Here’s The Worst Internship A Penn Stater Had This Summer
We asked you to send us your internship horror stories last week, and you did not disappoint. While we received many wonderfully bad stories, one in particular was by far the worst. It was an easy decision. This particular submission was so thoroughly detailed, it only felt right to let the submitter tell it herself.
Only the name of the person has been changed to protect her identity, as well as a few other stylistic edits. Be warned: it’s a long story — but trust us — it’s worth your time:
“My name is Jane. I just graduated this August with my B.S. in Human Development & Family Studies and a minor in Psychology. To finish my program, I had to spend the summer completing an internship requirement, better known as the five months of my life from absolute hell.
I interned at the Cecil County Health Department in Elkton, MD for their Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center as an Addictions Counselor. My role was supposed be helping get the never-ending rates of drug abuse and overdoses in the county down and helping those in need begin recovery by performing intake assessments and facilities groups of those enrolled in the outpatient program, as well as performing one-on-one therapy sessions.
I technically started my internship early. I began in April (on 4/20 actually) because they really needed the help and only agreed to sign off on my internship hours if I could begin working earlier than the summer semester. It was a hell of an opportunity with the experience and the fact that when it was all done, I could write “Addictions Counselor for the Maryland State Government” on my resume, so I said what the hell and took it. Plus, it was a paid internship. How bad could it be?
I wasn’t aware at the time that they wouldn’t be eventually transferring me to a closer health department to where I lived. Probably error on my part for not getting that in writing, but driving 90 minutes each way every day five days a week was horrible. Driving home past Baltimore on a Friday? Make it two and a half hours one way.
In my first two months (April-June) I spent a lot of time training, sitting in with different counselors as they did their counseling and group sessions and assessments, completing online training modules, being quizzed by my supervisor, and learning the ethics of the field while waiting for my legal “trainee status” to come in from the Professional Board of Certified Counselors in Maryland. (Something that was supposed to come in two weeks after I started, that didn’t show up until early July, meaning I legally couldn’t do anything with a client until the last month and a half of my internship.)
However, having a very personal experience with addiction, it gave me an advantage a lot of other counselors there did not have, which was real experience with the disease of addiction and the ability to really relate to the clients. Soon after my trainer status came in, I had clients requesting to see me specifically, something that I was told rarely happens there.
Anyway, in the midst of waiting for my trainee status, my first few months were filled with agonizing torment from what has to be the worst supervisor in the world. She is very old-school, stuck in her ways, and defensive in some regard. Sure, I embellished my resume a tiny bit to get the internship in the first place, so I was entirely grateful for the opportunity, but with a supervisor like her, I would have rather flipped burgers at McDonald’s.
I knew I walked in to a messy situation when the very first thing the clinical director said in my very first meeting was “So, here’s the update on us getting shut down by the government: We’re safe until the end of the fiscal year. You’ll all probably need new jobs by July 2017.” There went any hopes I had for turning my internship into a career. It also would have been at least decent and somewhat professional of them to be honest about their situation during the interview I had, but their financial crisis and danger of being shut down due to loss of grant funding because of low productivity scores was never once even mentioned. I know, it sounds like I’m just being whiney, but stay with the me…it gets worse. I asked my supervisor after the meeting what the clinical director was talking about, and she brushed it off by saying he exaggerates. Something she continued to do throughout my entire internship — living in denial — while all of us counselors saw the numbers in black and white. We saw us surely shutting down by next year, and the only person who could do something about it was stubborn and in denial. I tried to be the go-getter and problem solve. Everyone who worked there agreed productivity would increase if the way we did things were changed, if we moved from paper to electronic systems (yes — I hand wrote everything. And for every 10 minutes of client contact, there’s about 25 minutes of paperwork and notes to be done because of the laws regarding the field.) For reference, I probably saw five intake patients a day for 45 minutes each (about eight hours of paperwork right there alone.) That does not include the two or three one-hour individual therapy sessions I may have had that day, the 90-minute group session that had 23 group members who all needed their own individual paperwork and notes recorded, any phone calls I received from clients, etc. all in one day. Even a non-math major can see keeping up with paperwork and notes was literally impossible with the way we were doing things. Things piled up uncontrollably, insurance authorizations had no time to get done because the paperwork was not done, so we were getting no outside funding besides our government grant, which already wasn’t enough. Even worse? We had a “treatment on demand” policy, meaning anyone who walked through that door was guaranteed to be seen by a counselor and helped that day, even if we had to stay late to do it. Do you know what it’s like to have a lobby full of 15 heroin addicts going through such extreme withdraw that they can’t even function properly and they’re screaming that they feel like they’re dying and all you can do is see them one at a time, constantly apologize for the pointless wait, and assure them that their recovery is important to you even though they’ve been waiting for more than two hours while your supervisor is making you do everything backwards and less efficient?
