CCHP-MHs Feel the Love - National Commission on Correctional Health Care
CCHP MH take 2May 26, 2022

CCHP-MHs Feel the Love

For a CCHP-MH, the specialty certification in mental health brings a personal sense of pride and helps lend credibility to this uniquely challenging profession. Ask some of them what they like about the work they do, and their passion for it is evident.

“I like almost everything about my job,” says Hilary Van Patten, LSCSW, CCHP-MH, behavioral health director at a state prison in Kansas. “Every day is different. I have been able to learn and grow as a clinician in ways that I do not believe would have been possible in any other setting.”

 “I love that I got to know the kids as more than what they’ve done,” says Ivory McMillian, PsyD, CCHP-MH, formerly with the DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. “I saw what happened to them, their struggles, their history,” says McMillian, who is now assistant professor of forensic psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Walter Campbell, PhD, CCHP-MH, chief psychologist with the Idaho Department of Correction, likens his work to that of a sculptor working with large tools to make initial broad-stroke changes without a clear picture of what or who will begin to emerge, as opposed to the fine filigree work of a jeweler. He says, “I’ve always enjoyed working with people who would probably never take themselves to see a therapist. I like the challenge of diagnosing and treatment planning for people with so many competing concerns, a whole lifetime of problems that need to be teased out.”

Diane Kearns, MEd, LPC, CCHP-MH, enjoys the managerial aspects of her role as senior director of operations for Centurion. “I like supporting those who choose to do a job that most wouldn’t. I enjoy the challenges of finding ways to bring people together to collaborate and overcome obstacles in order to provide care for those who need it. And I value being part of something that ultimately impacts all of society.”

Passing the CCHP-MH exam requires a comprehensive understanding of NCCHC’s Standards for Mental Health Services in Correctional Facilities. Having learned the value of the standards through studying for their exams, most CCHP-MHs come to rely on them heavily. “I keep my Standards book no more than one arm’s length away at all times,” says Melissa Caldwell, PhD, CCHP-MH, president – behavioral health services, Advanced Correctional Healthcare. On the other hand, McMillian reports that her manuals were “borrowed” repeatedly: “We had three copies and I still could never find mine.”

When it comes to making policy changes or other decisions, the standards are an invaluable resource. Campbell, who says that his “brown book is battered and dog-eared,” turns to that book for the principles upon which to base decisions. “I always say, ‘Let’s see what the standards say.’ The standards lend credibility to any decision you make. And in a legal challenge, courts see them as the gold standard.”

Van Patten, who claims to have most of the standards memorized, agrees: “For policy changes or new concerns that come up, the NCCHC manual is the first resource I check.”

“People frequently look to me for guidance in ensuring compliance with the standards,” says Kearns. “I find it valuable to continually review the standards, especially as there are updates, to ensure I am current and knowledgeable.”

Pride and Competence
Like all CCHPs, those with the mental health certification feel a deep personal pride in their accomplishment. “I’m proud to include my certifications in my email signature,” says Campbell. “I see them as a formalization of all my hard work.” Caldwell agrees: “My CCHP and CCHP-MH certifications are badges of honor of which I am really proud,” she says.

“Certification solidifies the quality of the work we do,” McMillian says. “CCHP certification is evidence of a commitment to exceptional care,” says Van Patten.

Being a correctional mental health professional takes a special kind of person. For those who love their work, it is equally challenging and rewarding. Kearns explains it this way: “We get the opportunity to walk alongside individuals who are at their lowest, and often to watch these same individuals grow into healthy, prosocial individuals. Some of my clients have been written off by everyone in their lives, often because of their own actions; many of them find that forming a therapeutic relationship with someone who believes in their potential can be life-altering and motivate them to work toward a more positive future.”

Take the Exam This Summer!
The CCHP-MH exam will be held on July 31, in conjunction with the Correctional Mental Health Care Conference in Denver. Exam applications are due June 24. Qualified mental health professionals who are CCHPs may be eligible to take the exam. Find all eligibility requirements and exam details online.

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