Crisis response expert Amy Watson joins WSU Social Work faculty

Wayne State University is excited to welcome Amy Watson, PhD as a new professor in the School of Social Work. Watson will serve as the faculty lead on the Crisis Intervention Credentialing Program currently being developed, which will offer both continuing education and university courses for credit.

“I’m so excited to be working with students at WSU, the strong doctoral program, and my new faculty colleagues. There is great work being done in my research area at the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice (CBHJ), and I’m really looking forward to collaborating with the CBHJ team,” Watson said.

Watson has a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Aurora University and an AM and PhD from The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.

Watson, a nationally recognized expert in crisis response, has focused expertise in mental health and substance use policy as well as criminal legal system/law. Previously, Watson was the project director of a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Center focused on mental illness stigma, and stigma reduction remains an important theme in her work. Her other roles included serving on the CIT International Board of Directors and on the compliance team for the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement with the City of Portland, Oregon.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to help develop the Crisis Intervention Credentialing Program. Michigan is really investing in crisis services and community mental health in general. I’m hoping to contribute to the development of a comprehensive crisis response system that reduces reliance on police and the criminal legal system,” she said.

The program will begin accepting students through a continuing education mechanism in winter 2024, and credit-based WSU classes in 2024, and is open to all undergraduate and graduate students – as well as alumni of WSU and other degree programs - who are interested in behavioral health crisis intervention. They do not have to be pursuing a social work degree but will need to be seeking a degree in a social or behavioral health area. Some of the program courses include “What is Crisis Response,” “Crisis Response and Trauma,” focused on children and another on adults, and “Documentation, Privacy, and Confidentiality.” The program encompasses a total of 12 university credit hours plus six hours in Continuing Education modules of their choosing. Various experts in crisis management will be teaching the program.

Watson will be continuing her work on several research projects at WSU.

“One is a NIMH funded Randomized Controlled Trial of Crisis Intervention Team training for police officers. Erin Comartin is a co-investigator on the project. Additionally, I am bringing several other projects related to crisis services and reducing the involvement of the criminal legal system in the lives of people with serious mental illnesses. My long-term goal is to continue doing research aimed at improving crisis services and preventing entry into the criminal legal system for people with serious mental illnesses.”

Previously, Watson worked as a probation officer and a social worker/mitigation specialist dealing with death penalty cases.

“As a probation officer working on a mental health team, it was very rewarding to be able to help people connect to the services and supports they needed to be successful in completing probation, and more importantly, getting on with their lives. I also learned how simply treating people with genuine dignity and respect can make a tremendous difference. Working as a mitigation specialist on death penalty cases was eye opening in terms of how the legal system operates related to life and death decisions. I learned a lot about how systems often don’t work and how people fall through the cracks tragically. Both experiences made it clear to me how important it is, as a social worker, to continue to advocate for better policies and services,” she said.

Watson has conducted extensive research on police encounters with persons with mental illnesses and the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model. She has also examined mental health courts and prison reentry programs and is passionate about building services that do not rely on police involvement.

“My hope is that people experiencing crisis (and their family members) will reach out and receive help sooner. If we do this right, this could reduce trauma and improve people’s lives. I do not think the role of police in crisis response will be eliminated completely, as there are some situations that present significant safety concerns. I have become convinced that while making sure police are prepared to respond when needed is necessary, we also need to shift responsibility for crisis services to where they belong-with the mental/behavioral health system.” 

Throughout her career, she has served on numerous local, state, and national advisory boards, panels, and committees, and task forces on topics such as crisis intervention and mental health services. She’s also authored many scholarly presentations and given countless presentations.

Outside of work, Watson enjoys bike riding, reading Scandinavian crime fiction, and taking care of her three dogs and three cats.

Author: Laura Hipshire, Editor: Betsy Vanderstelt

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