Behavioral Health Integration: the key to quality healthcare

Behavioral health clinicians and primary care doctors make for a perfect marriage. After decades of separating physical health from behavioral and mental health, health care systems and psychotherapy schools are re-organizing to match the science: mental and physical health are inseparable. As humans, we know this on a deep intuitive level, and it's time that medical treatments match the science. 


Studies show that nearly 40 percent of chronic diseases are driven by human behaviors. Smoking, substance abuse eating, exercise are where our minds immediately jump to. But there are also the behaviors like social isolation, procrastination, over-working, or over-care-giving that can drive disease.


Behavioral health integration is an efficient and effective way to support and help primary care patients address common chronic illnesses that are costly and require behavior change--in addition to medication--to manage over the long-term.

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Substance Abuse
  • Depression
  • PTSD and trauma

What does behavioral health integration look lie? Behavioral health specialist (LICSW, LPC, PsyD) worse alongside medical and providers and collaborate to recognize, manage, and treat patients’ chronic behavioral health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, and chronic pain.

Through short, solution-focused interventions, offered in conjunction with the primary care visit, the behavioral health specialist helps patients gain insight about their mental health and socio-emotional well-being; identify connections to other areas of their lives that are barriers to their overall wellbeing, and design SMART goals and behavioral strategies that motivate patients to  become full participants in their own treatment and recovery.

There is a growing body of helpful information on integrating behavioral health in primary care, hospital, schools, etc. Here are a few favorites:

The future of behavioral health integration is continuing to study its impact and tailor interventions to health outcomes and wellness scales. In the meantime, it's critical to start integrating behavioral health interventions earlier, before chronic diseases set in and are more difficult to reverse. Learn more about behavioral health integration from this poster presentation on an integrated program at Bread for the City, a federally qualified healthcare center in Washington, D.C. or read a day in my life when I was imbedded in primary care.

Ali Jost