When Jacob Berelowitz, host and executive director of "Talk Therapy Television," was applying to graduate schools he envisioned a career in direct practice. He ultimately enrolled in the NYU Silver School of Social Work (SSSW) because of its clinical social work reputation.
"It's interesting because I join a lot of other students who come into NYU with the idea that they really want to do clinical work, and a lot of students aren't even aware that social work has other components," he said.
But through his two years at the SSSW, Berelowitz, MSW '09, enrolled in a variety of courses -- including those with a public policy focus -- that began to change his perspective on career possibilities. Berelowitz said he began to think, "Maybe more can be accomplished by working on a policy level or in a community organizing role."
In the months following his graduation, Berelowitz founded "Talk Therapy Television" on Queens Public Access Television. The show aims to educate the public about the warning signs and symptoms of mental illness and treatment options.
On every episode, Berelowitz hosts a conversation with experts in the mental health field. He also refers viewers to resources, including suicide hotlines and state and federal health agencies. The show began airing once a month in Queens and now also airs on Brooklyn Community Access Television. Five episodes have been broadcast a total of 30 times and more episodes are in the works.
Berelowitz's experience at his second-year internship at the Holliswood Hospital, a Queens psychiatric hospital, served as the impetus for Talk Therapy's creation. He was surprised by the lack of knowledge patients, their families, and their friends had about mental illness. And people often did not know something was wrong with the patient until acute care was required.
"One of the biggest things that I saw was that … a lot of times [issues] could have really been addressed earlier had the patient or family members known there was something wrong or that there was something they could do," he explained.
Berelowitz learned about public access television from a friend and decided to apply for a time slot in his hometown of Queens. He said, "Most of the stations are really excited to have new programming that's useful to the community and presents a new viewpoint."
With a studio and equipment provided, Berelowitz took courses to train as a producer. He also hired a few staff members to help with camera work and scheduling.
"I really enjoy what I'm doing," he said. "I really like when I get feedback from other people saying, ‘This is really good.' It's always nice to get a little bit of support." Among the attention he has received: public praise from Michael Hogan, commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health.
As for his future, Berelowitz is not ruling out returning to direct practice and he is pursuing a post-master's certificate in advanced clinical practice at the SSSW. "It helps keep me attached to that part of social work," he said of the course.
"Right now I need to focus on [the show] to really make it happen. I like both sides of social work, and I think that community organizing and just doing this more global kind of work is very effective."