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Investing in Social Work Education

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Education and training for mental health professionals is part of the lifeblood of the Austen Riggs Center and its Erikson Institute. We offer myriad opportunities for mental health professionals of all guilds and in spite of the necessary COVID-19 precautions Riggs needed to take to keep patients and staff safe, this spring we marked an important education milestone: our two social work interns–first-year Master's students at Smith College School for Social Work Frances Parrish and Cheryl Fromularo–successfully completed their field internships in person with us. Field internships are a hallmark of MSW education and while the pandemic necessitated many adjustments to more remote formats, Riggs is proud to have been able to offer a safe in-person internship experience at a time when few were available. 

The internships were made possible through a partnership with the Smith College School for Social Work and stipends were fully funded through a generous donation by a former Riggs patient.  

Frances and Cheryl recently sat down to reflect on their experience.  

Frances Parrish - 2020 social work intern at the Austen Riggs Center.

What were some of the most important things you learned? 

Cheryl 

“It was really interesting and highly educational to be able to observe and participate in team and clinical meetings, to see the full spectrum of treatment work like a well-oiled machine; I think that will stick with me for the rest of my career. In addition, having a window into the business side through my work with the resource management committee and learning about the nuance of medical writing and record-keeping provided some important practical learning.”  

Frances  

“Getting to see different disciplines working together and experience what each has to bring to patient treatment in terms of the clinical work here, was really useful and important to learn about. My most significant learning came from working directly with patients and families. Piecing together family histories and conducting psychosocial assessments was an important piece of learning for me.”   

Was there anything about the internship that surprised you? 

Frances  

“I had worked in another residential setting before, but Riggs is a very particular flavor. The emphasis on examined living and the importance of community, especially in the context of dealing with and processing the pandemic together, was something I did not fully grasp until I was experiencing it.”  

Cheryl 

“As a non-traditional student, having an opportunity to examine myself and open myself up to just learn and take advantage of whatever Riggs had to offer was new and exciting. Separately, watching COVID unfold, the impact that had on the clinical system, and the challenges it presented for patients and staff was alternately difficult and heartening to witness. Interpersonal relationships are such a necessary focus here and Zoom forced us all to find other ways–people were amazingly perseverant.”   

Cheryl Fromularo - 2020 social work intern at Austen Riggs.

How do you think this internship will impact your career path? 

Cheryl 

“Looking back, this was, at times one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my life–I had to become self-aware on a level that I hadn’t considered before. And, it was such a rich internship in so many ways–learning with such talented professionals, gaining a deeper understanding of the depth and complexity of mental illness–I don’t know that I would have found that kind of experience anywhere else. This place pushed me to be more than I ever thought I could be.” 

Frances  

“It’s reinforced for me how much I value being able to work in a residential setting. In particular, I valued Riggs’ holistic, interdisciplinary approach to treatment and the attention paid to patients’ experiences of their treatment. In addition, the supportive treatment team interactions reaffirmed for me a desire to work as part of a broader treatment team. ”  

Any additional thoughts you’d like to share? 

Frances  

“Being immersed in an organization that emphasizes psychodynamic theory was really valuable; it is not a perspective that is always present in other settings. I also really appreciated getting to work closely with all of the members of the clinical social work team here; they are smart, dedicated, and caring people–it was illuminating to see their different styles, approaches, and perspectives. I’m grateful for all the time and teaching they invested in us.” 

Cheryl 

“I’m leaving here with an incredibly strong grounding in some really crucial skills that will absolutely inform how I do things from here on out.” 

To learn more about clinical social work at the Austen Riggs Center, visit 

Additional Riggs Training Opportunities  

  • Riggs also maintains teaching and training relationships with the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) psychology department; Yale Child Study Center, the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine; Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology; and others. 

Free Continuing Education for Mental Health Professionals  

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