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Collaborative Care

Shannon M. Duffy, MFT, LCPC

When we seek out help from medical providers, we are putting trust in that the provider can “fix” or “solve” our presenting concerns. This is also seen within the mental health field, in how individuals will enter therapy for answers to what is “wrong” with them. Finding these answers cannot always come from the help of just one provider or treatment method. It can be helpful for an individual to utilize all resources available to them to aid in understanding what their overall concern is and how to manage or even “fix” it. I would like to present a few ways in how collaborative care can be to your benefit in addition to giving alternative methods to introduce to one’s collaborative care team.

The most common form of collaborative care consists with the primary care provider, psychiatrist, and mental health therapist. This team is focusing on the presenting concerns that are causing distress and addressing medication and talk therapy as the best form of treatment. How this collaboration works is allowing each provider to communicate, through the patient’s consent, the benefits of treatment from each area of specialty. An example would be discussing feeling low, sad, loss of interest, and sleep disturbances for over the past few weeks with your primary care physician who would refer you to talk therapy to address depressive symptoms and refer a psychiatrist to prescribe medication options. Many therapists work with psychiatrists to aid in medication monitoring or discuss if a higher level of care is needed. This ideal collaboration is beneficial for the individual to address these symptoms of depression in a holistic manner with focus on both physical and mental components.

In addition to your primary care provider, specialty providers can also present added insight. I have referred many individuals with anxiety that experience nausea, stomach pain, or digestive issues to address the physical concerns with gastrointestinal providers. Many individuals will seek out providers who specialize in sleep disorders for answers to what may be prohibiting their sleep patterns or participate in a sleep study. I have also worked with orthopedic surgeons who have referred their patients to therapy to address pain management and to aid in the recovery process. Those individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic diseases can also aid in collaborative care to work on adjusting to life and managing their chronic symptoms effectively.

Another avenue that can aid in collaborative care is in incorporating functional medicine. I have referred individuals who present with anxiety, stress, pain, and sleep concerns to acupuncture. Many have voiced their successes with having an alternative outlet for stress relief and relaxation through acupuncture. Chiropractic providers can also aid in lessening tension that may be a symptom of stress or pain. Addressing self-care in therapy is essential for growth and management of distress symptoms. Collaborating with massage therapists can utilize body work to create more self-awareness of one’s body and the overall effects of the stressors. Working with exercise physiologists can also aid in creating a healthy lifestyle and incorporate more active and movement coping skills into one’s routine.

When working on one’s relationship with food in therapy, collaborating with a nutritionist can aide in understanding the components of food consumption. I have also found guidance with using functional medicine providers who specialize in food sensitivity to assess any complications or inflammation from food that an individual might be presenting. This collaborative relationship can aid in providing accountability if the individual is wanting to change their food consumption behaviors, in addition to noting what may be causing inflammation which could be affecting one’s mental health.

Incorporating collaborative care with medical providers, functional medicine providers, mental health therapists, and trainers is seen as helpful support as everyone is there on your team. Individuals tend to be more open to certain providers and having the collaborative team aspect can keep everyone aware of prognosis, set-backs, goals, and overall progress. The body and mind connection are extremely relevant and addressing a holistic approach can provide support and guidance towards a healthier lifestyle.

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