True Story: I work At a Children’s Psychiatric Hospital

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, challenging, amazing things.  This is the story of Leann and her work at a children’s psych hospital.

Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m a recent college grad, living in Oklahoma. I currently work at a children’s psychiatric hospital. Because of this high stress job I try to find fun ways to distress during my week. In my free time I enjoy going to the many neighborhood festival my city has to offer, binge watching Netflix episodes, and doing yoga.
I think a lot of us believe that psychological issues are sort of limited to adults. How many children are in your ward? Why are they there?
Children with psychological issues tend to be a controversial topic and something people don’t like to think about, it can be disheartening. This hospital is on the larger side and holds about 160 children, ages 5-17. The patients are admitted for a variety of psychological issues, including eating disorders, behavioral issues, depression, sexual trauma, etc.
How long are patients usually in the ward? 
The patient’s stay depends on their willingness or ability to work their treatment. They can stay anywhere from a few days to a year. With complicated trauma or behavioral issues it can take a long time to process what has happened or what they have done. This is especially true for children who have multiple diagnoses. It also depends on the red-tape of insurance companies. Most insurance companies put a limit on how many days they will pay for.
What types of treatments do the patients receive in your ward?
The patients have a team of highly qualified healthcare professionals which include a psychiatrist, a nurse, individual therapist, family therapist, and the mental health workers that spend the whole day with them. The children also attend group therapy and recreational therapy, which is like art therapy.
Do the patients receive visitors? 
The patients receive visitors on the weekends. The visitors have to be pre-approved by the therapist and whoever has custody of the patient. If the patient is in CPS custody their parents probably can’t visit them, unless approved by the appropriate authority. The patients and visitors meet in the cafeteria while supervised by mental health worker. While visiting everyone can play board games and get snacks from the vending machines. The patients usually come back in a good mood after the visits.
How do you (and other patients) feel when someone is released? 
This is also dependent on the patient and their unique situation. If the patient leaves against medical advice or a judge declares them free to go it can make me nervous. I believe there is potential for the patient and community to be in a dangerous setting, unless they go to outpatient therapy. The harsh reality is most of them will have another incident or episode and have to come back or go to another facility. This is especially true for those patients with violent and harmful behaviors towards others.
If a patient is discharged and they have completed treatment, I’m a less nervous. There is always the possibility they will have to come back or might go to a different hospital. Many of the patients are released to a group home or shelter, and the fact they might not go to back to a family that will love them is another harsh reality of this job.
Generally the other patients are happy and excited for the patient to be released. They understand that it’s not a fun vacation and they look forward to the day they can leave too.
How did you get into this line of work?
I stumbled into this job on accident. Being the overachiever I am, I decided to apply for jobs early this year before I graduated. I actually just put a search for “psych jobs” on the internet and came across several psychiatric hospitals. I knew I needed more than a bachelor’s degree to advance in the field of psychology. I also wanted to gain experience before I settled on a graduate program.
Can you take us through an average day on the job?
I usually work the afternoon/evening shift. At the beginning of the shift the nurse in charge that day will give a report of all the patients and what happened that day and usually the day before. Then the staff will take the patients outside or to the gym for exercise. If we don’t do physical activities then the patients will participate in quiet journaling or reading. I’ll help the patient complete their evening hygiene and then take them to dinner.After dinner is evening rehab group (they usually have two a day). These groups will be different depending on the day. They usually involve relaxation, anger management, and social skills. After all of this the patients will get ready for bed. It between all of that is making connections with patients, managing the chaos that comes with a large group of patients and dealing with the various crises that can occur.

How do people react when you tell them where you work?
People’s reactions really tell a lot about our world’s view of psychological issues. Those who have children are shocked and horrified that such things can happen to children. I had one person tell me they just try to not think about that part of life. I could clearly see the level of discomfort on their face. My peers at school were generally fascinated by the job and the stories I have to tell. When you study these psychological disorders textbooks simply state the characteristics but you never hear their stories. When you are confronted with the face of mental illness you can finally see that we have only scratched the surface. Sometimes there is no real explanation for what the human mind endures.
Do you think you’ll stay in this line of work long-term?
I always want to study psychology and be involved in this field, it’s truly my passion. However, I haven’t even worked this job for a year and I already feel burned out. I’ve been exploring other options psychology has to offer. I believe we can do the most good if we are involved in preventative measures instead of focusing primarily on treatment after the fact.
What advice would you give to others who are interested in working in psychological services?
The best advice I would give is explore EVERY option you can find. Do the internships and the practicums and ask to speak with someone that already does that which interests you. Sitting in a classroom taught me many valuable lessons, but I have learned so much more by having contact with the patients every day.Thanks so much for sharing, Leann.  Do you guys have any questions for her? Do any of you work in the mental health field? 

photo familymwr // cc



Sometimes I wonder if the direct care workers get stuck with the hardest part of working with the kids. I've worked in a similar facility and when the kid is unstable, the therapists, teachers, psychiatrists, – even the nurses, etc. don't even see or deal directly with the child. There's even a policy that a resident has to be stable for 24 hours before therapy. The direct care staff have to restrain the kid, endure risk of physical injury, struggle to maintain control and boundaries (i.e. "please don't throw any chairs or bite me or lock yourself in your room"). As you may know, this is a whole new maze, navigating setting therapeutic boundaries without worsening the agitation of the resident. The program managers and coordinators with advanced education at my facility spend a lot more time with legal policies, research and training the direct care staff, without engaging much with the residents themselves.


I work in residential treatment and recreation therapy is NOT like art therapy. At least it shouldn't be. Art therapy is also great but I love that recreation therapy is physical and the clients can see their issues in action.


Look into neurotherapy as a preventative. It can help change the brains function therefore the mind and change distinctional brainwaves, for the ling term.


I am currently in high school right now and I was interested in working with kids in mental hospitals so i’m happy i found this artical!


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