Part of the team: Strategies to improve counselor collaboration in healthcare settings

March 3, 2019

conference meeting
When I first began my career as a counselor my official title was ‘assessment and referral counselor’. I was conducting assessments in a psychiatric hospital and local hospital emergency rooms. I was routinely consulting with psychiatrists and ER physicians regarding the best level of care for behavioral health patients in crisis. Initially intimidating I learned how to communicate with physicians and what information was most important in their clinical decision making. Once in private practice a significant source of referrals for my practice became primary care physicians (PCP’s) and that prior experience served me well to be able to provide recommendations for treatment to their patients.
Collaboration presents a unique opportunity for counselors to advance the counseling profession in healthcare settings, emphasize our counselor identity, and establish our place in the mental health & healthcare profession. In fact, possessing a strong professional identity is the most significant factor for counselors to feel empowered to educate and influence other providers (Cox et al., 2014). Establishing collaborative relationships is also a means of advocacy. Collaborative consultation describes how counselors “interdependently and collaboratively partner” (Keys et al., 1998p. 123) across treatment settings. This can potentially lead to more comprehensive and integrated services when counselors are viewed as agents of change for their clients and the settings we are working within. Also, we can begin to see ourselves as a part of the larger system or community, emphasizing education, consultation, which contributes to integration.
An advantage of collaboration over consultation is that both providers are working together as a team instead of one provider serving as the expert over the other. Below are some practical suggestions to initiate and develop collaborative relationships (Gunn & Blount, 2009):
~Make a commitment to collaborate and develop an interest in working together.
~Establish a collaborative mindset which includes developing a comprehensive view of client’s problem and treatment.
~Create a “collaborative toolbox” which should include forms such a post-referral/intake letter & termination letter; that facilitates communication between providers.
~Networking to meet providers who are receptive to collaborative care and addressing psychosocial needs.
~Growing current referral or professional network by gathering contact information and contacting your current clients’ providers.
~Make contact outside current referral network by introducing yourself, providing training, and discussing how collaboration can benefit their clients and their practice.
~Collaboration follow through maintaining the relationship through consistency.
If you would like to learn more I would love to talk with you about my clinical consultation services.
Cox, J., Adams, E., & Loughran, M. J. (2014). Behavioral health training is good medicine for counseling trainees: Two curricular experiences in interprofessional collaboration. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 36, 115-129. doi:10.17744/mehc.36.2.c426q74431666762
Gunn, Jr.,W. B. & Blount, A. (2009). Primary care mental health: A new frontier for psychology. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65, 235-252. doi:10.1002/jclp.20499

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