Community Inclusion is Changing the Field of Psychiatric Rehabilitation


The community mental health field has a long history of trying to meet the needs of people with serious mental health conditions and in trying to help them become active members of their community, whether it’s helping them find jobs, get educated, or the myriad ways in which we all try to have a personally satisfying and fulfilling life.

However, for a variety of reasons, the efforts have typically wound up in providing services within community mental health programs themselves. Workshop opportunities, computer classes, organized bus trips to social and recreational events, and other “in-house” treatments tend to result in a vicious circle, which ends up substituting within the mental health center the activities that everyone else engages in within the broader community.

But that is changing thanks to the efforts of literally hundreds, if not thousands, of committed people who are working to push psychiatric rehabilitation toward a more holistic community inclusion approach. National experts, such as Richard C. Baron, MA, Co-Director of Knowledge Translation Activities, Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities are helping to train people at behavioral health centers in the fundamentals of community inclusion.

“Over the last twenty years a new philosophy has emerged,” Baron explains. “It might be called a ‘supports technology.’ If we provide the supports people need, they can stop building their lives around activities at a day program or community mental health center or psychiatric rehabilitation program, but rather use the supports of those agencies to live more like everyone else—which is how we define community inclusion.”

Baron worked around the country with numerous organizations like the Pioneer Center for Human Services in McHenry, IL. Just a few years ago, the Pioneer Center refocused its behavioral health efforts toward a community inclusion approach.

“Initially, we began by offering training for all of our staff,” explains Heidi Jenkins, the Community Inclusion Manager at Pioneer Center. “We asked: what does community inclusion look like and how are we going to change all our services in order to meet that philosophy? Even for our therapists who aren’t in the community but here in the building, we wanted to work with them to change their treatment models and treatment plans in order to reflect what the clients really want and get them out into the community.”

Temple University helped the Pioneer Center in other ways as well. “We started using Temple University’s Community Participation Measure as a survey tool with all clients in behavioral mental health programs,” Jenkins says. “That is a guiding plan we use with all of our clients to reach our community inclusion goals, in order for our clients to get where they need to be.”

In just a few years, the Pioneer Center has seen many dramatic turnarounds. “We have a client right now, a gentleman who’s been in our programs for a while,” Jenkins says. “He’s always had issues with depression and never allowed himself to develop himself further. After going through a few of our treatment programs he is now getting his GED. He is in his 50s, and he was apprehensive at first, and he’s had this amazing turnaround. He realizes that he deserves to be in the community. Right now he’s taking tutoring classes at the library and our local community college. Our community inclusion staff continues to support him as he takes tests and moves on.”

Jenkins is excited about the opportunities that a community inclusion approach can give the people Pioneer Center supports. “When they come to Pioneer Center, they don’t realize that we can help them go to college, that we can really help them do that,” she says. “They notice that we see them as a whole person, not just someone with a mental illness, but someone with needs and skills and strengths. That makes a huge difference.”

The DirectCourse/College of Recovery and Community Inclusion curriculum is designed to help organizations like Pioneer Center transform the service delivery system. Working in collaboration with Temple University, CRCI offers a web-based curriculum founded onthe principles of community inclusion and featuring coursework that help organizations streamline its continuing education that shapes the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for the direct service workforce to do this essential work.

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