Social Work

The aim of the Social Work Department at NYSPI is to provide individuals and families the most effective, modern, and compassionate psychosocial treatments, while at the same time advance scientific knowledge about the dimensions of mental disorders and their interventions. The episodic and ambiguous nature of psychiatric illness and its often bleak prognosis—accompanied by stigma—imposes inordinate stressors on the family of an individual with a mental illness. The Social Work Department at NYSPI is committed to delivering quality care while striving to improve existing services for our patients and their families.

M.S.W. Intern Training Program

Under the direction of Elizabeth Golden, LCSW, the Social Work Training Program continues to be a highly regarded and eagerly sought-out training program for second-year masters-level social work interns. Interns are trained in clinical practice, research, program planning, and social policy. The department at NYSPI serves as a field placement site for Columbia University School of Social Work, The New York University (Silver) School of Social Work, and Hunter College School of Social Work. Our department continues to be a field placement site for an OMH initiative, which trains clinicians in Evidence-Based Social Work Practices. Five of our interns participate in this fellowship program. Evidence-based wellness groups are run by social work interns on the Washington Heights Community Service, and the Children’s Day Unit.

In addition, educational opportunities include Grand Rounds, Case Conferences, and a weekly social work intern seminar which focuses on diagnosis, treatment, theory, and program planning. There is an opportunity for placement during the academic year (September through May) as well as an option for an early start in June, for an internship that runs from the summer through the following May. It is important to note that we only take interns from graduate-level social work programs.

Our interns can be placed on one of the following services, and are expected to perform the duties of Social Workers on each of these units, as described below:

Washington Heights Community Service

Washington Heights Community Service (WHCS) is comprised of an inpatient unit and three outpatient clinics: Audubon, Inwood, and in affiliation with The Center for Practice Innovation, (CPI) OnTrack NY.

The role of the social worker on the WHCS inpatient unit is 1) to evaluate the patient and their family to determine psychosocial stressors that may have contributed to the need for hospitalization 2) to provide psychoeducation to the patient and family with respect to all aspects of the patient's illness 3) to provide discharge planning and 4) to coordinate provision of concrete services when necessary 5) to develop recovery-focused treatment and disposition plans. Patients are seen daily whereas families are seen at least weekly.

Social workers in the WHCS Audubon, Inwood and On-Track NY outpatient clinics function as primary therapists and may also lead therapeutic groups. They are also part of a multidisciplinary team whose focus is to develop a targeted treatment plan, developed by providers and clients, and to carry out this treatment plan. All social workers on the WHCS attend quarterly social work staff meetings at the New York State Psychiatric Institute as well as in-service Social Work Grand Rounds. They are encouraged to attend the weekly Grand Rounds of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and weekly case conferences on the inpatient units.

Eating Disorder Inpatient Unit

The primary responsibilities of the social work team on this unit are individual casework, family therapy and disposition planning. Family therapy includes those people connected to the patient deemed "significant others.” Disposition planning focuses on the needs of the patient after discharge, including outpatient referrals, aftercare services, and other concrete needs. Thorough evaluations and psychosocial assessments are conducted to develop an individualized treatment plan for patients. In addition, social work interns are actively involved in the group therapy program. The social work component is an integral part of the total treatment approach which attempts to maximize patient care services.

General Clinical Research Inpatient Unit (GCRU)

Social workers are highly valued members of the multidisciplinary team and are instrumental in treatment team decision-making from admission to discharge. Social Work interventions include: reaching out to family and providing psychosocial evaluation and family assessment, working with the family by meeting weekly throughout the hospital stay, one-to-one counseling to address clinical issues that emerge in the milieu, an inclusive discharge plan with the input of the treatment and research teams, a comprehensive needs assessment and concrete services, and assisting the patient’s family system through enriching and broadening resources.

The Children’s Day Unit

The social worker and graduate social work intern(s)are active members of a multidisciplinary team that provides services at the Day Unit, serving adolescents who receive intensive psychiatric evaluation and treatment. In addition to providing family assessment and intervention, both social worker and social work interns act as primary therapist for some cases, assuming responsibility for treatment planning and implementation. Planning for discharge is given priority from the time of admission to ensure appropriate after-care once stability is achieved at the Children’s Day Unit. There are also opportunities for interns to become involved in the treatment aspects of research studies.

