NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Paul Widem (1926 - 2013)
Paul Widem’s interest in the social work profession was on-going, particularly in the social work research enterprise that was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) during his tenure there. Paul retired from the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) in 1993, after playing a key role in the reorganization that was mandated by federal legislation. The legislation separated the services aspects of mental health services delivery (that became part of CMHS in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration(SAMHSA)) from the research aspects of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that incorporated NIMH into the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
At the time of his retirement, he had helped to establish the CMHS Office of Policy, Planning and Legislation and received a commendation of appreciation from the director for this role. Paul made major contributions to the Strategic Plan for SAMHSA and also participated in the mental health working group of President Clinton’s Health Care Reform Task Force. In addition, he helped to foster CMHS’s international program on mental health services.
Prior to this reorganization that transitioned the agencies in the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA) to SAMHSA and NIH, Paul spent 10 years as chief of the mental health economics research program at NIMH. Paul combined his social work training received at the University of Chicago with post graduate studies at the London School of Economics to initiate programs and policies to develop an economics/financing research program on mental health services. With the concerns of skyrocketing healthcare costs and the implementation of mental health parity legislation, this early work that Paul spearheaded on financing paved the way for increased attention to cost effectiveness and cost benefit evaluations of mental health and social work interventions. The mental health economics research program at NIMH continues to be a robust program at NIMH . This early work was critical in laying important ground work and supporting a cadre of researchers.
Like many federal social workers of his generation, Paul went to work in the burgeoning social welfare programs of the federal government in 1966 after an 11 year career as a clinician and mental health and social services administrator in both the United States and England. He was a charter member of NASW, joining in 1955 when NASW was launched. He maintained his membership and connection to the profession throughout his retirement.
In the federal government, Paul brought his expertise to help guide policy on the delivery of mental health and alcoholism services as well as to create programs of research that would provide the evidence-base for such services. Also of significance, from 1981 - 1982, Paul served as Public Health Advisor in the Acting Branch Chief of the Social Work Education Branch at NIMH. During his tenure there he was a co‑author of an NIMH report, Social Work Education: Scholarship Efforts from 10 Years of NIMH Supported Projects.
Paul played a key role at the federal level during his career of nearly 30 years. He assisted in building programs and services that continue to serve as important building blocks of federal social work infrastructure. The collaboration that both SAMHSA and NIMH continue to have with the social work professional organizations, with schools of social work and service delivery agencies was supported during his tenure.