Remembering Professor William Anthony, Founder of the BU Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of William A. Anthony, founder of the BU Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Sargent College. Bill passed away on July 15, 2020 surrounded by his loving family. He was 77.

Bill was a professor at Sargent College in 1979 when he and his close colleagues established the Center where he served as Executive Director until his retirement in 2011. Over his 40-year career as a psychologist, he was a major force behind the emergence of recovery as a vision for people with psychiatric conditions. Bill was often referred to as the “Father of Psychiatric Rehabilitation” for his lifetime of advocating, teaching, training, and conducting research for people who live with mental health conditions. Bill began his career as a psychologist at Walter Reed Army Hospital where he was outraged that veterans with PTSD and other mental health conditions were not receiving the same care as veterans with physical wounds. Bill’s inspirational leadership guided the field through paradigm shifts to ensure the possibility that individuals with psychiatric conditions could regain valued roles in the community. At the time of the Center’s initial funding, this concept was radical: Bill had to convince the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research that individuals with psychiatric conditions could benefit from rehabilitative services and supports. Toward the end of his career, he wrote eloquently about what his multiple sclerosis had taught him about the rehabilitation of individuals with psychiatric conditions; that writing was published in a leading journal.

In 1988, Bill received the Distinguished Services Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in recognition of “his efforts that challenge outdated ideas which limit the potential of mentally ill people. The innovative programs created through Bill’s leadership offer hope and opportunity.” Bill appeared on ABC’s “Nightline” with Ted Koppell, a noted journalist and television broadcaster, who described the Center’s services as: “a small beacon of sanity in dealing with the problems of those whose sanity has crumbled.” In 1992, Bill received the Distinguished Service Award from the President of the United States for his efforts “in promoting the dignity, equality, independence and employment of people with disabilities.”

Bill was a full professor at Sargent College and taught for many years – first in the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling and later in the Department of Occupational Therapy. He influenced many graduate students including Gayle Berg (Sargent ’74) who was inspired to create the Gayle Berg Endowed Research Fund because of Bill’s leadership. In a recent email to colleagues, Gayle referred to Bill as her beloved professor, an extraordinary teacher and visionary, and most importantly, a consummate human being. Since its inception in the early 1980s, the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation’s Services Division has provided learning opportunities for many Sargent students like Gayle, a tradition that continues today. During his tenure, Bill authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, 16 textbooks, and several dozen book chapters; and served as co-editor of the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal until his retirement.

Bill’s legacy in the field of psychiatric rehabilitation and recovery is immeasurable. He led with his heart and advocated for the notion that people with psychiatric conditions are people first: they have the same rights as others to a healthy, productive, and full life in communities of their choice. He articulated the value of personhood and embedded it into the service programs we implement, the research questions we study, and the practices and systems we seek to change so that we can support the recovery of individuals who live with psychiatric conditions. Bill courageously challenged the mental health and rehabilitation fields to invest in recovery and transform their people, programs, and systems to improve the lives of individuals with mental health challenges.

We at Sargent College and the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation are grateful for his work and mourn his passing.

E. Sally Rogers
Executive Director, BU Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation