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Students Enter New Field Of Mental Health Work

PBH Volunteers


Phillips Brooks House has begun volunteer work at the Boston State Hospital in Dorchester in one of the newest areas of mental health.

The area in which the PBH students work is the so-called "day hospital," until recently an almost unknown type of treatment. Under this system, patients are cared for only during the day by the hospital; in the evenings, they return to their homes, where they are usually given responsibilities by their families, such as cooking, babysitting, and perhaps even tutoring.

According to William Neth, the hospital's Director of Volunteer Services, the presence of the PBH volunteers allows the patients to "move in a community;" the students give patients a sense of living with an interested group again, a feeling which in many cases they have lacked for several years.

Another important function served by the students is to teach the patients specific skills such as art work or piano-playing. These skills frequently play a major part in speeding a patient's recovery.

Neth also pointed out that volunteers often learn things about the patients that the full-time staff would not be able to find out. He explained that a patient's relationship with a volunteer may vary radically from his relationship with a professional staff member. Thus a patient might reveal certain things in the more relaxed student environment.

"Our main goal is to provide the patients with a safe and healthy experience," emphasized Neth. "If the patients do fail in something, they nevertheless still know that PHB volunteers will accept this failure and thus also accept them."

The hospital offers an intensive orientation for volunteers. One of the hospital's officials mentioned that Boston State had been "chasing" Phillips Brooks House for over two years. This fall, the institution was contacted by Edward S. LaMonte '65, the co-Chairman of the PBH Mental Hospitals Committee.

LaMonte offered the services of PBH in exchange for professional supervision of volunteers. As a result, there are now four PBH groups who work at the institution each week under professional supervisors. Says Neth of the volunteers. "They won't let us rest with easy answers, and this is one of the reasons we want them. It's too easy for us to become accustomed to what we have here."

The project at the Dorchester hospital is similar in conception to PBH's Wellmet half-way house operation, in which a group of student volunteers live with patients who have recovered sufficiently to be allowed out of mental institutions, but who are not yet ready to face the outside world on their own.

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