Collaborative Care: Mental health services in a familiar space

Woman does a telehealth visit on laptop from a couch, with plants around her.

Between 2019 and 2021, the number of adults seeking mental health care services increased. For example, the number of women aged 18-44 who received services jumped from 23.8% to 28.6%. The pandemic and other stressors may have caused this increase. 

Common problems such as depression or anxiety are treatable. However, with more people needing care, finding help can be difficult. One approach, called the Collaborative Care Model (CoCM), improves access by bringing mental health services to the primary care clinic.  

Susan Kritz, M.S.W., LCSW, behavioral health care manager, is spearheading collaborative care efforts at the Center for Women’s Health. She shares with us how it works. 

Why collaborative care?

Kritz explains that collaborative care involves the patient and three team members: 

  • Primary care provider – oversees all aspects of the patient’s care, works closely with the behavioral health care manager.
  • Behavioral health care manager – performs all care management and psychotherapy. 
  • Psychiatrist – provides treatment modification recommendations to both the Behavioral Health Care Manager and the Primary Care Provider.  

“The goal is to streamline their behavioral health care,” says Kritz, who has been a social worker for over 30 years. “I’ll talk with patients between their primary care visits, for either psychotherapy or supportive visits.  If they are having any issues, side effects or problems, I can follow-up with their doctor.” In addition to these conversations, Kritz also has weekly consultations with the team psychiatrist to best serve patients. 

“People are really excited to get mental health services in a place they already know,” adds Kritz. “Knowing we consult with a psychiatrist means they don’t have to go find one. They are able to get primary care, mental health and psychiatry - all in one space.” 

Screenings and intervention

Annual mental health screenings are part of regular wellness visits. If a patient shows symptoms of depression or anxiety, the team can offer this model of care. Patients have the choice of attending therapy in-person or via telehealth. 

"We are thankful to be able to offer this team-based option to patients for short term therapy and medication management," says Elizabeth Shih, M.D., who leads primary care the Center for Women's Health, "It's especially helpful at a time when access to behavioral health providers such as therapists and psychiatrists is becoming increasingly limited."

Kritz notes that part of her role is also to connect patients with other resources or care options, if indicated. For example, if a patient’s main concern is substance abuse, Kritz finds appropriate services. However, for many patients, the collaborative care approach provides the opportunity to access behavioral health services in a familiar space. 

“We’re hoping to help our patients before their mental health becomes an emergency,” says Kritz.