When Darcy Lockman began a year-long clinical internship to complete her doctorate in psychology, she was accustomed to the type of long-term, individual therapy we see on TV and in the movies: caring, soft-voiced therapists in comfortable chairs in dimly lit offices, gently probing patients to examine their feelings with a handy box of tissues nearby. But from her first day at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, she realized sheâ€™d have to radically expand her definition of the therapeutic process. She spent a year in the hospitalâ€™s notorious G Building, which, as she writes in her memoir â€śBrooklyn Zoo: The Education of a Psychotherapist,â€ť neighborhood parents used as a threat against their children, a mythical purgatory too horrible to be real. The reality wasnâ€™t much better: a deeply flawed system where the inmates often appeared to run the asylum and interns like Lockman were expected to diagnose and treat acutely, sometimes violently mentally ill patients after the briefest of interviews. Even the building itself was a model of dysfunction: the elevator buttons didnâ€™t work, so doctors had to bang on the doors with their keys, and the elevator operators hawked counterfeit handbags to their passengers. Six months after Lockman left the hospital, the Department of Justice reported â€śsignificant and wide ranging deficienciesâ€ť at Kings County. The New York Post was more succinct, calling the psychiatric ward â€śa Dickensian nightmare.â€ť Lockman, who was a journalist before switching to psychology and now has a private practice, spoke with Biographile about her year on the ward.
Youâ€™d decided to write this book before you started your internship. How do you think that decision affected your experience?
Mostly it meant that I wrote everything down that happened. Sometimes when things were really hard, Iâ€™d feel like, "At least this will be good in the book," and that made me feel better about going through a difficult experience. I was taking notes diligently, but I never really thought, I can do this. But I spent so much time on the notes, I thought, "Iâ€™ll be damned if I donâ€™t at least write this proposal." I took a lot of notes during the day, and then Iâ€™d get on the subway and be writing like a madman, or madwoman.
What was your writing process like? Were you constantly ducking into bathrooms to take notes? Did anyone at the hospital know your plans?
My fellow interns all knew I was doing it. I very self-conscious about my note-taking. I wrote down everything, and no one else took notes like that. A lot of the dialogue in the book is there because I was writing down everything people said. But no one asked what I was doing -- maybe they figured I was just an obsessive grad student.Â
What do you hope this book will accomplish?
Iâ€™m not a public health expert; people much more educated than myself have taken on these issues in a public health sense. But the more I see how much shame there is connected with mental health problems, the more I hope that in some way this book can be instrumental in instigating a shift in attitudes towards mental health in the country. We all have problems; there doesnâ€™t need to be this shame about getting help. I saw how the shame stands in peopleâ€™s way, and Iâ€™d like to change that.
You see clients for long-term therapy now. How did your time at the hospital influence your current practice?
I think spending time in a hospital with acutely ill people is so important for any psychologistâ€™s training. People with acute and chronic illness walk around every day, not just at the hospital. When people walk into my office I can do a better assessment because of my time there.
How did your experience change the way you think about a person you might see ranting on the subway or talking to himself in the street?
I understand that theyâ€™re ill, and they need treatment, and theyâ€™ll probably not get it in any meaningful way. When thereâ€™s stuff in the news, like the shooting in [Aurora,] Colorado, people talk about motives, and I think, obviously the personâ€™s very mentally ill. Do people seriously think thereâ€™s some motive thatâ€™s going to explain it in a rational way?
Do you ever miss your time at the hospital?
I liked being part of a treatment team. It can be really fun and rewarding. I miss that. But I definitely donâ€™t miss the chaos. My supervisor in the ER grew up in a home that always felt chaotic, so it was the perfect environment for her. I didnâ€™t thrive in the same way in that environment. Although, some days there is that wartime mentality -- like, â€śYeah, I lived through that.â€ť And thatâ€™s kind of cool.