I brought this to the attention of my supervisor, respectfully, with some suggestions for improvement to better the organization. Bad idea. She came at me harshly, criticized me, and said I’ve been “thinking too much” and need to put “my college ambitions aside for the real world.” Well damn. The next few days, she made my life hell. She criticized the way I dressed, once told me I looked like death, nit-picked every little thing I said or wrote in my notes, and said I would be easy to get rid of. She went as far as to point out a picture of me on the background of my phone and said, “you actually look good when you put effort into yourself.” I was blown away by her harshness until another counselor pointed out to me that if anyone makes any kind of suggestion to her, she nit-picks you on everything for 2 weeks straight because she doesn’t want to feel in the wrong or like she’s doing a bad job, so she turns the bad job around on you.
I couldn’t believe the immaturity, so I ignored it mostly. I spoke to her minimally, and did the dumb, pointless, extra tasks she asked that only ate up more time that we didn’t have and were completely unnecessary. And yes, I still hand wrote every. single. damn. word. in every sentence of every ten-plus pages of every individual client I ever saw (probably around 300 in total).
The more I tried to improve things, the worse she became. It got to the point where the dress code policy stated that every employee can and was even encouraged to dress casual or business casual (basically they were really gung-ho about wearing jeans) because it helped the clients feel more relatable, and that we weren’t “above them.” A few suggestions later, and bam. I was suddenly the only person in the whole organization who could not wear jeans. My supervisor said I had to dress business professional every day or I’d be sent home. I brought this to HR who said she had no power to do that and to continue following the dress policy. When I did that, my supervisor said fine, but I wouldn’t like the professionalism marks she left on my report for my internship professor. She threatened to fail me, and to terminate my internship — something she does have the power to do. She waited until that meeting (at this point the beginning of July) to point out a handful of other things I had apparently been doing wrong and that she was willing to fire me for. I asked why she never corrected me or said it was wrong before, and she honestly just stared at me. No words, just a creepy, witch-like stare.
Then after two minutes, she said “do you regularly take your medications?” I was confused and lost as to what she was talking about or where that question even came from. When I asked, she said “oh I had speculated that you had depression or bipolar disorder or something and assumed you weren’t taking your medications and that’s why you give me so much of a hard time so I asked the other supervisors to monitor you to see if they thought you were taking your medications.”
What. the. hell?!? Not only is that a very private matter which she would have no business knowing anyway, but even if she did know of some health implication I have, mental or physical, how was that any of her business or right to tell the other supervisors whom I didn’t work with, and then have people watch me all based on a crazy assumption you made because I point out the flaws in our system? I was blown away at her crazy logic and insensitivity to such matters. I was speechless. After a minute she asked what I was thinking. I told her I’d rather delay graduation then continue to feel this way at an internship site that isn’t doing anything positive for me, and treats them that way. It came out faster than I meant it to before I could think about what I was saying, but it was honest.
She looked at me and rolled her eyes and said, “Please, Jane. I’m on your side. I’m just trying to make you the best counselor you can be.” I let out a you got to be kidding me huff, and began to stand up and walk out. Before I could even fully stand, she stopped me and said let’s go over the progress of your clients so far. The sum of that part of the conversation was that all of my clients rated me very favorably, were completing treatment, the program, and beginning recovery more successfully than any other counselor, and requests for me personally were coming in multiple times a day. She asked what I was doing that was so great considering my professionalism is “so poor.” (Again, her poor view based solely on the fact that I’ve been challenging ideas that don’t work, and not letting her push me around in unnecessary and unfair ways.) I told her I relate to the clients, I understand them and what they’re going through. I get real with them and don’t act like I’m better than them. I take off the “Doctor mask” and I talk to them from real life recovery experience. She paused and looked as if she just had a heart attack. “You tell them you’re in recovery?!” I said yes, and that I’ve been in recovery for years, successfully, and it really makes the clients more comfortable, and gives them a role model to look up to that they can beat their own addiction and be successful as well.