Other Social Work Education and Training Initiatives

The Center for Family Education and Resilience (CFER)

The Center for Family Education and Resilience (CFER) was established in 1997 in collaboration with Columbia University School of Social Work. Although psychosocial research has been ongoing at NYSPI, having a Research Division within the Department of Social Work allowed for the establishment of a focus research agenda as well as the establishment of an infrastructure for ongoing psychosocial research. Headed by Drs. Ellen Lukens and Helle Thorning, CFER functions as an umbrella under which a range of clinical and research initiatives take place. CFER's primary objectives are 1) to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of services focused on the needs of patients and families, 2) to facilitate and strengthen Social Work research on the impact of mental disorders on the self and family and to provide training and education for social workers and social work interns on effective models of intervention.

Clinical Initiatives and Training: Community Awareness through Psychoeducation (CAPE)

CFER faculty includes Dr. Ellen Lukens and Dr. Helle Thorning.  Dr. Lukens continues to provide a comprehensive psychoeducation/wellness management internship that trains social work students at the masters and doctoral level in theory, practice and evaluation using a culturally sensitive lens.  Community Awareness through Psychoeducation (CAPE) groups have been conducted on the Washington Heights Community Service under the supervision of CFER.  The CAPE intervention follows a structured curriculum consisting of 15 modules that cover topics related to wellness, recovery, and self-care, including social support, self-esteem, connection with the environment, anger management, and medication management. Dr. Lukens has recently begun adapting the modules for the adolescent population on the CDU.

Research Training

CFER continues to train master’s level students from Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW), and the Silver School of Social Work at New York University (SSSW) to implement and evaluate evidence-based and evidence-informed interventions for persons with severe mental illness at NYSPI. During the spring of 2020, four masters- level social work students from CSSW and NYU were engaged in CFER projects.  Two CSSW students offered CAPE groups on the WHCS inpatient unit, and the two students from NYU piloted the CAPE groups on the CDU with good response. During the fall of 2020, four masters-level social work students from CSSW were engaged in CFER projects, with three students placed on the WHCS inpatient unit and actively involved in the CAPE project under the weekly group supervision of Ellen Lukens and Mara Eilenberg, LCSW. Peer specialist Johanny Morel from WHCS has also joined the supervision group and is participating actively in the CAPE intervention. The fourth CSSW student was placed at the ACT Institute, under the supervision of Helle Thorning.

Dr. Lukens, in close collaboration with Mara Eilenberg, LCSW, and four MSW interns from Columbia and NYU implemented a clinical pilot to assess the needs of parents and siblings of outpatient and day patient adolescents diagnosed with OCD on the Children’s Day Unit.  Dr. Yamile Marti, Associate Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW), worked closely with them on the project, which involved the development of a psychoeducational intervention for parents of youth with OCD.  They are preparing a manuscript for publication in collaboration with several former students.

In 2016 Drs. Lukens and Thorning applied for a grant through the New York Community Trust to support a more detailed exploration of the needs and assists of consumers who are also parents with the goal of documenting need, evaluating policies across behavioral health and child protective services, and developing educational material to enhance ACT providers to deliver services to consumers.   The funding was awarded in March of 2017 and the data collection for the project was completed in the fall of 2017. With the information learned from this data, Drs. Lukens and Thorning developed a blended learning curriculum consisting of three online webinars, a face to face training for ACT family specialists and their team leaders, and the development of five core tools to facilitate the work with ACT participants who are parents.  Brief videos were also developed to introduce and train family specialists in the use of these tools.  Over the course of 2019 the tools were piloted with several ACT teams across the city and were well-received.

Integration of Peers into Clinical Services at NYSPI

A collaboration among the Department of Social Work, the NYSPI Peer Task force and CFER has led to a strategy to integrate peers in the clinical services at NYSPI. Liz Golden and Jean Marie Bradford MD lead the project. The Peer Advocacy Task Force is an initiative founded to meet a New York State mandate to incorporate peers (i.e. Individuals in recovery who have coped with a mental health illness) onto inpatient and outpatient units of the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI). The first Peer Specialist graduated from Howie the Harp, Peer Training and Advocacy Center (HTH) and was subsequently hired at NYSPI. The goal is to expand the Peer program. We continue to train interns from HTH on a yearly basis. In the future we hope to hire peers for the inpatient and outpatient units/clinics to provide advocacy, entitlement services, and co-lead group therapy and to participate in research-related activities as well.


Liz Golden, LCSW
Director of Social Work
1051 Riverside Drive
New York, N.Y. 10032

Administrative Assistant:
Liliana Saverio