New Mexico Highlands University


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Andrew Israel

Highlands Social Work Professor Launches Web site for Behavioral Health Professionals

 New Mexico Highlands University School of Social Work Associate Dean Andrew Israel launched a Web site in July for discussing legal and ethical dilemmas within behavioral health professions including social work, psychology and counseling.

“I saw a need for a Web site that incorporates law and ethics without segmenting the two,” said Israel, who graduated cum laude from Syracuse University College of Law and practiced law for 10 years in New Mexico. His expertise is in civil rights, family, health and mental health law.

“I want people in behavioral health who are looking for answers to everyday professional practice questions to come to my Web site and share their dilemmas, and learn about my suggested approach,” Israel said. “I hope the site will increase visitors’ understanding of their own responsibilities to their clients in resolving common practice problems.”

Israel’s Web site is

Israel first came to New Mexico to clerk for a Santa Fe law firm that later offered him a position after he finished law school. With his parents and a sister already living in New Mexico, he said it felt like home.

“After 10 years of practicing law, I became frustrated with the contentious, litigious mindset of lawyers and the law profession,” Israel said. “I enjoyed the counseling part of my law practice, and thought I could advance this through a degree in social work. There’s also a complementary nature between law and social work.”

When Israel was practicing law he knew Alfredo Garcia professionally. Garcia has been the dean of the university’s School of Social Work since 1996. Garcia encouraged Israel to pursue a master’s degree in social work. Israel attended Highlands University and completed his MSW degree in 1995, with the intent of becoming a counselor. His career took a different path to teaching.

“Dean Garcia has an ability to find people’s strengths and match them with jobs,” Israel said. “He thought I would make a good teacher, and asked me to teach in the School of Social Work in 1996. Once I started teaching I loved it so much that I never looked back.”

Israel developed and teaches graduate social work courses in law and ethics, social welfare policy, and more. He also designed and implemented a trial practice training program that emphasizes children’s court procedures, and working cooperatively with attorneys.

In 2002, Israel authored Applied Law in the Behavioral Health Professions: a Textbook for Social Workers, Counselors and Psychologists.

“Associate Dean Israel’s qualifications as a licensed attorney, his professional interest in ethical practice, and his commitment to our students have earned him recognition from his students and peers as a social work scholar,” Garcia said. “His contributions to the school and university as a legal scholar specializing in ethical behavior in human services have brought recognition to the School of Social Work. We are one of the few schools that requires its students to understand the importance of ethical practice in human service delivery.”

Israel said the terminology of ethical and legal issues can be intimidating. He tries to give students and practitioners the tools to understand the basic rules that govern behavioral health practices, using a legal, ethical, cultural and pragmatic approach. This teaching philosophy is also the framework for his Web site.

“I’m thrilled when students and professionals tell me they can use my decision making approach in their professional practice,” Israel said. “The most rewarding thing about teaching is when a former student contacts me and says they aren’t intimidated by the legal process and ethical dilemmas. We all have more ability than we think we do to rise above the fear of litigation.” 

Israel said the response to his new Web site has been interesting, with people from different behavioral health disciplines e-mailing him questions. He hopes to see more questions posted online as a springboard for learning and active discussion.

“I’m not interested in academic postings,” Israel said. “To ring true, the scenarios need to be based on every day, real world examples that illustrate ethical dilemmas. I also want people to comment on the usefulness of the site.”