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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 48 Number 3 
Summer 2015

NEW INTEREST GROUP! 

TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE IN COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH INTEREST GROUP

Edited by Geoffrey Nelson, Wilfrid Laurier University (gnelson@wlu.ca)

I am delighted to introduce TCP readers to the newly formed Transformative Change in Community Mental Health Interest Group. The origins of this group date back to the 2008 International Conference on Community Psychology, where current SCRA President Bret Kloos, José Ornelas, and Geoff Nelson began discussions about their mutual interests in promoting community mental health in the field of Community Psychology. While Community Psychology has international roots in community mental health (Reich, Riemer, Prilleltensky, & Montero (2007), and dates back to the 1965 Swampscott conference in the U.S. (Bennett et al., 1966), we believed that the historical focus on community mental health needed to be reinvigorated in Community Psychology. To this end, we started to make presentations at the SCRA biennial conferences, the European Community Psychology Association annual conferences, and the more recent biennial International Community Psychology conferences.

The central themes of our presentations were three-fold. First, people with lived experience of mental health issues are an extremely marginalized group. Second, community psychology can contribute to the emancipation of this marginalized group. Third, there is a need for transformation in community mental health. Such a shift is not just a movement away from the dominant medical model, but also from professional treatment services in the community, to an approach that changes the discourse about “mental illness,” provides opportunities for democratic participation of consumer/ survivors in mental health systems and the broader society, and reallocates fundamental resources to this group that enable them to have fuller and richer community lives. Furthermore, such transformational work needs to occur across levels of analysis from individual support to organizational and policy change. In 2010, Bret Kloos organized regular teleconferences to discuss the vision of such a network, which now involved Community Psychology faculty and students from the U.S., Canada, and Portugal.

Vision of the Interest Group

After considerable discussion, the group came up with a declaration that included its vision, which is to strive to establish an alternative paradigm that focuses the promotion of mental health based in community settings based upon the values of citizenship, recovery, empowerment, inclusion, and social justice. This includes the articulation of models, the identification of promising practices, and research to demonstrate the value of this alternative paradigm and its exemplars. Through our status as a SCRA interest group, we strive to support the development of this paradigm and transformative change in mental health systems and communities that includes partnerships with community leaders, consumers/survivors/users, mental health professionals, and social and biomedical scientists from around the world. We aim to find ways to be a resource to groups, individuals, and communities that are interested in pursuing alternative paradigms for the promotion of mental health in community settings.

Core Ideas and Exemplary Practice

Thus far, interest groups members have identified and articulated ideas about transformation in community mental health based on their community research and action experiences. A major focus in transformative community mental health is the notion of citizenship. John Sylvestre (in progress) has shown how different concepts of citizenship (i.e., legal, normative, lived experience) have implications for practice, policy, and research in community mental health. For example, the legal concept of citizenship draws attention to the individual and social rights of mental health consumer/survivors, the need to examine and confront discrimination, and the importance of policies that protect and enhance people’s rights. Another closely related idea is that of community integration. Kloos et al. (2014) have articulated four domains of community integration that transformative approaches should strive to promote: (a) access to community life, (b) responses to social exclusion, (c) systematic efforts to address marginalization, and (d) challenging prejudice and discrimination. These concepts of citizenship and community integration are a central piece of the capabilities framework for community psychology that has been advanced by 2014 SCRA Sarason Award winner, Beth Shinn (2015).

            A transformative approach that has captured the imagination of interest group members, that is firmly rooted in these concepts of citizenship and community integration, and that was noted by Shinn (2015) as an exemplar of the capabilities approach is Housing First. SCRA 2014 Practice Award winner Sam Tsemberis (2010) founded Housing First in the early 1990s in New York City with the Pathways to Housing program. Tsemberis brought together several key components in his formulation: (a) housing as a citizenship right, (b) a focus on people with mental health issues who are chronically or episodically homeless, (c) consumer preferences and choice over housing and supports, (d) supported housing (normal housing in the community), (e) an emphasis on strengths, recovery, and community integration, (f) a philosophy of harm reduction in working with people with addictions, (g) the involvement of people with lived experience in all aspects of the program, and (h) the incorporation of evidence-based support approaches. Tsemberis also emphasized the need for research on Housing First and with other colleagues, including Ana Stefancic and Beth Shinn, conducted quasi-experimental and experimental trials of the Pathways program. There is now robust evidence attesting to the effectiveness of Housing First (Aubry, Nelson, & Tsemberis, in progress). Moreover, knowledge transfer activities have been undertaken to scale up and expand Housing First across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia.

Interest Group Activities

The co-founders of the interest group, Nelson, Kloos, and Ornelas (2014), edited a book (the first in SCRA’s new book series), Community Psychology and Community Mental Health: Towards Transformative Change, with contributions from community psychologists, community mental health professionals, and mental health consumer/survivors, who described innovations in research, policy, and practice in community mental health. As well, Greg Townley and John Sylvestre (2014) teamed up to edit a special issue of the Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice on transformative change in community mental health to provide more exemplars of innovation in community mental health that are of interest to community psychologists.

Invitation

            We are a new group and welcome anyone who is interested to join us. We hold teleconferences four times a year, as well as in-person meetings at the SCRA biennial and international Community Psychology conferences. Please feel free to help us chart the future of this group as we strive to envision a new paradigm for community mental health based on the principles of Community Psychology. Community psychology students and international SCRA members who are interested in community mental health are particularly encouraged to get involved. We want to foster an international and inter-cultural movement for social transformation. For more information, contact Geoff Nelson, gnelson@wlu.ca.

[Insert Transformative Change image here] with following caption:

José Ornelas (center bottom row), Bret Kloos (far right top row) and ISPA Community Psychology students, Lisboa,

Portugal

References

Aubry, T., Nelson, G., & Tsemberis, S. (in progress). Housing for people with severe mental illness who are

homeless: A review of the research. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

Bennett, C.C., Anderson, L., Cooper, S., Hassol, L., Klein, D.C., & Rosenblum, G. (1966). Community

psychology: A report of the Boston conference on the education of psychologists for community mental health.

Boston: Boston University Press.

Kloos, B., Townley, G., Chien, V.H., Davis, B.A., Kurzban, L., & Asiamah, D. (2014). In G. Nelson, B Kloos, &

J. Ornelas, J. (Eds.). Community psychology and community mental health: Towards transformative change (pp.

205-227) (Society for Community Research and Action book series). New York: Oxford University Press.

Nelson, G., Kloos, B., & Ornelas, J. (Eds.). (2014). Community psychology and community mental health:

Towards transformative change (Society for Community Research and Action book series). New York: Oxford

University Press.

Reich, S.M., Riemer, M., Prilleltensky, I., & Montero, M. (Eds.). (2007). International community psychology:

History and theories. New York: Springer.

Shinn, M. (2015). Community psychology and the capabilities approach. American Journal of Community

Psychology, 55, 243-252.

Sylvestre, J. (in progress). The contributions of the concept of citizenship to housing practice, policy, and

research. In J. Sylvestre, G. Nelson, & T. Aubry (Eds.). Housing, citizenship, and communities for people with

serious mental illness: Theory, research, practice, and policy perspectives (Society for Community Research and

Action book series). New York: Oxford University Press.

Townley, G., & Sylvestre, J. (Eds.). (2014). Transformative change in community mental health [Special issue].

Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 5(1).

Tsemberis, S. (2010). Housing First: The Pathways model to end homelessness for people with mental illness and

addictions. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

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