A college internship as a domestic abuse victim’s advocate led Anna Workman to her current position as a behavioral health technician at Wellspan Philhaven’s behavioral health unit at the Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital. Upon graduation from Edinboro University with a science degree Workman sought a position either in the domestic abuse sphere or a mental health job relating to children and adolescents. After working at Philhaven’s Mt. Gretna children’s unit for almost two years she transferred to the adult and extended acute care unit at Ephrata. A bachelor's degree is the entry level education needed to become a behavioral health technician.
“An extended acute patient’s mental illness inhibits their ability to function on their own,” says Workman. “For those patients we are responsible for helping them maintain a hygiene schedule, learn about healthy eating and medication education. We work with them to get them back into the community or find what’s best for them after the extended inpatient care.” Inpatient care averages seven to eight months, sometimes longer.
Workman’s path from a domestic abuse internship opportunity to her work with children and adolescents to her current position with adults has an underlying theme. From seeing friends during her childhood who were bullied and struggled growing up to the feelings of hopelessness extended acute patients and domestic abuse victims have, as an adult she wanted to use her abilities to offer guidance and support to help them through their situations.
One patient stands out in her mind. Off her medication and resistant to assistance Workman and her co-workers persisted for nine months to gain the patient’s trust and understanding that they were there to help. By the end of her stay the patient was invested in learning about and caring for her other medical conditions. “When she left she was smiling and happy. Sometimes people come to us and don’t want help. It’s important to remember those individuals and why we do it.”
Recently offered a psych tech 3 position which carries more responsibility, acting as the go-between for the clinical team and the front-line behavioral health techs and registered nurses, she will keep everyone informed as to the patients’ progress and situation. Workman is eager to start and has a list of ideas of ways to help both patients and staff.
The job isn’t physically demanding, but she says, “It’s important to practice self-care both at and outside of work so I don’t take on too much of an emotional overload with patients sharing and the stress of helping 18 patients at once.” While 18 patients sounds like a large number to assist at any one time, in reality it’s one of the smaller units. “The size really helps the patients and staff get to know one another better,” she continues, “and improves the patient’s experience.”
To decompress Workman usually hikes after work with her dogs and journals. She advocates writing both for herself and to her patients. This is one of the self-care techniques she offers in her patient groups. She runs three to four groups a day on a number of different topics including self-esteem, stress management, anger management, creative expression, emotion regulation and more. “One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that a number of these groups could be offered to and benefit members of the general public. You don’t have to have an illness to know what anger is.”
Asked for advice for anyone considering this profession Workman says it’s important to practice what you teach the patients. “Not only will you gain a better understanding of what they may be going through, but it will help the employee in the long run with their own self-care techniques and self-esteem. Remember why you started and hold on to the little moments. Sometimes I go into work and my only goal for the day is to make one patient smile. If I accomplish that it’s a good day.”