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History

We celebrate our rich legacy and invite you to join us as we forge new directions in the 21st century.

It All Began in 1923

A small group of psychiatrists with a vision of the future launched an interdisciplinary professional association, the American Orthopsychiatric Association, as a common meeting ground for individuals engaged in the interdisciplinary research and practice of human development. The founders blended the prefix “Ortho” (from the Greek “to straighten”) with “psychiatry” to convey their belief that thinking in the field of psychiatry was in a “serious rut” and that the impact of societal problems on the well-being of individuals was not receiving adequate attention.

The founders organized Ortho around a “simple but revolutionary idea: The mental health of individuals depends on their social context.”

The American Orthopsychiatric Association was renamed The Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice (Global Alliance, for short) in 2016.

A Unique Organization

From the beginning, Ortho was a heterogeneous community of individuals drawn together by a common interest and dedication to the study of human behavior broadly conceived and its relationship to mental health service delivery. The membership consisted of “diversely trained individuals—lawyers, social workers, pediatricians, child care workers, Mental Health and Social Change anthropologists, educators, nurses, biologists, economists, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, journalists, and laypeople—all concerned about mental health in a broad scope.”

Historically, Ortho was at the forefront of new approaches to enduring problems. The Association provided a scholarly platform for new theories and modalities. For example, family therapy, group therapy, the community mental health movement, and a variety of initiatives aimed at improving services and treatment for children had their origins in Ortho.

Since its inception, the Ortho “community” has been unique in its commitment to:

  • Emphasizing prevention of problems and promotion of health as well as intervention and treatment.
  • Understanding the effects of social factors (e.g., racism, violence, economic depression, war, and other major issues) on the behavioral health of individuals.
  • Recognizing the impact of the broader environment (e.g., schools, faith communities, recreational settings, the family, and other institutional settings) on the behavioral health of children, youth, and adults.
  • Promoting the creation and adoption of policies to address issues that affect the behavioral health and well-being of children, youth, and adults.
  • Acknowledging the contributions of all disciplines (e.g., social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, educators, and others) to the delivery of behavioral health services and the development of sound policy.

Today, the Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice is committed to:

  • Promoting social justice and human rights and reducing disparities in health and social outcomes.     
  • Emphasizing effective strategies for promotion and prevention of behavioral disorders as well as intervention and treatment.
  • Promoting adaptation and positive mental health and well-being.
  • Applying principles of social justice to policy formation, community action, systems change, and clinical practice.
  • Using a bioecological and social determinants framework (including individuals, families, and communities) with multiple levels of analysis and action, across diverse settings and sectors.
  • Focusing on vulnerable populations and marginalized individuals and groups. 

The Journal

A review of the first 50 years of the American Orthopsychiatric Association revealed that the Association and its journal, the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, have consistently demonstrated a commitment to the least fortunate members of society by strengthening knowledge of effective and respectful services for people, advocating for prevention, providing leadership for social change, and explicating the core interests that are most fundamental to people’s sense of dignity and worth.

Global Alliance
for Behavioral Health & Social Justice


Our name has changed but our tradition of focusing attention on the needs and rights of people in society whose voices are often not heard is as strong as it was in 1923.

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