Grace Cushman '12 Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Interns with Forensic Psychologist

Grace Cushman is a psychology major with a minor in mass communications from Wilton, CT. She spent the summer as a clinical and forensic intern with Psychological Health Associates in Winchester, Va.

When some people think of the term "forensic psychology," they think of the characters on Criminal Minds and Law and Order. Contrary to some misconceptions, forensic psychologists do not interrogate psychopaths and murderers on a daily basis, nor do they listen to clients sprawled out on a couch. Instead, they can wear many different hats. Within eight hours, a forensic psychologist can perform a parental capacity evaluation, meet with parents in a child custody battle, write case reports and testify in court. My job during all that: absorb as much information as possible that may prove helpful for my advisor.

I wake up Monday morning at 5:30 a.m. to get ready before driving the two hours from Lexington to Winchester. At 8:30 a.m., I pull into the parking lot of Psychological Health Associates, a clinical and forensic psychological practice. After checking in with my boss, Dr. Bernard Lewis, a Washington and Lee alumnus, I read the case files for the clients we are going to see that day.

The first appointment of the day is a case sent to us from Child Protective Services. CPS has asked Dr. Lewis to conduct a parental capacity evaluation on a mother whose child has been taken from her custody. Parental evaluations usually consist of three different appointments, all of which are designed to provide Dr. Lewis with as much information as possible about the parent, the child, and why CPS has custody of the child. Before I am able to sit in on any sessions, consent must be obtained from the client. Throughout my internship, I was extremely lucky to be able to sit in on almost every appointment.

After three hours of speaking with the client, I have many pages of notes outlining the information the mother has given us. Once she leaves, Dr. Lewis and I discuss the case, and I am expected to ask questions and give my input. Since this was the mother's last session with Dr. Lewis, he immediately starts writing up his notes into an official case report before we break for a quick lunch.

The afternoon is jam-packed as well. I help another psychologist in the office perform a competency evaluation for an eleven-year-old girl accused of grand theft and multiple counts of arson. The purpose of the evaluation is to determine whether the girl understands enough about court proceedings to be fit to stand trial. We ask questions like, "Who is the prosecutor?," "What does your lawyer do?" and "What does it mean to plead not guilty?" At the end of her session, I speak with the psychologist about her answers before he writes up the report for the judge.

After taking notes in a child custody interview, I briefly speak with my advisor about the case before starting to edit the case reports of the past week. I am in charge of proofreading the reports and providing any additional information that I have gathered during interviews. After a long day of interviewing clients, conducting assessments and editing case reports, I return to my hotel where I will stay for the next few nights before driving back to Lexington.