Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mental Health Inside the Walls: Resignation

Having never worked in a prison, when I began my career at my former employer on 05-20-13, I didn't know what to expect. I was excited and ready to begin working with inmates in a therapeutic way; building rapport, identifying their issues, drawing on past experiences inmates could provide where they acted appropriately, managed their emotions, and made effective decisions.  I wanted to use various therapeutic interventions to help inmates develop whatever it was in their lives that they lacked – challenging distorted thinking, processing emotions, building self-esteem, working through past traumas, all in a supportive, safe environment.

That is not the type of therapy practiced where I formerly worked. In fact, I had been told multiple times that “there is no therapy (on the block where I worked)” which likely makes the block function better to provide the structure it does.

I, however, am not the type of counselor who can walk into an interaction with a client with the direction to “never trust an inmate” who is, for all intents and purposes, my client, shading the entire session. Maybe it’s inexperience or maybe it’s naiveté that prevents me from entering and maintaining that mindset for 8 hours. Or, maybe it’s believing in the intrinsic good in people, having both compassion and empathy for my clients and letting my clients know that.

I will be the first to admit that I am an open and out-going person.  I like to get to know my clients to better put whatever it is that they came to see me about into context. Outside of therapy, I am opinionated, loud and generally always include my input in any discussion. Those may not be traits for a successful counselor in this environment, but they have served me well up to this point.

I am a damn good counselor. That much I know is true. I professionally relish in participating in sessions with clients that move forward, that don’t rehash the same topics and complaints again and again, where even if progress is painful, it’s still progress.  I don’t believe that this type of therapy is what’s needed in my former role. Which is neither good nor bad, it’s just a difference between who I am and what is needed to fulfill that role.

I am slowly gaining what I believe is a sense of relief since being informed that my tenure there has ended.  Although I found it comforting when a psychologist once told me that he hated every day of his first year of work there, I don’t want to hate coming to work every day. I don’t want to work in an environment where I am routinely called a “fucking bitch” or a “fat bitch” or any other of the numerous insults I have endured while working there. I don’t want to work in an environment where men do walk around in their cells naked and that I need to be prepared to deal with that. That is a skill set I don’t currently posses, nor do I think I ever want to.

I have learned more about myself as a professional counselor and as a person in my short tenure there, and I am grateful for that. Sometimes in order to discover what one does want in life, one has to first discover what one doesn’t want. I’m still academically and intellectually intrigued by the experience of incarceration on people and the role of psychopathy development in people, especially those with a lengthy history of personal trauma, however I am now much more aware that these are my academic and research interests, not necessarily my employment interests.

"Some birds just aren't meant to caged; their feathers are just too bright. And when you set them free, your soul rejoices because they never should have been caged in the first place." 

I am no longer caged.

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