Resources for Healthcare Providers
What Is "Behavioral Health" and How Is It Relevant To The Practice of Medicine?

In the past, mental health care, treatment for substance abuse, and behavioral medicine have been separate fields. In the old days, many psychotherapists knew little about substance abuse, many drug and alcohol counselors knew little about psychotherapy, and neither group knew much about applying psychological interventions in medical settings. Thisfragmentation often interfered with providing effective treatment for patients.

"Behavioral Health" is a term that has recently been coined to encompass all three fields as part of an attempt to improve the quality of care that patients receive. Behavioral health services are most commonly provided by Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Social Workers, and Counselors but can also be provided by Physicians and Nurses who have appropriate training. As a health care professional, you will find that Behavioral Health can offer quite a bit to you and your patients.

Psychosocial issues such as stress, family problems, anxiety, depression, and social isolation play an important role in many visits to physicians. If Behavioral Healthcare professionals can collaborate with healthcare professionals in providing effective assistance for patients with these problems, this can improve the quality of care the patient receives and ease the burden on the health care system. It can also allow the physician and other healthcare professionals to focus on the areas where they can be most helpful rather than spending their time on problems which fall outside of their specialty and which demand too much of their time.

Illness and disability have major psychological impacts on patients and their families. Behavioral Health professionals can help patients cope with the impact of serious diagnoses, chronic medical problems, and disability.

Psychosocial issues such as anxiety, depression, stress, and substance abuse can influence the course of many medical problems and Behavioral Health interventions can improve outcomes. For example, a recent study found that when diabetics were taught relaxation techniques, their blood sugar levels improved but that patients who were suffering from high levels of anxiety, depression, and stress had the most difficulty lowering their blood sugar levels.

Many serious mental health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse are first recognized by healthcare professionals. Now that effective treatments are available for these disorders, physicians and other healthcare professionals can perform a valuable service by helping patients find appropriate treatment. Recent research shows that providing treatment for mental health problems decreases over-utilization of medical services and improves the outcome of treatment for co-occurring medical problems.

Non-compliance is a major problem in the treatment of problems ranging from hypertension to diabetes. Behavioral Health professionals can work with individual patients, with health care professionals, and with healthcare systems to improve treatment adherence and thereby improve patient outcomes.

Psychological interventions can be useful as part of a comprehensive approach to treating a wide range of disorders including as insomnia, hypertension, recurrent headaches, and chronic pain. Having a Behavioral Health professional as part of the treatment team can be quite useful in treating a broad range of medical problems.

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