Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

Transitions-Mental Health Association (TMHA)

Name of Innovative Program: 
TMHA CORPS (Career Opportunities in Recovery & Preventive Services)
Sponsoring Organization
Transitions-Mental Health Association (TMHA)
Name of Innovative Program Lead: 
Deanna Strachan, Program Manager
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Physical Address of Innovative Program: 
784 High Street San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Project Description: 

TMHA CORPS (Career Opportunities in Recovery and Preventive Services) creates a pipeline that will outreach to and recruit behavioral health consumers and family members, provide them with training and field experience, and ultimately match them with professional opportunities in the Public Mental Health System (PMHS). The pilot program will last three years, with the goal of recruiting four cohorts of 10-15 individuals with lived experience of mental illness, staggering them over four distinct 6-month periods for counseling, training, and job placement.  Initial jobs may be entry-level, but we will develop a work plan for each client during their counseling phase to create paths for professional advancement.  In this manner, TMHA CORPS will expand our agency's ability to provide supported employment to our consumers and reconcile a lack of cultural competence in the behavioral health field--all in an innovative manner never before accomplished locally.

How does the innovative program work to improve behavioral health access?: 

One of the most important trends in mental health is the integration of individuals with lived experience of mental illness into the PMHS.  Evaluations of peer support within behavioral health services suggest that such models can serve as a catalyst of recovery initiation, enhance service engagement, reduce symptom severity, reduce emergency room utilization, decrease hospital readmissions and increase participants’ sense of hope, self-care, connection to community, and quality of life (multiple citations, including Davidson, Bellamy & Miller, World Psychiatry, June 2012).  People who have experienced issues with mental illness possess an instinctive understanding of the concept of wellness, recovery, and resilience, and have the unique standing to make referrals to programs and other service experiences that a client in crisis might not be willing to initially accept.   

How does the innovative program work to improve behavioral health quality? : 

As an agency with ongoing experience hiring consumers and family members, TMHA believes the integration of individuals with lived experience provides an organic level of cultural competence to behavioral health services, while adhering to the critical notion of designing client and family driven systems of care.  In our 35 years of existence as an agency, we have seen the mental health landscape change dramatically in California.  The Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) was passed in 2004, and places an emphasis on five guiding principles : community collaboration, cultural competence, client-and-family-driven system of care, a focus on wellness (including recovery and resilience), and integrated service experience.  TMHA CORPS embodies all of these principles in its program design and goals, and we believe that all of these principles will systematically improve the quality of behavioral health services in our region.

How does the innovative program work to address behavioral health costs? : 

The goal of TMHA CORPS is to not only increase the level of cultural competence within the behavioral health field, but to expand the ranks of qualified service providers.  Both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties in California are impacted by a greater demand for behavioral health services under the Affordable Care Act, and the current supply of qualified providers has not grown in relation to the demand.  When behavioral health services are spread thin, there is no possibility of the costs ever going down. 

But cost is also related to appropriate use of services.  Many of our TMHA CORPOS graduates will have the opportunity to enter newly created positions embedded within local Emergency Rooms (a different program/collaboration our agency is involved in) that provide a peer health navigator approach to new consumers, empowering those consumers to take charge of their behavioral and physical healthcare needs, while reducing repeated hospital and ER admissions.

Creativity and Innovation: 

While the integration of adults with mental disabilities into the provision of mental health services is gaining momentum, there are very few formal programs to recruit and train this target population for such careers. We believe TMHA CORPS is several years ahead of the curve, and will raise awareness and garner state-wide attention— particularly as we disseminate our methodologies for replication. We also believe we are uniquely qualified to realize this vision.  There is no Community Based Organization or Government Agency in Central California that hires more mental health consumers and family members.   Furthermore, every step of the program process: recruitment, career counseling, education and special trainings, field internships, and job placement and support are all part of current TMHA programs.  The natural fusion of these services (or portions of these services) into a professional "pipeline" is, in itself, creative and innovative.


Transitions-Mental Health Association (TMHA) is a community based, private non-profit human services agency. Since 1980, TMHA has developed and operated wellness centers, residential, and vocational programs in San Luis Obispo and Northern Santa Barbara Counties for people with mental illness, homeless disabled adults, and at-risk youth.  Our mission statement: Transitions-Mental Health Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating stigma and promoting recovery and wellness for people with mental illness through work, housing, community and family support services.  In 2014-2015, TMHA served over 13,000 clients and/or family members in California’s Central Coast region.  TMHA collaborates with Behavioral Health Departments in both Counties, and many other local community-based organizations.  TMHA CORPS was designed with the express purpose of replicability and ease of collaboration with our present and future partners.


TMHA was pleased to receive a $150,000 grant from the California Wellness Foundation that will fund a 3-year pilot program of TMHA CORPS.  While the counseling, training, and internship portions of this proposal will be operated solely by TMHA, we anticipate working with the following partners for both recruitment and employment placements: San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health Department, Santa Barbara Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services, Center for Family Strengthening of San Luis Obispo County (Promotores Collaborative), the Santa Barbara County Promotore Network, and the Latino Advisory Council of Santa Barbara County.  Furthermore, we believe long term sustainability can be achieved through support from both California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning (OSHPD) and the Mental Health Services Act Workforce Education and Training Program (MHSA WET) once we have established a proof of concept for the program.


TMHA CORPS will not only serve our constituents—mental health consumers and family members in San Luis Obispo and North Santa Barbara Counties—but the behavioral health field at large.  The three-year pilot program will culminate in a series of evaluations and recommendations regarding the design and provision of the most effective training, counseling, and placement protocols.  The goal is to create a program structure that can be adopted and replicated by County agencies and Community Based Organizations throughout the United States who are motivated to create a more diversified workforce in their Public Mental Health System.


Objective 1: Recruit 40-50 Individuals With Lived Experience of Mental Illness

Key Outcomes/Deliverables

  • Develop marketing tools and program explanation that can be disseminated to all TMHA programs, as well as to community partners and local government agencies.
  • Directly engage consumers and family members recommended by TMHA Program Staff.

Objective 2: Provide Career Counseling & Training for 40-50 Program Participants

Key Outcomes

  • Each program participant will receive one-on-one employment counseling.
  • Each participant will undergo trainings designed to strengthen their education of and abilities in mental health service provision.
  • Each participant will receive field internships designed to broaden their experience.

Objective 3: Provide Placement and On-Job Supports for 50% of Program Participants

Key Outcomes

  • 20-25 participants who complete their training will obtain work within the Public Health System at TMHA, a community partner, or a County organization.