Training for Better Community Mental Health

Penn Collaborative Builds Equitable Access to Top-Quality Mental Health Care in Philadelphia and Beyond

Program Penn Collaborative for CBT and Implementation Science
Location Philadelphia
Health Need Behavioral Health

Mental health disorders don’t discriminate based on zip code or income levels. But in too many places, getting top-notch mental health care is only an option for those with financial means and comprehensive health insurance. The Penn Collaborative for CBT and Implementation Science shows it doesn’t have to be that way.

In Philadelphia, the poorest of the largest cities in the U.S., the Penn Collaborative works with the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) and Community Behavioral Health (CBH) to provide training and support for community mental health agencies, to deliver the most rigorous, evidence-based treatments for people with mental health needs.

In 2021, that partnership expanded to include therapists serving all Philadelphia schools—public, religious, and secular private schools.

“We’re committed to improving health equity in mental health care, locally and globally,” says Torrey Creed, PhD, founder of the Penn Collaborative and an assistant professor of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “We gather data to evaluate and guide our work to ensure we’re helping therapists deliver high quality care, and our network of community partners creates an incredible opportunity to develop and test generalizable strategies that can improve mental health training and care around the world.”

The Need
Equitable Access to Top-Quality Mental Health Care
Many low-income individuals rely on the public mental health care system funded by Medicaid because they do not have private insurance or their out of pocket costs are too high. Historically, these individuals have had limited access to specialized treatments that have been backed by research and shown to work.
of Philadelphians are eligible for Medicaid.
More than
mental health agencies work on behalf of DBHIDS to provide care for low-income Philadelphians covered by Medicaid.
Depending on the clients' needs, these community agencies provide treatment in more than
0 different types
of services, including:
Over 0 students
attend K-12 schools in Philadelphia, making the schools an ideal place for Philadelphia’s youth to access mental health treatment.
School-based therapists and counselors help students dealing with a wide range of challenges, from ADHD and anxiety to depression, trauma exposure, and more.
The Response
Comprehensive, Sustainable Training for Therapists Serving the Public and K-12 Students
Since 2007, the Penn Collaborative has partnered with mental health agencies to provide staff training in evidence-based treatment methods in both English and Spanish, with an emphasis on culturally responsive strategies. In particular, they focus on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a gold standard developed by the late Penn professor Aaron T. Beck, MD. CBT helps people recognize how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected, and learn skills to shift unhelpful patterns of thinking and reacting. The training is funded through public systems and grants, so there is no cost to mental health agencies or individual therapists—and also no cost to people receiving therapy through Medicaid coverage.
mental health programs in Philadelphia have trained with the Penn Collaborative from 2007–2021, resulting in
trained clinicians.
school-based clinicians will be trained through a new partnership that started in 2021.
During and after training with the Penn Collaborative, agencies follow a formula for ongoing success:
  • Teach clinical staff how to use CBT flexibly with their clients
  • Train new therapists through Penn Collaborative’s empirically supported online training to account for therapist turnover and new hires
  • Measure and learn from what works in their evidence-based therapies
  • Meet together annually to celebrate success and share what they learn
A culture that sustains high-quality therapy over time.
The Impact
Ensuring that High-Quality Therapy is the Consistent Result
The Penn Collaborative measures therapists’ skills regularly, helping them identify strengths and target skills that need improvement. Traditionally, this measurement is done by the team’s researchers who rate recordings of therapy sessions. Soon, this labor-intensive effort will be accelerated with the help of a new artificial intelligence tool for the Penn Collaborative and to provide fast and accurate feedback on CBT skills in a session.
clinicians have been evaluated by the Penn Collaborative’s researchers who rate recordings of their therapy sessions.
CBT competency scores double after training with the Penn Collaborative.
0 out of 5
therapists reach the competence level required for clinical trials of CBT, a gold standard of quality.
The Reach
From Philadelphia to the Wider World
Over 0 Philadelphians
receive services from DBHIDS each year, many of them through agencies trained by the Penn Collaborative.

The team has continued to raise the bar for mental health care around the world.

By implementing trainings in the U.S. and globally and publishing more than 130 articles and presentations, they've been able to share practices that they've learned work in Philadelphia—and universally.