Behavior, Health, and Society


The mission of the Behavior, Health, and Society research cluster is to promote the behavioral health and well-being of vulnerable populations by: 1) creating opportunities for conducting collaborative research on issues relating to health services and policy; health behavior and prevention; and integration of physical health, mental health, and substance abuse services; 2) providing resources to support individual faculty interested in conducting research in these areas; 3) facilitating the transfer of knowledge gained from research to our MSW curriculum and dual degree MSW/MPH program; 4) providing opportunities for training doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows in behavioral health services research; and 5) laying the foundation for the development of a behavioral health services research center within the School.


Behavioral health refers to the reciprocal relationship between human behavior – individually or socially – and the well-being of the body, mind and spirit, whether the latter are considered individually or as an integrated whole. The term is more commonly used to describe a field of scientific study, academic proficiency and clinical healthcare practice. The term "behavioral health" has also been used to describe the blending of substance (alcohol, drugs, inhalants and tobacco) abuse and mental health disorders prevention and treatment for the purpose of providing comprehensive services. Recently enacted health care reform legislation has placed increased emphasis on the need for person-centered health care that effectively integrates the delivery of physical health, mental health and substance abuse services. Health care reform will bring a huge change that could turn into an opportunity for the field of social work. Social workers will have the ability to play a key role in integrating and balancing care. However, that role will require the development and translation of an evidence base supporting specific interventions, policies and programs for service delivery. The field of behavioral health services currently lacks such an evidence base.

Overview of Cluster Functions

  • Provide a base of substantive identity and presence for affiliated researchers
  • Facilitate collaborations and responses to funding opportunities (e.g. R01s, P20s) consistent with the mission
  • Develop a community-based research laboratory in Los Angeles County in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, Department of Mental Health and Division of Substance Abuse Prevention and Control
  • Coordinate and support liaisons across projects, community collaborators and other clusters
  • Train and mentor graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the field of behavioral health
  • Develop a repository of information to support cluster research
  • In collaboration with the Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services and school, ensure that research targets scholarly and community audiences through peer-reviewed outlets, presentations, policy briefs, newsletters and colloquia or forums.


An outstanding group of 21 faculty members have expertise in two areas of behavioral health: health services and policy and health behavior and prevention. Cross-cutting these two programmatic emphases is expertise in the following subfields of behavioral health: children and adolescents, older adults and aging, Latinos and health disparities, global behavioral health, HIV risk and prevention, military populations, and substance abuse and prevention. In collaboration with colleagues in other schools and institutes at USC and elsewhere, as well as with community-based organizations and government agencies, cluster researchers are engaged in interdisciplinary research programs funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Department of Defense and National Cancer Institute, as well as from private foundations such as the William T. Grant Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Cluster Faculty

  • Maria Aranda – mental health services for older adults, home-based health care, health disparities, Latinos
  • Ron Astor – school-based violence
  • Julie Cederbaum – primary and secondary HIV prevention, social work and public health practice with families, interventions with families and youth
  • Alice Cepeda – drug abuse and treatment, gangs, health disparities, Latinos
  • Iris Chi – social gerontology, cross-cultural studies of aging, chronic disease and mental health
  • Kathy Ell – health disparities, health care-seeking behavior, major depression, general psychological distress, quality of life and morbidity, mortality associated with life-threatening illness and chronic illness
  • Kim Goodman – oncology, LGBT communities, mind-body-spirit medicine
  • Erick Guerrero – health care management policy, organizational change, Latinos' social and health outcomes
  • Anthony Hassan – military social work, behavioral health of military veterans and their families
  • Bruce Jansson – health policy, policy making and planning processes in social agencies; procurement of resources for social service agencies; monitoring function of public agencies; and the history and practice of social welfare policy
  • Dawn Joosten – evidence-based social work practice in health care settings (outcomes, processes), health care policy, health and aging, barriers to health care access among low income minorities to home and community-based services and health care
  • Maryalice Jordan Marsh – health services and technology-based interventions, health issues for older adults, pain management, breast cancer, interdisciplinary collaboration, organizational change and innovative curriculum designs for teaching gerontology, influence of Internet and email access on health-care decisions among older adults and family knowledge of health issues, serious games
  • Charlie Kaplan – drug abuse and treatment, global health, health disparities, Latinos
  • Helen Land – trauma, HIV, spirituality, mental illness, stress
  • Larry Palinkas – behavioral and cross-cultural medicine, global health, health disparities, implementation of evidence-based practices in mental health services, HIV prevention programs
  • Janet Schneiderman – prevention of medical neglect in child welfare, child maltreatment, role of case management in health and human services, relationship of health education to adherence, family health and well-being, culture and health
  • Dorian Traube – substance abuse and HIV prevention, mental health outcomes of urban adolescents, effects of HIV on urban children and adolescents in the United States, impact of HIV on orphaned and vulnerable children in Sub-Saharan Africa, decision-making processes of young-to-middle adolescents
  • Avelardo Valdez – substance use and abuse, health disparities, Latinos, HIV prevention
  • William Vega – health, mental health and substance abuse, health disparities, Latinos, adolescents, older adults
  • Suzanne Wenzel – homelessness and behavioral health, substance use and abuse, HIV prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder