New Report Presents Framework to Establish Standards for Psychosocial Interventions Used to Treat Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

Mental health and substance use disorders are a serious public health problem, affect approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population, and often occur together.  Psychosocial interventions — such as psychotherapies, community-based treatments, vocational rehabilitation, peer support services, and integrated care interventions — aim to improve the health and well-being of those diagnosed with these disorders and are provided in a variety of settings and formats, including individual, family, or group.  The new report presents a framework for implementing evidence-based psychosocial interventions, with the ultimate goal of improving outcomes for individuals suffering from mental health and substance use disorders.      

“A wide variety of psychosocial interventions play a major role in the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, but most consumers of mental health care find it difficult to know whether they are receiving high-quality care,” said Mary Jane England, chair of the committee that carried out the study and wrote the report, and a clinical professor at the school of public health at Boston University. “The efficacy of a broad range of psychosocial interventions has been established through hundreds of randomized controlled clinical trials and numerous meta-analyses.  However, for many patients, the quality of care that is actually delivered is less than ideal.”

Psychosocial interventions that have been demonstrated to be effective in research settings are not used routinely in clinical practice or taught in educational programs that train mental health professionals, the committee found.   This gap between what is known to be effective and the care actually delivered is due to problems of access, insurance coverage, and fragmentation of care — which include different systems of providers, separation of primary and specialty care, and different entities sponsoring and paying for care.

The committee recommended that psychosocial interventions be elevated to equal regard as physical health care, measurement and improvement strategies used in mental health care be equated with those used in physical health care, and greater emphasis be given to context and infrastructure for high-quality psychosocial interventions.

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should adopt the committee’s framework to support policy, research, and implementation strategies designed to promote the use of evidence-based psychosocial interventions. Steps in this iterative process framework are: strengthen the evidence base for interventions, identify key elements of effective interventions, conduct systematic reviews to inform clinical guidelines, develop quality measures to track the outcomes and effectiveness of interventions, and implement quality. 

“There is a need to improve the outcomes of psychosocial interventions, given that about one in five people in the U.S. suffers from mental health and substance use disorders,” said Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine).  “Our committee’s report provides an important framework to help fully realize the consistent use of high-quality, evidence-based psychosocial interventions in everyday care.”

The study was sponsored by the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, National Association of Social Workers, National Institutes of Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. A committee roster follows.


Jennifer Walsh, Senior Media Relations Officer

Chelsea Dickson, Media Relations Associate

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