A collaborative project between six Maryville University students and Places for People produced a new assessment that might one day be used worldwide to help people living with mental illness improve social participation and community integration.
Six members of the Maryville University Master of Occupational Therapy program – Erica Brown, Courtney Busken, Abby Dold, Emily Elmendorf, Morgan Lambert, and Brittney Simpson – developed a Social Participation and Community Integration (SPCI) assessment during the Summit Experience course, which provides Maryville OT students an opportunity to apply their learning to a population-based service learning project.
Students in the Summit Experience course chose between six population groups led by a professor. Tim McKay, an adjunct professor at Maryville who is also a team leader at Places for People, was the mentor for the mental health population.
“At the beginning of our project, we had no idea what the final product would look like, or the amount of time, research, effort and revisions that would be needed to complete the development of an assessment,” Busken said.
To determine an area of need they wanted to address with the project, the group met with Places for People Vice President of Research and Development Dr. Gary Morse. Morse told the students about the importance of helping people re-establish community connections during treatment.
The group discovered there is not currently a single assessment that focuses on this area for people living with mental illness. The SPCI assessment could help clinicians determine areas on which to focus as they develop treatment plans that include improving social interaction.
“The format of the assessment lends itself to collaboration between the clinician and the participant so the participant’s input and voice could be heard when planning ways to increase social participation and community integration,” McKay said.
With the help of McKay and his team, the group was given a firsthand opportunity to meet people served by Places for People and witness the barriers to social participation and community integration. People living with mental illness may face challenges with social participation for various reasons, ranging from fear of stigma to environmental factors to lack of transportation to poor social supports.
Next, the group developed a first draft of an assessment and scoring system. They presented it to PfP’s research team. The feedback they received helped to refine it for the first official test run with people served by Places for People. Five males and five females participated in the first round of assessments.
This real-world application of the assessment provided valuable lessons that allowed another round of revisions to improve the assessment.
The group presented its project to peers and Summit Experience instructors in early May to rave reviews, then again to staff members at Places for People.
“This Summit Experience provided me the opportunity to do something new – develop an assessment tool that may one day be published,” Busken said. “I am proud of our final project because it does exactly what we intended it to do. The SPCI Scale provides individuals living with mental illness the opportunity to identify activities they find important within social participation and community integration that they would like to work on. This will allow health professionals in the mental health field to provide client-centered interventions and treatment services so individuals can reach their full potential for a purposeful and meaningful life.”
The project is in its infancy stages, with more testing needed to determine reliability and validity.
If all goes well, the assessment will be presented to a review board at Maryville University to see if it qualifies to be published. Once published, the assessment could be used at Places for People and community mental health centers around the world as an important tool to help people living with mental illness develop social participation skills.