University Scholar Judith Cook
The University Scholars Program honors faculty members for superior research and teaching, along with great promise for future achievements. The award provides $15,000 a year for three years.
Professor of Psychiatry
Years at UIC: 27 years
What are your research interests?
I study ways to integrate health, mental health and rehabilitation services for people with serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and major depression. I develop and test new approaches to help people live independently, work in satisfying careers, continue their educations, enjoy mutually satisfying social relationships, and achieve optimal physical and emotional health.
How did you become interested in these topics?
Early in my career, I was the research director at a large community agency in Chicago that uses the psychiatric rehabilitation model of treatment. This taught me that people could recover and thrive if services address the social determinants of health, such as adequate housing and income support, along with therapy and medication. I also learned the immense value of peer support and mutual self-help, which were novel concepts in psychiatry only a few decades ago. Today certified mental health peer specialists work in all 50 states and are funded by Medicaid and other public dollars.
What do you teach?
Through my center, the Center on Mental Health Services Research and Policy, I instruct people in the delivery of recovery-oriented mental health interventions. These are approaches that help people achieve satisfying, meaningful lives by empowering them to direct their own recovery from mental illness and to self-manage any residual symptoms they’re experiencing.
How do you balance teaching and research?
I am fortunate because roughly half of my center’s mission is devoted to disseminating new models, giving technical assistance to community service providers, and advising policymakers on system redesign and alternative financing methods. This keeps my focus squarely on educating and supporting people who do the work and those living with mental health conditions and their supporters. I’m grateful that UIC and the Department of Psychiatry have been so supportive of this hybrid emphasis.
What’s your advice to students who want to focus their future careers on research?
Scientific investigation can be done in any field. The important thing is to use the college experience to acquire a broad range of methodological tools in the community, laboratory or out in the field. In social and behavioral science, the ability to interview, survey, observe and engage people collaboratively lets a person gather data and analyze it no matter what the topic, ideally with the input of the end users. Seeing knowledge I’ve created translated into practice and used to improve peoples’ lives carries the rewards that have powered my career.