She told me if I ever told anyone I was in recovery again I wouldn’t be allowed to have client contact again and thus I would fail my internship. I knew for a fact there was no law or ethical guideline that said what I was doing was wrong, and it was clearly working, so I asked her why. She said because they think less of me when I say that. I showed her the counselor feedback reports they fill out after the graduate the program and showed her how it has the opposite effect. I also showed her the productivity reports and how much time we could save by switching methods, and finally, bluntly said, “Why are we doing things these old ways when there is hard proof right here on your desk they don’t work as well and will cost 20 people their jobs and thousands of people their recovery?” She looked at me and simply said, “because I like things that way,” and kicked me out of her office.
I should have quit that day. I almost did. Especially since she was filling out my mid-semester review that day, and I knew it would be terrible, which it was. She even wrote that she had “no clue,” if I was capable of doing a good job since she has not seen me do any “actual clinical work yet.” What was she talking about? I asked her the next day, considering I’ve seen more clients than I could remember. She said she wrote that because she has not physically sat next to me and watch me do a session or an intake, even though I’ve been successfully completing them, and she has to supervise every file I finish, and she’s been invited to all of my group sessions. I asked her why doesn’t she sit in then and she replied she didn’t have time.
There were just five weeks left of this insanity standing between my degree, so I decided to tough it out and just hope my professor would understand my side of things to at least pass me for getting the hours in. The next morning, she pulled me into her office and said, “Jane, I don’t think you’ll finish your hours here.” I asked her why, and she said because my attendance has been “incredibly poor,” and she couldn’t trust me to continue to come in. I asked what in the world she was talking about yet again, and she referred to the two weeks two months ago that I was out because I was in the hospital and had all of the medical documentation turned in for it the day I returned. I even came back a week earlier than the doctor recommended. I couldn’t believe it, so I asked her how was that fair when it was so long ago and it was something out of my control. She said maybe this place wasn’t the place for me, and sent me home for the rest of the day to “consider my options.” Basically, quit or be fired.
With two weeks’ worth of previously excused hours that suddenly were no longer excused, and only a month left of my internship, I somehow had to find the time to fit in an extra 80 hours. The place was not open on weekends, so I didn’t have much wiggle room. I cried to my mom, my boyfriend, and my professor, admitting defeat at the impossible task ahead of me, unbelieving that this lady and four weeks stood between me and my degree. Thankfully, they all pushed me to see if something could be worked out. The next day I arrived at my supervisor’s office and said, “I will do things however you want them done. I’ll stop suggesting because clearly you’re not in favor of it and my energy could better be spent with clients. Just let me have these last four weeks, even if I have to volunteer them. You’re already extremely understaffed as it is. You need me, even if you don’t like me, and similarly, I need you to let me be here, even if I don’t like it.” She reluctantly agreed, but said making up the hours was on me and she would not do anything to help me figure it out or give my medical excuse back for those two weeks.
So my last month was spent waking up at 5:30 a.m. every morning to leave by 6:30 a.m. and report to my internship at 8 a.m. every day, Monday through Friday. I then worked until 8:30 p.m., with just a 30 minute lunch break in between that I often had to skip because I was overrun with work. Then, at 8:30 p.m., I did the long commute home, getting back at 10 p.m. I would grab whatever was quick from my fridge, stuff my face, fall asleep, and do it all again the next day. It was exhausting. The only thing that kept me going were the clients that started making so much more progress, and I wanted to help them.
The last day of my internship came, and I was making my hours literally to the minute of the deadline. I sat in my supervisor’s office for her final review of my performance and she asked me if I would consider staying with them as a full time counselor. I was stunned. Did she really just ask that? I thought I was so horrible? I couldn’t imagine it, and since this place had no future anyway in a year, I knew it wasn’t my long term placement, so I said thank you but no thank you, and lied about having already accepted another offer. She said she’d miss me, and gave me a B grade. I didn’t understand any of what just happened. I mentioned it to another counselor, and she laughed and said “3 of us put in our two weeks’ notice today because we can’t stand her or how this place operates, and she realized she really does need you.” It was sad to know one person was ruining a whole place. It’s not like going over her head was an option. She was in charge. She had no one else to report to within my reach. So after graduating my last few clients, I packed up my office to leave. My supervisor came into my office once more for what I thought would be some nice parting words. What she said? “Those flowers that your group gave you as a thank you, you have to leave those here, you can’t keep them,” and then kept walking down the hall into her office and shut the door. Again dumbfounded, I simply assumed she was bitter I didn’t accept what she probably thought was a generous job offer, so in my own little way of justice, I put the flowers in my box of stuff and took them home anyway, where they still sit on my kitchen counter as my own little trophy of surviving that devil woman.”