Meet the innovators changing behavioral health care.

Students from the 2011 session of Drexel's Summer Academy in Behavioral Health Counseling discuss what they have learned.
Students from the 2011 session of Drexel’s Summer Academy in Behavioral Health Counseling discuss what they have learned.

Philadelphia is an epicenter of transformation in the system of care for people with mental illness and addictions. This Philadelphia Daily News profile last week of a North Philadelphia recovery center gives a good introduction to both how and why, under the leadership of Dr. Arthur C. Evans, commissioner of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services:

His model aims to improve results by helping addicts achieve long-term stability, instead of just getting them clean and sending them on their way.

In the past, Evans said, addicts often would “go through a 28-day program, get discharged and hope to do OK.”

“And now my department says, ‘Well, we really need to fund things that help people with their long-term recovery, all those life skills that are really important to people being successful,’ ” he said.

Evans isn’t alone in making this transformation happen, and the Philadelphia Recovery Community Center profiled in the article is far from the only example of programs that line up with this vision.

Just take a look at this set of innovative programs nominated for an award from the Thomas Scattergood Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to improving behavioral health policy and practice. Scattergood has collected these programs all in one place, partially to encourage public input on the nominees — on the nominations themselves through rating and commenting, and discussion via Twitter using #TSFInnovationAward — and partially to serve as a reference point for examples of smart ideas in behavioral health.

I want to direct attention in particular to two nominees that involve programs that I’ve worked with here at Drexel:

Teen therapy boot camp in Drexel’s Department of Behavioral Health Counseling

Some of the smartest new leaders in mental health and addictions counseling are undergraduates. Some are even still in high school. Dr. Ronald Comer, department head of Behavioral Health Counseling in the Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, has spoken with me at length about the importance of training the future workforce for the kinds of transformations that Commissioner Evans is leading in the region, and that others are following nationwide.

Comer and his department colleagues developed the Behavioral Health Counseling Summer Academy as a week-long immersive experience for high school students to get hands-on experience trying out counseling skills (in a lab simulation) and visiting recovery services (in real-world field trips).

Judging by the quality and depth of the comments from former students on the program’s nomination page, it is having the desired impact.

Former student Michelle, now a high school senior, wrote in part:

I vividly remember the AA meeting we attended and the lessons I took to heart. I even attended an AA meeting in my own town to hear more stories of healing and hope. Dr. Chapman spoke from his clinical work with substance abuse leading me to volunteer with a local rehabilitation center. I believe the Academy not only educates with a solid curriculum but also compels its participants to get involved.

Another high school senior and Summer Academy alum, Samantha, wrote about her experience in the therapist’s chair, working with an actor in the simulation lab:

I remember distinctly how nervous I was as I entered the pseudo doctor’s office. My palms were clammy and my stomach felt as though I had consumed four hundred overly active butterflies. Despite the anxiety, I entered the room and recounted the counseling strategies Dr. Comer had reviewed with the group earlier: ask open-ended questions, summarize the client’s statements, and avoid giving advice. With those guidelines in mind, the twenty minutes in lab passed quickly. I left the office feeling extremely confident in my performance and my ability to pursue counseling as a career.

Rate or comment on the Summer  Academy nomination here.

A behavioral health program creating public art for public health

At Drexel's 11th Street Family Health Services, participants in the Porch Light Initiative have created art that connects themes of nature, healing, and home.
At Drexel’s 11th Street Family Health Services, participants in the Porch Light Initiative have created art that connects themes of nature, healing, and home.

Also nominated for the Innovation Award is the collaborative effort between the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, leveraging public art to improve the health of individuals and communities. The flagship initiative of that collaboration, known as Porch Light, is being implemented at Drexel’s 11th Street Family Health Services this year.

Learn more and submit feedback

You can learn more about Drexel’s Summer Academy for Behavioral Health Counseling, and the Mural Arts/DBH collaboration on public art for public health, and comment and vote on their nominations through January 31.