She was medical director of California’s Department of Alcohol
and Drug Programs, before becoming the first chief medical officer at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or Samhsa, the primary federal agency overseeing substance abuse and mental health services, in 2013.
“I feel like I died and went to heaven,” a prominent backer of the medical approach, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, associate
director of the Stanley Research Institute, said of the new position and Dr. McCance-Katz as its nominee.
She defended the agency while there, but after leaving she wrote a sharp critique in Psychiatric Times concluding
that its approach “includes a focus on activities that don’t directly assist those who have serious mental illness.”
Mr. Murphy and members of his staff said he had raised his concerns about the nominee directly with the secretary of health
and human services, Dr. Tom Price, and Vice President Mike Pence.
But Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, which is funded in
small part by Samhsa, said he was concerned about the potential direction the appointment of Dr. McCance-Katz could signal.
A central tension in the debate is between the medical model of psychiatry, which emphasizes drug
and hospital treatment and which Dr. McCance-Katz has promoted, and the so-called psychosocial, which puts more emphasis on community care and support from family and peers.
“Peers are not serving as mental health professionals,
but peers are providing much needed support, because they have an understanding of what it’s like to struggle with mental health problems,” said Ellen Garrison, senior policy adviser at the American Psychological Association