What Does a Behavioral Health Consultant Do?

Teresa Cooley-BennettBy Teresa Cooley-Bennett, Behavioral Health Consultant, Swope Health Services

When I joined Swope Health Services in 2015, the position of “Behavioral Health Consultant” was new to me.

The position sounded very exciting and I realized I was going to learn a lot of new things and widen my scope of practice. At the same time, I would be working with people experiencing homelessness — a population to which I am committed.

Getting started, I spent hours in online training. I discovered that the term and position of Behavioral Health Consultant is a fairly new one in the United States. Social Workers have been around for years, but Behavioral Health Consultants have been around less than 20 years. In Missouri, the term is even newer.

Integrated Care: A Behavioral Health Consultant is part of “Integrated Care.” That means integrating primary health care and mental health care, taking care of the whole person. Studies have been done on the importance of integrating behavioral health with primary health care.

Research shows a medical provider is the first point of contact for a client who needs any medical services. But most providers are scheduled to see patients for about 15 minutes each. They don’t have the time or training to provide intensive behavioral health assistance.

That’s where I come in. I have the time and the training to provide an appropriate intervention.

We can do more. When a provider recommends a client to me, I frequently find behavioral health concerns that have not been dealt with in the past. Often clients are stigmatized by the idea of seeking help for anxiety, depression, trauma or substance abuse. But these are real issues, and we can help.

Some examples:

  • A woman suffered from anxiety so severe that she could not stand the thought of an EKG and ran from the clinic. I learned that she could not take the bus alone and her fears were affecting her ability to function. We brought her into our programs to help her learn how to cope and practice control. It’s a long-term process.
  • A man had drinking problems and pancreatitis. He knew he had a problem, but didn’t act on my offers to help. When his drinking began to affect his job, he called back. I got him into a Medical Detox Center and then into the Imani House Drug and Alcohol Treatment with SHS. He called me only to say thank you and I could hear the gratitude in his voice. I am not saying that he will never drink again, but for the first time, he actually began treatment and was able to be assisted medically!
  • While on our SHS Mobile Medical Unit, I met a man who was homeless and staying in a shelter. He was highly nervous and admitted hearing voices and having homicidal thoughts in the past. He had been emotionally abused earlier in his life, recently lost his grandma, was separated from his children. We talked and he is willing to consider long-term care. We will see if our Community Support Services programs are right for him.
  • A provider referred a woman to me — she had several medical problems but also was in an abusive relationship with the same person who was her caregiver. She was afraid to leave because she had a dog, and I saw that was very therapeutic for her but also challenging as many shelters won’t take pets. We were able to refer her for support with her medical and behavioral issues, and she is following recommendations.

It is exciting and challenging to be able to intervene with a client who has behavioral health concerns. It makes a difference, and that is the reward we all share.

Have questions for Terri? You can leave a comment below, visit the Blue Clinic at SHS Central, or call 816-922-1070 to make an appointment.

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