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Internship at the State Correctional Institute - Pittsburgh
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Brandon McCormick

Paterno Fellow
Major: Psychology, Criminology
Hometown: Zelienople, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I learned about this internship opportunity through a personal friend who works for the company, she also facilitated my application and acceptance.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

My internship experience was on the Mental Health Unit at the State Correctional Institute in Pittsburgh. The MHU is an acute treatment unit for inmates who have been deemed to pose a significant risk to themselves or others. From the first week of my experience, I was allowed to complete a wide variety of clinical tasks. These included completing intake assessments, attending therapeutic large group (5-10 inmates) discussions, assisting in one-on-one groups focused on wellness recovery action plans, prevention plans, and open discussions that would benefit a specific inmate, and participating small group (2-5 inmates) activities, including art/music therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and open discussions. I also learned how to write clinical progress notes for each inmate, complete diagnostic assessments, set clinical boundaries, and build rapport. I was allowed to observe treatment team sessions on the MHU and on the Secure Residential Treatment Unit, as well as emergency admissions, a sex offender group, and therapeutic groups on the Residential Treatment Unit and the SRTU.

How did this experience impact you academically?

My internship experience has given me hands-on experience with the things I learned about in my psychology and criminology courses. For example, I have learned about certain types of mental illness in multiple courses, but it is quite a different experience to see how these disorders manifest themselves in a variety of people. Also, it has given me the confidence to work in corrections, which can be a very stressful and difficult work environment.

Although I was only at my internship for a relatively short period of time, I found [it] to be a extremely rewarding experience.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

This internship experience has allowed me to recommit myself to pursuing a graduate degree in clinical forensic psychology, so that I can devote my career to learning about, and helping those with, mental illness in corrections. Although I was only at my internship for a relatively short period of time, I found my internship to be a extremely rewarding experience. I witnessed first hand, and even participated in, some very inspiring success stories. For example, an inmate that was on the MHU when I arrived was overtly psychotic and spoke only in a bizarre, tangential, disorganized, and delusional manner. During this time, I was one of the few people he was willing to talk to, fearing that other members of the staff were cannibals, or escaped from death row. Many members of the staff believed that he was a hopeless case. However, after a medication change, this inmate's schizophrenia seemingly went into full remission; his delusions fled and he regaled the staff and other inmates with stories from his time in Vietnam, his work as a police officer, and his vast prison experience.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would recommend this experience to other students, as it can be very rewarding. However, the job can be acutely stressful and difficult at times as corrections is a very unpredictable environment.

How has the Paterno Fellows Program had an impact on this experience?

The Paterno Fellows Program played an important role in my internship experience. The internship requirement of the Paterno Fellows Program forced me to search high and low for a internship experience related to my career field of choice, and I could not be more thankful for it. This experience has given me the drive to further pursue my career goals, and it may give me an advantage over other graduate school applicants.

For more information on internships for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.

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