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Hope Goes A Long Way For Mental Health Recovery

Published: May 16, 2016

The arrival of Mental Health Month in May reminds the School of Social Work Director Nancy Meyer-Adams of the four tenets of the recovery paradigm in mental health services—hope, empowerment, self-responsibility and a meaningful role in life.

“Basically, you need to hold the hope for some people until they are ready to hold it for themselves,” said Meyer-Adams. “They need to be empowered to be the experts in their own lives. They need to be allowed to talk about what is best for them. They need to be able to recognize their strengths and power to achieve full participation in their lives.”

CSULB’s social work undergraduate and graduate students have several ways to focus their mental health recovery expertise including being interns at the Long Beach-based Mental Health American (MHA) Village, an adult integrated services mental health recovery program for the chronically homeless. Students are placed in a variety of mental health field internships around Los Angeles County and beyond serving a large number of clients each week.

“The Affordable Care Act is all about holistic medical and mental health services,” explained Meyer-Adams, who joined the university in 2005 and became Social Work Director in 2014. “It is difficult to treat medical conditions such as diabetes when a person is shelterless and living in a river bed. CSULB students who have a passion for working in a recovery-based paradigm with individuals suffering with mental illness challenges are excited about the possibilities of these types of services and have continued in this field. They have stayed and excelled and many have been promoted to supervisory positions all around the state.”

While family resources have an influence on recovery, Meyer-Adams believes that just as important is that person’s connection to their family.

“The whole discipline of social work is based on looking at the person in that person’s environment,” she explained. “What if they do not want a connection with their family? One reason social workers adapt well to the recovery paradigm is that they work with people holistically in their environments—whatever and wherever that environment might be.”

Social work graduate students get support for their recovery-based training from the Mental Health Services Act passed by California voters in 2004 enacting a 1 percent tax on California millionaires to help revamp the mental health services delivery system in the state. Part of the act designated funds to train professionals in the helping professions in this recovery-based services method including psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, nurses, nurse practitioners and social workers. The state provides money to the California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC), a partnership between all the schools of social work in the state, which then disperses the money to social work programs in the form of stipends for students. The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health also provides stipends for social work students using Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) training funds.

“These stipends go to MSW students who receive specialized training while in school and are committed to working in the public mental health field for at least one year post graduation,” Meyer-Adams explained. “The state of California gave the first round of stipend training money to social work programs around the state because the schools were affiliated with CalSWEC through a previous long-standing partnership of disbursing Title IV-E funds to train students to work in public child welfare systems statewide.”

CSULB’s Master of Social Work students can receive a stipend up to $18,500 during their two-year training with certain stipulations. They are required to complete a field internship in a public mental health setting, take a recovery-based elective course, attend specialized workshops and focus their thesis or final project on a mental health issue or population. Once graduated, they are committed to working at least one year full-time in a county or county-funded mental health agency.

“We have had a lot of success with this program,” said Meyers-Adams. “There have been many students since the program began in 2005 who have graduated and gone into public mental health services agencies where they have remained for years and eventually become supervisors, especially here in the Long Beach community.”

Meyer-Adams has been recognized with the Most Valuable Professor award for four years (2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012), a College of Health and Human Services Community Service Award in 2010 and the CSULB Distinguished Faculty Advising Award in 2014. She received her bachelor’s degree in social work in 1997 and her master’s degree in social work in 1998 from Florida International University. She received her Ph.D. in social work with a specialty in school social work from the University of Tennessee College of Social Work in 2002.

Meyer-Adams argues that mental health recovery is best supported holistically, noting that when a social worker meets a client, they don’t just ask ‘what’s wrong with you?’ They ask about the individual’s environment and what obstacles they may be facing.

“There may be a multitude of reasons that prevent homeless individuals who are suffering with mental health challenges from living the lives they wish,” she said. “Recovery-based services include the idea that the person is the expert of her or his own life. The clinicians are there to help them with that journey and do what they can to provide the resources to meet the person’s needs.”

Meyer-Adams is optimistic about the future of mental health recovery training at CSULB.

“We are able to provide MHSA training stipends to our graduate students and I hope to see that continue for many years”, she said. “If our students have the desire to have a career in public mental health services, this program supports their commitment. I’d like to see the stipends extended to undergraduate students as well.”