Exploring Personal Assistance Services for People with Psychiatric Disabilities: Need, Policy, and Practice

Dianne Doyle Pita, Boston University
Marsha Langer Ellison, University of Massachusetts Medical School
Marianne Farkas, Boston University

At the time of publication, Marsha Langer Ellison was not yet affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.


This article explores the concept of personal assistant services (PAS) applied to people with psychiatric disabilities through a study of state policy, a secondary analysis of existing data on PAS for all disability populations, and a needs assessment conducted with consumers of mental health services. Findings indicate that some state programs include this population among the other disability groups or eligibility criteria used. Further, administrators tended to confuse PAS with rehabilitation and case management. A majority of consumers surveyed considered PAS to be potentially very helpful in their daily lives. They also valued having direct control over the assistant. The services they most frequently reported as needing included transportation, emotional support, help with negotiating social service agencies, and hands-on assistance with household needs. A unique agenda for psychiatric PAS calls for a combination of the delivery of the above services within a context of consumer control.