C. Christian Beels
C. Christian Beels has been called a “Hero in Community Psychiatry.” Beels was a pioneer in training professionals on how to work from a collaborative family perspective in public mental health.
Beels earned a B.A from Harvard University in 1953. In 1960, he went on to earn his MD at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Beels entered residency at an AECOM’s teaching facility, Jacobi Hospital. After residency, he began a fellowship at the National Institute for Mental Health and began his work with individuals and families struggling with schizophrenia. Beels later joined the Tremont Crisis Center. He later became the director of both the in-patient and the out-patient services at the Bronx State Psychiatric Center and renamed this program Family Service Bronx State Hospital. In 1980, he received a Master of Science degree in psychiatric epidemiology from Columbia University School of Public Health. In 1981, Beels created the Fellowship in Public Psychiatry at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and served as the director of the program through 1987. Although he left this position upon retiring in 1987, this program is still thriving today. He has held numerous positions in the field from family therapist, various director positions, many assistant and associate professor, as well as part-time teaching positions. He serves as faculty at Ackerman Family Therapy Institute.
Contributions to Profession
Beels has been known for his nontraditional psychotherapeutic approach. He has a background and interest in anthropology, which underlies his focus on social connections and historical impact. In creating the Fellowship in Public Psychiatry, he wanted to train early career psychiatrists in remaining cognizant of the patients’ family support systems, multistoried accounts, and their historical context when working with individuals diagnosed with mental illness.
Beels was a major moving force in the development of family therapy and the journal Family Process. He brought with him his emphasis in community psychiatry to the field; most especially, in promoting humane family treatments for those with severe mental illness.
Later, Beels met and instantly made a personal connection with the developers of narrative therapy, Michael White and David Epston in 1982. Although he didn’t have a name for it at the time, he had similar ways of thinking that aligned with the values that narrative therapy.
In The Invisible Village, Beels discusses ways in which the culture and the dominant discourse play a role in the trajectory of schizophrenia. He suggests that western cultures views can negatively impact those challenged with this mental illness. Beels emphasizes that in addition to societal expectations of the individual at this specific developmental stage, the person support diminishes; they often loose a sense of themselves and their place in society. Beels’ work had a major effect on psychoeducational treatments of schizophrenia.
In Beels’ book A Different Story: The Rise of Narrative in Psychotherapy, he writes to both professionals and nonprofessionals an account of his journey in merging the two – narrative and psychotherapy. He gives personal accounts of his therapeutic work with community members, discusses the works and his encounters with those that influence his views and practices, and presents his ideas of the many challenges experienced in psychotherapy. Included in the latter are conversations about the division of professionals through the adherence of schools of thought and professional isolation. He stresses a collaborative approach not only when working with clients but in working with each other as professionals.
Beels has made a major impact through his work in being an educator, a family therapist, and a pioneer in the development of a new way to view and engage in public mental health.
- Beels, C. C. (2001). A different story: The rise of narrative in psychotherapy. Phoenix: Zeig, Tucker & Theisen.Google Scholar