The National Council for Behavioral Health, convening the community of mental health and substance use treatment organizations, held its annual conference titled, Integrating Behavioral Healthcare in Primary Care, in Washington DC Monday, May 5- Wednesday, May 7 . This conference was a window on policy, trends, and technology that affect the delivery of behavioral health services.
After three days of presentations about the intersection of behavioral healthcare and primary care, my takeaway was this: not since the advent of managed care will clinical social workers be dealing with so many changes in the healthcare environment, and therefore in the way we practice and interact with others. This, of course, requires that we conceptualize these changes accurately, that our schools make necessary adjustments, and that we, as practitioners, seize opportunities for leveraging our skills and maximizing the value of our “person-in-environment” perspective.
The danger is that systemic change will occur without our input or awareness. That is why I attend conferences like this one—to hear what top thinkers and policy-makers have to say, and to relate it to you and me as clinical social workers. We will need to learn new skills: advocating for our own professionalism as clinical social workers, working in new and varied practice settings, understanding substance-use disorders and treatment, speaking the language of medical professionals, forcefully communicating our knowledge of human interaction to our colleagues and employers.
Getting people the help they need, when and where they need it, is what clinical social workers do. Can we make that understood and valued within systems created by others? Can we get seats at the tables, from national to local, to help guide the process of change driven by the ACA and other new programs? We have not done it in the past—we have always reacted rather than helped to lead. Here at ACSWA, we hope to be part of the leadership group, and to give you the tools and information that will help you take a similar role and build a thriving, relevant practice into the future.
I dive deeper into the findings of the Integrating Behavioral Healthcare in Primary Care conference, and relate them to your career and the profession of clinical social work.