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 Dr. Lizette Smith.

2023 Excellence in the Field of Mental Health Awardee
Woman helping teen student with homework

Dr. Lizette Smith is a clinical psychologist and the recipient of the 2023 Excellence in the Field of Mental Health Award. She is a native of St. Louis, and her community background was rich in a sense of belonging and nurturance. It was also a community with high need for mental health care, yet limited knowledge and low expectation for the helpfulness of psychology. It did not go unnoticed by her, even as a teenager, that people in her community were disenfranchised from the benefits of accessible mental health care. This African American community suffered from this exclusion, and racial disparities in mental health care were evident. Despite the skepticism of others regarding her choice to pursue a degree in psychology, Dr. Smith has always understood her career as a calling; not just a vocation.

Dr. Smith graduated from Beaumont High School and Washington University in St. Louis. At Washington University, she was exposed to the rigors of scholarly research and study of Black Psychology through her academic advisor, Dr. Robert L. Williams, who is known for researching and developing the concept of cultural bias – especially in intelligence testing – and as a founder of Black Psychology and the Association of Black Psychologists. Dr. Smith went on to obtain her master’s degree from his program in Minority Mental Health, which was among the first graduate programs in the country to address the legitimacy of racial and cultural diversity in mental health outcomes. She earned her doctorate in clinical psychology, with a focus in community psychology, from the University of Illinois-Champaign. 

Dr. Smith’s lengthy career as a Licensed Psychologist demonstrates her commitment to promoting equitable access to care. Her experiences integrate multiple system levels to affect positive change and impact mental health care disparities. When living in Memphis, TN, she developed a counseling program for immediate victims of sexual assault crimes. Since returning to St. Louis in 1993, she has provided direct psychological services through diverse settings, including inpatient care to vulnerable persons with chronic and severe mental illness, and outpatient evaluation and treatment. As a past faculty member in the Psychology Department of St. Louis University, she contributed to the development of doctoral students in research and practice concerning racial and cultural factors in help seeking behavior among African Americans, and victims of trauma.

When Dr. Smith joined Our Little Haven in 2003, she was hired as the lone psychologist to provide mental health services, focusing on children and families in the child welfare system. She decided on the name “Keystone,” which refers to a stone at the top of an arch that locks the other stones into place. It was her hope that Keystone would serve a similar function of support in the lives of its clients.

Initially, Dr. Smith was responsible for every function in Keystone. Now, Keystone Mental Health Services has grown to a practice of 11 people. Dr. Smith became Director of Clinical Programs in 2007, having oversight of all clinical services at Our Little Haven. She is also the HIPAA Privacy Officer and Accreditation Coordinator for the agency. Dr. Smith has developed a mental health practice that provides a broad range of mental health care, while also specializing in early intervention to the very young child and family, comprehensive psychological evaluations, play therapy, and cultural competence.

Improving access to mental health care is a passion for Dr. Smith. She has found that it requires a multi-level approach to maximize impact. She secures licensed practitioners dedicated and trained in serving the underserved by initiating and maintaining Keystone credentials as an accredited site of the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). This allows Keystone to maintain a diverse staff that is well-educated, licensed, and trained in researched and valid assessment and treatment methods. Dr. Smith also established Keystone as a mental health training site for graduate social work students and early career practitioners seeking state licensure.

In its years of operation, nearly half of Keystone clients have been African American, and the largest residential areas are represented by North County. Dr. Smith feels honored that a great number of clients seek treatment for their children based on referrals by family or friends who have also benefitted from Keystone. Dr. Smith has developed a practice that values:

  • Outreach to communities of unmet need.
  • Screening for food insufficiency as a part of all initial assessments and directing donations to support those clients.
  • Removing financial barriers to seeking service.

Other honors received by Dr. Smith include the first “Outstanding Achievement in Diversity Award” by the Missouri Psychological Association; the “Fellow Spotlight” of the American Psychological Association-Minority Fellowship Program; and Certificate of Appreciation for participation in the “5 By Age 5 Coalition of the Normandy Schools Collaborative Footprint”.

Beyond her professional life, Dr. Smith offers workshops toward improved mental health in the faith-based community, promotes a ministry of spiritual empowerment of women, has established other church ministries, and enjoys the calming pastime of vegetable gardening. She is married to Dr. Wendell Bonner, who has pastored the First Baptist Church of Webster Groves for nearly 30 years. The couple has raised two children to adulthood: one is a Licensed Psychologist and the other is a Business Operations Analyst in Information Technology.