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Keeping an open mind

March 1, 2009
by Douglas J. Edwards, Editor-in-Chief
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At the SECAD '09 conference last month, opening keynoter Carlton K. Erickson, PhD, emphasized the importance of being open to new concepts and fresh ideas in substance abuse treatment. Dr. Erickson, director of the Addiction Science Research and Education Center at the University of Texas at Austin, stressed science's role in generating new treatment methodologies-which only can be successful if organizations and individual professionals are willing to move beyond their comfort zone and try new techniques (For more on his presentation, see I'll take Dr. Erickson's message of keeping an open mind even further: Embracing new ideas and fostering innovation are vital as behavioral healthcare providers work to survive these trying economic times.

One organization that isn't afraid to think outside of the box is Alternatives Unlimited, Inc., in central Massachusetts. The provider of employment, housing, and day habilitation services to people with psychiatric and developmental disabilities took a bold step when it turned an old mill into a community center complex housing its headquarters, a career center, consumer apartments and, most notably, museum and artisan spaces (including a 200-seat theater and forge for blacksmithing and glassblowing). Alternatives also is committed to greening its operations, and the campus soon will receive more than 80% of its electricity from solar and hydroelectric sources.

Promoting environmental responsibility, the arts, and local history is not high on most behavioral healthcare organizations' agendas. But as Alternatives Executive Director Dennis H. Rice points out in this month's cover story, being responsible members of the community active in multiple areas-not just human services-increases the public's interest in the organization, its mission, and the people it serves. After all, most people think about behavioral healthcare and other human services only when they need help-or bad news makes headlines. Another mental health agency that has found ways to invite the community in is LifeSpring, Inc., in Jeffersonville, Indiana, whose headquarters houses a local history museum that serves as the starting point for walking tours of the city. And, like Alternatives, Mattie Rhodes Center in Kansas City strongly promotes the arts (See

Finding ways to interact with the public outside behavioral healthcare organizations' traditional services might just be an important strategy for surviving the Great Recession. Broadening an agency's mission certainly involves risks, hard work and, perhaps most importantly, an open mind, but if the result is a more engaged and energized community committed to seeing an organization succeed, then it certainly seems worth the effort.

Douglas J. Edwards, Editor-in-Chief
Behavioral Healthcare 2009 March;29(3):13