Literacy is essential to career success, encompassing the ability to think critically, write coherently, and ultimately develop increasing levels of mastery of an area of knowledge.
The business world is one of those areas, with its own unique body of knowledge and way of thinking about the world. Nick Cummings cites Henry J. Kaiser, his mentor who built the Kaiser Permanente health care system, as describing the mindset of a successful business person in this way: “find a need and fill it.”1 For professionals trained in the treatment of mental health and substance abuse issues, this is not a point of view fostered during many years of education. The prevailing view is more in line with this stance: acquire a professional license and wait for your time to be filled with clients.
Thanks to health care reform, many new paths are opening that are well suited to the basic skills of mental health professionals, but following them will require that you have not only additional capabilities but greater business literacy as well. For example, health promotion and illness prevention are not synonymous with psychotherapy, but a skilled psychotherapist has a strong foundation for building additional skills to keep people healthy. Other options for professionals to consider today exist outside the traditional office or clinic, as employers want to hire professionals who can provide effective worksite health and wellness services. And, integrated delivery systems – whether known as patient-centered medical homes (PCMHs) or accountable care organizations (ACOs) – need professionals who can provide team-based care in a primary-care practice office or other medical settings.
Opportunities like these must be understood as supplementing traditional services, not replacing them. For example, psychotherapy should continue to be offered to people with a wide array of psychological disorders since decades of research have shown that “psychotherapy is remarkably efficacious.”2 While far too few people are aware of this ironclad conclusion, we cannot let psychotherapy’s effectiveness in known treatments prevent us from leveraging its power to solve other health care problems and expand business opportunities for clinicians.
Clearly, people with health care risks such as obesity and tobacco use need something other than psychotherapy from mental health professionals, but they also need more than the education, support, and prodding by nurses that has been tried over the past decade. The need to treat these problems is clear, as is the willingness of many employers to pay for treatment services, but clinicians have yet to figure out how to effectively meet this need. The good news is that no one has yet figured this out and health care reform views health and wellness services as a cornerstone of improved health and cost outcomes.
These services can be provided through a variety of modalities: telephonic sessions, secure online sessions, face-to-face sessions at the worksite or in private offices. The key is to realize that clinicians have not been trained for each of these modalities, and so additional training is needed. One must also realize that these are not 50-minute psychotherapy sessions. Successful new models will be developed by skilled clinicians with high business literacy.
Tending to the stressed workforce
A health crisis exists globally, not just in the United States, and one of the greatest concerns world-wide is stress, encompassing everything, depending on who’s describing it, from coping with the everyday challenges of life to clinical depression. Stress reduction is well tailored to the skill set of a mental health clinician, but once again the solution is not traditional psychotherapy. Employers are increasingly willing to pay for “resiliency training,” in the hopes of developing a workforce that is both physically and psychologically fit. The first place to turn for professionals who think they can contribute in this area is the work of Martin Seligman. His positive psychology, as described in his 2011 book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being3, is the type of solution being sought by employers concerned about a stressed workforce. Clinicians will need training for this new and large opportunity.
There is a specialty within the field of psychology called Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Psychologists with this background provide a wide range of services to employers, but increasingly today’s employers are recognizing a new need. They are realizing that the health and wellness programs implemented for employees cannot succeed if the work environment itself does not support these goals. Accordingly, employers are turning to external consultants who can help them move the company further toward a culture of health. Because there are not enough I&O psychologists to do this work, there are opportunities for mental health clinicians to develop the skills needed for this type of organizational consultation. EAPs are one common pathway. Many employee assistance professionals with experience consulting to organizations on a variety of issues are working today to build their credentials related to a culture of health.