Philly’s behavioral health chief leaving city post to lead American Psychological Association

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     Philadelphia's behavioral health commissioner Arthur Evans speaks at a press conference at City Hall. (Katie Colaneri/WHYY, file)

    Philadelphia's behavioral health commissioner Arthur Evans speaks at a press conference at City Hall. (Katie Colaneri/WHYY, file)

    Philadelphia’s longtime Department of Behavioral Health commissioner Arthur Evans is leaving the city to head the American Psychological Association.

    Evans was the first commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services in Philadelphia. Before his tenure, components of the department were embedded in the health department.

    He took on the position in 2004. Over 12 years on the job, he transformed Philadelphia into what has been called a model city when it comes to mental health.

    “It’s really bittersweet to leave,” he said. “But I also think that I’ve learned a lot that other organizations and people can benefit from, and I’m very excited to take what I’ve learned here in Philadelphia and take it to a national level.”

    Evans has built a reputation for reducing the stigma around addiction, as well as using a public health approach when it comes to mental health. In 2005, he steered his department to a new recovery approach — emphasizing the importance of a good quality of life and not just symptom control.

    Evans used a broad brush in spreading information about mental health issues; his department hosted trainings for citizens on recognizing signs of mental illness; funded mural arts programs; and worked with police officers on improving their interactions with mentally ill people.

    “Particularly from a vision perspective, it’s a big loss,” said Tony Valdes, executive director of the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center. He said Evans’ philosophy has to do with the importance of treating the whole person.

    “Most of the time in our field we often think about the direct treatment that we do with the people we serve — when you sit in an office and do therapy with someone — as a critical part of supporting people,” Valdes said. “But if we’re not thinking about the context that everybody lives in, we’re not going to really be able to support the person in the long run.”

    Susan McDaniel, past president of the American Psychological Association, said Evans is a great candidate to lead the organization as the country is on the cusp of big changes and uncertainty about how health care might change is rampant.

    “He can translate psychological concepts to anyone in an understandable way, and I think that’s what we all need right now,” she said.

    Antonio Puente, current American Psychological Association president, echoed her sentiments in a statement.

    “As we move forward as an organization, we were looking for a proven leader with a history of transformational change. We were impressed with what Dr. Evans did for the city of Philadelphia in transforming their behavioral health system, and we look forward to his energy, vision and organizational leadership,” Puente said.

    Evans said he wants to continue promoting the use of evidence-based practices in the field, and engage in national policy.

    Current deputy commissioner David Jones will become acting commissioner in February.

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