In this issue

Serious Mental Illness and Severe Emotional Disorders report

Newest section lays out its goals and programs.

By Shirley M. Glynn, PhD

As the newest section in the division, the Serious Mental Illness and Severe Emotional Disorders (SMI/SED) section is a growing and dynamic group which, over the last year, has been both pursuing its mission as well as refining its organization and procedures to assure they are well-developed and sustainable over the long run. Our section goals include:

  • Promoting understanding of the etiology, nature, impact and amelioration of SMI/SED.
  • Encouraging the inclusion of appropriate education and training of psychologists to support the provision of recovery-oriented care.
  • Advocating for practices and public policies that will enhance the lives of individuals diagnosed with serious mental illnesses and/or severe emotional disorders. In case some of you do not know, the “severe emotional disorders” language refers to children/youth with prodromal symptoms.

A key tenet of our group is that living a rich, full, productive life is possible for those diagnosed with a serious mental illnesses or severe emotional disorders, but this often requires accessing needed supports.

In our view, psychologists can play a vital role in providing recovery supports, but many lack the training or expertise to do so. As our section goals suggest, a major objective of the group is promoting training so psychologists have the knowledge, abilities and attitudes to support people diagnosed with SMI/SED in their recoveries. To that end, our section has been involved in a number of training and educational activities. Most prominently, our section has been a key supporter of the Recovery to Practice (RTP) initiative. Funded by a subcontract from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the overall RTP initiative had two primary purposes: to develop an online resource on recovery principles and practices for mental health professionals across the major mental health disciplines, and to develop recovery-focused trainings for mental health professionals. 

Within APA, the primary RTP effort has been the development of a 15-module training program, Recovery to Practice Initiative Curriculum: Reframing Psychology for the Emerging Health Care Environment, (PDF, 6.6MB) by the APA and our immediate past section chair, Mary Jansen, PhD. The curriculum is a comprehensive training program in recovery-oriented principles and practices, and grounded in the most recent scientific literature. It includes topics such as assessment, health disparities, person-centered planning, interventions, peer-delivered services and systems transformation, among others. The section has been involved in brainstorming distribution routes for the curriculum, both within and outside of APA, to assure that potential users at educational institutions, in training programs and in practice centers are encouraged to consider implementing the program. We are also in the initial phases of developing an awards program, which we hope will also recognize psychology training programs who have committed to training students, interns and fellows in scientifically-based, recovery-oriented practices.

In addition to our work supporting the RTP initiative, our section has also been collaborating with an interdisciplinary synarchy to develop an application for specialty status for fellowship training in serious mental illness and severe emotions disorders in APA. The group includes members from our section, the SMI special interest group for the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, the SMI section of Div. 35 and the APA SMI/SED taskforce. The synarchy hopes to complete the application this year. We are very excited about the opportunity to promote more training and the development of expertise in recovery-oriented practices in students and early career psychologists. While there are clearly some training programs with a strong commitment to serving individuals diagnosed with SMI/SED, we are also concerned with the many programs that give little or no attention to this population, in spite of the fact that this may be the group in most need of psychologists' expertise.

As a younger section, we have been developing our social media presence through our website and Facebook page. These are initial efforts and we are working to develop their content and audience. We are committed to being a voice for recovery-oriented views and practices for psychologists in the areas of research, intervention and policy dealing with SMI/SED. We have also begun to discuss ways to extend our membership base, and have been meeting with division leadership about how best to do so.

Our group had an energetic meeting at the annual APA conference in Washington, D.C., this past August. We cosponsored a lively and thought-provoking presentation by Timothy Murphy, PhD, (R., PA) and Arthur Evans, PhD, Director of Philadelphia's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services on the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act at the annual APA convention in D.C., and we were active in participating and/or supporting several other symposia. We continue to work on establishing our place in Div. 18 and APA. We are very interested in collaborating with our divisions to ensure that the needs of the SMI/SED population are addressed broadly within APA, but we are measuring these efforts with our own need to be certain that our section home is strong and that we can make a clear commitment to the efforts we undertake. For those of you interested in helping individuals diagnosed with serious mental illness and severe emotional disorders, please come join us.