With mental health treatment, black practitioners are innovating

Although we know more about the treatment of mental illness than ever before, people with mental health issues continue to be misunderstood. It’s only in the past two generations that the treatment of mental illness has begun to focus on recovery – and the idea that people with even severe and chronic mental illness can live successfully in their community. Before that, most people with mental illness spent their lives in institutions.

That changed thanks to the perseverance of Lois Curtis, a Georgian with a developmental disability who fought all the way to the United States Supreme Court for the right to live in her community rather than in a psychiatric hospital. State – and won. People with severe and persistent mental illness, which in many cases meet the definition of disability, have also been able to transition to life in their community.

Two things about Curtis’ case are notable. First, the transition from institutional to community settings has helped usher in a new paradigm of support for people with disabilities, including mental illness – from a deficit and maintenance model to the strengths-based, recovery-oriented model used today. The second important thing to know is that Lois Curtis is black, and she joins a long line of black Americans who have changed the way we think about mental illness, treatment, and recovery.

As we recognize February as Black History Month, I wanted to share a list of other black pioneers in psychology, psychiatry, public health and mental health who have also helped make social justice an important part of these areas.

• Maxie Maultsby Jr., MD, (1932-2016) pioneered the development of a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy called Rational Behavioral Therapy, a cutting-edge form of “talk therapy” that continues to be used today.

• Inez Beverly Prosser, PhD, (1897-1934) was the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in psychology. Prosser studied self-esteem in black children who attended separate schools and integrated schools, and made seminal contributions to the field of psychology.

• Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD, (1917-1983) was the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University, and studied the effects of discrimination and racial identity on psychology black Americans. The findings of her and her husband Kenneth Clark were used as testimony in the groundbreaking case Brown v. Board of Education.

• Joseph L. White, PhD, (1932-2017) was a leader in black psychology. He argued that mainstream psychology developed by and for whites did not apply to the African-American experience and was, in fact, discriminating against African-American patients.

• Solomon Fuller, MD, (1872-1953) was the first African-American psychiatrist to be recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. He studied neurodegenerative diseases, including schizophrenia and manic depression, and made groundbreaking discoveries about how Alzheimer’s disease physically alters the brain. • Joseph L. White, PhD, (1932-2017) is also sometimes called “the father of black psychology”. He wrote the groundbreaking article “Towards a Black Psychology”, which is considered the first-ever strengths-based (rather than deficits)-based assessment and description and description of black behavior and culture.

These are just a few of the pioneers of African American mental health, and their work has contributed to understanding mental health disorders among African Americans, as well as the experience of African Americans in our culture. Equally important, their work has given us a better understanding of the human mind and how mental health issues can be treated so that individuals can live a life of recovery. Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Behavioral Health, which provides treatment and recovery services to people with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in a 13 counties in northwest Georgia which includes Murray and Whitfield. counties.

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About Antoine L. Cassell

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