Meet CSB's new Diversion First Director, Marissa Farina-Morse

Marissa Farina-Morse remembers a woman she counseled, from her early days as a mental health clinician in Florida, The woman, then in her 50’s, had spent half of her life in institutions, having experienced decades of mental illness. Now she had few financial resources or community supports and believed that she had few choices in her life. But Marissa got to know her and worked with her, and eventually the woman became stronger. She adhered to a standard routine of treatment, began to attend day programs, and started to live more comfortably, in her family home. Eventually, the woman died in her sleep; in her own bed. She died with dignity.

“While some may find this a sad story and outcome, I recall this woman with a fond, profound sense of gratification and humility,” Farina-Morse explains. “She died at peace and in her sleep, in her own bed and in her own home – not all people are as fortunate as she was.”

“As human beings, we all want our own space; we all want and need connections,” Farina-Morse continues. “In the mental health field, we must find ways to engage our clients and to ask and concentrate on what they want; rather than on what we think they want. Outcomes and goals are different for every individual, but we all want to live with dignity. As a therapist, it is my job to find out what motivates a person and to remind them that they can and do have choices,” Farina-Morse explains. “By listening closely, the therapist learns about an individual’s unique sources of strength that can help them move forward.”

During her first four years with the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) Marissa Farina-Morse rose before the sun. Assigned to the Residential Intensive Care team, she traveled from house to house, waking up clients, helping them get ready for the day, and making sure they took their daily medications. She monitored and got to know her clients, and helped them manage their activities. Over time, she developed a deep passion for the work and a profound respect for the individuals she served.

In 2013, Farina-Morse applied for and accepted a position as manager of CSB’s New Horizons Treatment Center, a supportive community residential services program that provides individualized treatment and support services for individuals who have severe mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorder. She spent the past two and a half years at the tidy, home-like facility on Richmond Highway. She kept the door of her small office open, and visits from residents and staff took place all day long; she was never too busy to listen.

When Fairfax County launched its Diversion First program, Farina-Morse was intrigued. Diversion First is a collaborative program that offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness (often with co-occurring substance use disorders) or developmental disability who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low-level offenses. Marissa had experience with a diversion program in Seminole County, Florida, and was familiar and supportive of the concepts, knowing that jail is not the appropriate place for mentally ill people. She also has several family members who work in law enforcement and criminal justice, so she was very familiar with the public safety aspect of diversion. She believed she was a good fit for the role of the CSB’s Diversion First service director, which not only coordinates CSB behavioral health services provided in the jail, but also collaborates closely with CSB’s public safety partners and Emergency Services staff. “There was a strong need to provide a continuum of care for people with mental illness, substance use disorder, and disabilities,” she added.

With a background in emergency crisis services in Seminole County, Florida, Farina-Morse worked for a psychiatrist who was a mental health director and also worked at the local county jail. Marissa knows of the demands and the struggles that incarcerated people face, and has an appreciation for the challenges that public safety personnel confront every day. “The consequences are extremely serious and the risks are high,” she adds.

“One in five adults in the U.S. experiences a mental illness; more than 8.5 million people have both a mental health and a substance abuse disorder, and unfortunately, many people with mental illness and substance abuse problems become disproportiately involved in the criminal justice system,” Marissa says. “I’m excited that Fairfax County is working towards changing this with Diversion First, and am humbled and grateful to be a part of it.”


Learn more about Diversion First; consider attending the next community stakeholder meeting, January 19, 2017, from 7-9 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center to review progress and priorities of the program. All are welcome.

All residents are encouraged to learn more about recognizing mental illness and steps they can take if they encounter someone in crisis by taking a Mental Health First Aid course. Trainings are open to the public or may be arranged for a specific group by Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board staff.

Remember: there is no health without mental health.

October 31, 2016

Farina-Morse with thank you card

Residents of the New Horizons program took time to wish Marissa well on her promotion.

Farina-Morse at desk 

Marissa in her new office at the Adult Detention Center.

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