When I applied to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for an internship I thought it would be challenging. What I didn’t know was exactly how challenging or where those challenges would come from. As I write, I am 23 weeks into my internship and can say it has surpassed all of my expectations.
I had completed a practicum at a state prison and I am a combat veteran, so I thought I was ready for the challenges the internship at the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, had to offer.
To start, any psychologist (staff or intern) is also a federal law enforcement officer and therefore has to conduct both custody and clinical duties. Within my first month, I participated in a shakedown, which consists of patting down the inmates and confiscating any contraband. While this may not seem difficult, some of those inmates were or were about to become my patients.
Another custody duty is to write Incident Reports for not following institutional rules, including missing appointments. Talk about a rapport killer…. It took supervision to recognize that holding firm boundaries can be therapeutic in nature – kind of like tough-love parenting. I have learned to address this as part of the informed consent process. It seems to be more uncomfortable for me than for my patients.
Another dual role challenge I have encountered happens when responding to all calls for help over the radio, which can often include assaults or fights. When the call for help comes over the radio, you don’t know what or who you are running to. This was never more clearly demonstrated to me than when a call came out for help and when I arrived I realized my patient had been assaulted by two other inmates.
This hit me like a punch in the stomach. My duty was to help control the situation, and at the same time I only cared at that moment about my patient and how she was coping. This was a dual role relationship I had not been prepared for, first responder and after-care provider.
Running to a scene to provide security to find out my patient had been assaulted and then sticking around to provide supportive crisis interventions – I don’t think there is anyway grad school can train you for that.
Needless to say, while I am sure there are dual role relationships I have yet to encounter within the BOP, I am learning to navigate them with the help of my supervisors and the consultation and support of my fellow interns, and I wouldn’t change a moment …yet.
Alexis Ganz wrote this during her internship at the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University’s Orange County, Calif., campus. She graduated last year and is now the psychologist for 240 high security inmates at the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colo. Her email address is: Aganz@bop.gov.