Counseling sex offenders with developmental disabilities

November 13, 2012

By Clarrissa McWoodson ’14

When Mackenzie Porth, a junior in psychology, first contacted the Fulton State Hospital about available summer internships, the news was not good.

The public mental health facility in Fulton, Mo., initially told her no jobs were available. But Porth, undeterred, sent off an application to the hospital anyway and her perseverance paid off.

“The director of psychology called a month later and interviewed me. He was impressed by my ambition and initiative,” Porth said. “He put me in contact with the psychologist that eventually supervised me, and we went from there.”

She was so successful at her internship that Porth, a native of Lake Ozark, Mo., will be working again at Fulton State during the summer of 2013.

“This internship not only taught me a lot about clinical psychology,” Porth said, “but about sex offenders, the processes of mental hospitals and myself.”

Fulton State is one of four maximum-security hospitals in the nation that focuses on rehabilitating clients with mental disorders or those accused of sexual offenses. Hospital staff work to prepare their clients for an eventual re-entry into society through various kinds of treatment including group, individual and music therapy as well as exercise, cooking classes and a number of other programs.

During her internship Porth worked with developmentally disabled sex offenders at Fulton State, one of the oldest mental health facilities west of the Mississippi River. Her responsibilities there included helping with group therapy sessions, individual interventions, treatment plans and more for 28 men ranging in age from 18 to 70.

Once Fulton State deems a client rehabilitated, the individual is placed in a structured group home as he or she transitions back into living on their own.

“I believe the group homes are best for the clients because, due to their disabilities, they still need structure and help. But these homes allow them to gain most of their independence back,” Porth said.

Porth said she enjoyed getting to know the clients who ultimately taught her a lot about life in general. Her fellow team members, she said, exhibited a lot of compassion for the hospital’s population and truly wanted to make a difference in their lives.

“It was scary being there at first,” Porth said, “but once I was able to know the clients, their backgrounds, their triggers and their targets, I was no longer afraid. It was frustrating at times, but I had to keep reminding myself who the clients are and why I was there.”

She added that, “after this internship, I was confident about where I wanted to go in my career.”