School to Host International Conference on Social Work in Health and Mental Health

Keynote speaker Elizabeth Clark, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers

More than 650 social work scholars and practitioners will gather in Los Angeles in June to share theories and strategies to improve health and mental health research and practice during an international conference hosted by the USC School of Social Work and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

“This is the main international venue for social work researchers and practitioners who work in health and mental health,” said Haluk Soydan, director of the school’s Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services and cochair of the conference. “It is coming to the United States for the first time, so we are really showcasing some of the best work that this country’s social workers perform.”

Slated for June 23 to 27, the 7th International Conference on Social Work in Health and Mental Health will have a specific focus on client-centered care. Soydan said the conference, held in various venues around the world since 1995, has typically reflected various aspects of its setting.

“We are located in the heart of a very urban and multicultural environment, which gives a special flavor to the conference,” he said. “We chose to have a great emphasis on health and mental health issues in the United States in general, but also specific to our school and the Los Angeles region.”

This approach is highlighted by the conference’s symposia series on aging, cancer care, health inequalities and equity, health reform, homelessness, Latino health, military social work, and the recovery model. Guided by leading scholars in those key areas, the symposia will feature engaging discussion sessions with invited researchers, practitioners, and policy makers.

Local social work agencies and service providers will also have a chance to exhibit their accomplishments during field site visits to more than 30 community locations throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area, from Long Beach to Sylmar.

Soydan said those field visits are reflective of the both the school’s emphasis on community partnerships and the conference’s focus on bridging the divide between research and practice.

“This is realized by different means during this conference, perhaps foremost by the abstract submissions,” he said, noting that more than 300 paper and poster presentations have been accepted. “A great majority of them are actually accounts of practitioners and practices, rather than research outcomes.”

Finally, the conference will feature a keynote address by Elizabeth Clark, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers, as well as several plenary sessions by internationally renowned scholars such as Bengt Westerberg, former minister of social affairs and deputy prime minister of Sweden and current board chair of the University of Linköping and the Swedish Institute for Disability Research.

Other plenary speakers include Elyn Saks, who serves as the Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the USC Gould School of Law; Nancy Krieger, a professor of society, human development, and health at the Harvard School of Public Health; and Sarah Gehlert, the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work and the Department of Surgery at Washington University.

The Los Angeles Board of County Supervisors has passed a resolution to support and promote the conference, encouraging all directors of the departments of mental health, health services, public health, and children and family services to participate.

More information about the conference is available at, including an overview of the history of the conference and a full program of events.