Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy

Behavioral Health

The Behavioral Health Concentration prepares graduates for research and policy careers that focus on the intersection and linkage of health, behavior, and systems of care, targeting alcohol, drugs, and mental health issues.

Constance Horgan, ScD, Concentration Chair

Professor Horgan’s research focuses on the organization, financing and quality of behavioral healthcare. She examines how alcohol, drug and mental health services are financed, organized, and delivered in the public and private sectors, and what approaches can be used to improve the quality and effectiveness of the delivery system.

Focus of the Concentration

Substance use and mental health problems affect 1 in 2 people over their lifetimes, and are associated with a multitude of adverse consequences, at the individual, health care, social service and societal levels. Prevention and treatment services are available, but access, quality and outcomes can still be improved. The Behavioral Health concentration particularly seeks students with interest in systems of care to address mental health, substance use and other health behaviors. We want to build strong researchers and policymakers, and bring a focus on collaborating with real-world partners and informing practitioners, policymakers, researchers and other stakeholders.

The Behavioral Health Concentration emphasizes health services research, a multidisciplinary field of applied research that seeks to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of services designed to reduce the public health burden of alcohol, drugs, mental illness and other behaviors across the lifespan. The goal is to improve systems for prevention and treatment services, enhance quality, and reduce the adverse consequences, to develop knowledge that can improve people’s lives and affect structural change, particularly for marginalized populations. Our training examines how social factors, financing systems, service environments, organizational structures and processes, health technologies, and personal beliefs and behaviors affect access to, delivery of and utilization of services, their quality and cost, and our health and well-being.

Training Fellowship

Support for doctoral training is available through the Heller School or a grant from the National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA).

All students in this concentration are advised by faculty and benefit from the research of the Institute for Behavioral Health, Schneider Institutes for Health Policy and Research. The Institute for Behavioral Health examines the intersection of health, behavior and systems of care in order to promote healthier lifestyles and assist individuals in developing behaviors that lead to better health.

Sharon Reif, PhD'02, Deputy Director, NIAAA Training Fellowship

Professor Reif conducts health services research focused on the substance use treatment system, including medications for treating addiction; systems approaches to improve treatment; access to and quality of care; policies; the intersection of substance use disorders with other disabilities; and outcomes and recovery from addiction.

Required Concentration Courses

Sample Dissertations

  • Brooke Evans, 2019. "Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) Implementation in Vermont Medical Settings: A Mixed-Methods Study."
  • Jennifer Miles, 2019. "Examining the Effects of Licensed Recovery Residences on Alcohol and Other Drug Disorders in Massachusetts: A Multilevel Analysis."
  • Elisabeth Okrant, 2019. "Developing a Patient-Reported Outcome Measure for Substance Use Disorder Recovery: A Person-Centered Approach to Monitoring Changes in Recovery."
  • MeeLee Kim, 2019. "Exploring the Effects of  Community Risk and Protective Factors on Alcohol and Prescription Drug Misuse: Implications for Prevention."
  • Marianne Pugatch, 2019. "Female Veterans Returning from Wars In Iraq and Afghanistan Who Screen Positive for Alcohol Misuse in the Veterans Health Administration: Predictors of Follow-Up and Completed Referrals."
  • Scott William Formica, 2018. "Determinants of Technical Assistance Utilization and Impact on  Partnership Functioning, Prevention Infrastructure, and Underage Drinking: A Longitudinal Multi-Site Study."

Cover of the 2020 Heller Social Policy Impact Report with coronavirus illustrationsThe 2020 Heller Social Policy Impact Report showcases a selection of high-impact research and public engagement from the faculty, researchers and students of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management from July 2019 through June 2020.