Will Thompson: Unraveling History to Help Psychiatric Hospital Patients

In the spring of 2016, a series of alumni profiles were written for Bryn Mawr College’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research.

Read the article on Bryn Mawr’s website

“We get them from all walks of life – rich, poor, college students, professionals, people who are homeless – there’s no real ‘typical’ patient,” said Will Thompson, MSS/MLSP ’15.

As a clinical case manager at Belmont Behavioral Hospital in Philadelphia, Thompson works to help treat adults with mental and behavioral health issues and co-occurring disorders. The 140-bed psychiatric hospital provides inpatient services for people who are a danger to themselves or others. Some seek help voluntarily, while others are involuntarily committed by family members, doctors, law enforcement or therapists.

Thompson handles the initial assessments when people come in, incorporating information from their families and past or current care providers to get a sense of what brought them to the hospital in order to present it to the treatment team. He also works with insurance companies to obtain authorization for treatment, arranges family meetings and handles discharge planning.

“I’ve learned to operate in the moment,” Thompson said. “Things happen very fast, and we’re all working together and collaborating to improve the well-being of these individuals.”

Thompson was offered the position at Belmont during his last year as a student in the Bryn Mawr Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. As a part-time student in the program, Thompson was placed at the hospital for one of his two field education positions.

“Originally, I was supposed to intern on the children and adolescent unit,” Thompson said. “But at the last minute, my placement was changed to the mood disorder unit. Even though my goal was to work with a younger population, it turned out to be a great experience. I got a lot of experience with individual and group counseling and navigating insurance issues. And I got to see a larger picture of the overall mental health system.”

Remaining flexible and open to new experiences has been how Thompson has approached much of his education and early work experience. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in psychology from Boston University, Thompson worked in the social services field, providing direct services to children, families, and adults in residential, school and other community settings.

Long-term, Thompson sees himself returning to work that allows him to impact the lives of youth. By providing treatment for mental health issues early and helping youth overcome trauma, Thompson says many unhealthy coping methods could be avoided.

“There are so many stories of trauma that was never treated,” he said. “A person’s current behaviors start to make sense when you begin to unfold the history. Untreated mental illness makes it difficult for some people to lead stable lives. It really confirms my desire to work with children: to provide early interventions with the hope of preventing the need for hospitalization.”

Photo credit: Bryn Mawr College