Psychology as a Team Player: Using Integrated Healthcare for Human Wholeness
There is a distinct benefit in our society to anything that can be accomplished in “one stop:” a grocery store with a pharmacy, a gas station with a sandwich shop, an online store with same day delivery. When it comes to physical and mental health, our society is beginning to shift into a similar mentality. While there are still important distinctions to be made by, for instance, a specialty clinic (think: diabetes, oncology, pediatrics, women’s health, etc.) it is becoming increasingly easier for these different providers to consult with other providers involved in a patient’s care. Why is this important? Because how can a diabetes provider understand an underlying heart condition and depression without having steady communication with a therapist and cardiologist. Psychology, as a field, is a crucial player on those integrated care teams. As a bonus, this type of mental health provision is showing more and more success for effective health care for patients across the age range.
In fact, psychology is considered “health psychology” and this terminology is becoming increasingly utilized in the field. When looking at how we are training upcoming psychologists, the American Psychological Association is utilizing this terminology as the title for its trainees within accredited programs. This term is designed to encourage and indicate a demonstration of competence in health psychology. For many psychologists in the near future, this will mean they will be working in a medical setting or with professionals of other disciplines.
Why is integrated care (i.e., all the different providers involved in one person’s care maintaining consistent communication) important? Integrated health care works to correct a “silo” system in our health care field; we often have separate providers for mental, physical, dental, eye sight, etc. that work without knowledge (let alone communication) with the others involved in the patient’s care. Integrated care works to change this system.
Working together protects against stigma by making it easier and more normal to seek mental health care at regular health care appointments. Rather than needing to walk into a mental health office or seek a mental health referral, the provider becomes a routine part of a care team. In this way, the patient becomes acquainted with appropriate self-care and other positive mental health habits. As a bonus, the patient is also more likely to be treated simultaneously for a variety of concerns that often occur together; for example, depression and diabetes, anxiety in the postpartum period, or substance abuse issues in pulmonary or hepatology clinics. The old adage often played in airports and in subway stations, “if you see something, say something,” rings especially true in integrated health care settings. In other words, if a provider sees “something”—be it signs of depression, difficulties adjusting to life events, or evidence of intrusive, anxious thoughts—it is imperative for that provider not only to say something to the treatment team, but to work with the patient, psychologist, and other providers to collaborate towards a solution. Mental health is a vital part of overall well-being and it is time our health care system really embraced this idea by moving towards integrated care.