this entire process roll out successfully before, you listened to them, had faith, kept your mouth shut when that was the right thing to do and by the time your first group graduated, you pulled into the parking lot driving your father's 2002 cherry red Corvette because your confidence in yourself and in your skills had increased that much. You were no longer the wide-eyed church mouse who was intimidated by them; you adapted to become an effective counselor for them and during their last group, many of them told you that. Remember that feeling of effectiveness and success? That will happen to you here, in this environment with this population, you just need to wait for it. Nothing happens before its time. When you feel frustrated or like you're spinning your wheels and not making any progress, remember that. It's happened before, exactly when it should have, and it will happen again, exactly when it should.
I know patience is not one of your strongest character traits, but girlfriend, you better develop some, FAST. This job isn't like your last one; you're not a "lone wolf" developing a program from scratch, physically removed from your supervisors. This is not the type of environment when you'd rather "ask for forgiveness than for permission." Ask for permission first you fool! Just like in your last role, you've got dual supervision: the unit supervisor and the clinical director. It may not be your "job" to make both of them happy, but by trying to do that, you'll be ahead of the game. Communicate. Ask for guidance and help when you feel overwhelmed. And seek counsel from them both; they each have a different skill set that you need to integrate into your work. This is a prison after all; there's a delicate balance between security, following the policies and procedures and providing meaningful therapy. There are people here who have mastered that task and you need to find out how they did it.
And finally, remember to be gentle with yourself. This is only your second job as a professional counselor, it's not like you've got 20 years of experience under your belt. There are expectations of you, but considering that you're very new to this environment and population, the expectations are reasonable. Don't make them any harder than they are. Ease up on that horrible perfectionism you carry around with you like a 100 pound weight around your neck. Others are going to understand that you're a new employee, that you're going to make mistakes or not know intrinsically how to handle different situations, and you need to understand and accept that about yourself too.