University of Rochester

Book Recounts Evolution of Primary Mental Health Project

January 3, 1997

A new book about an internationally acclaimed program to promote children's mental health and school achievement has been published by the American Psychological Association. Titled School-Based Prevention for Children at Risk: The Primary Mental Health Project, the book is by University of Rochester psychologists Emory L. Cowen, A. Dirk Hightower, JoAnne L. Pedro- Carroll, William C. Work, and Peter A. Wyman, with William G. Haffey.

In a forward to the book, psychologist George W. Albee calls the Primary Mental Health Project the "gold medal champion" of prevention programs designed to promote wellness in children at risk for emotional damage. Created in 1957 by University of Rochester professor Emory Cowen, PMHP is a model for programs in more than 700 school districts around the world. The program trains non-professionals to help children with behavior problems learn to resolve conflicts and cope better, so that they feel better about themselves and make a better adjustment to school.

When the program was created, it marked a revolutionary step in mental health treatment. It broke away from a tradition of one-to-one therapy by scarce professionals and aimed to build wellness, rather than treat emotional damage after the fact. Albee suggests in his forward to the book that "when the history of prevention is written a hundred years hence, Cowen's ideas, achievements, and influence will lead all the rest."

The book focuses on the changes PMHP has gone through since 1975, changes which may help inform mental health practice for schools in the 21st century. It builds on a prior volume, New Ways in School Mental Health: Early Detection and Prevention of School Maladaptation, published by Cowen and others in 1975.