Mental health treatment by family physicians: current practices and preferences

Fam Med. 2012 Nov-Dec;44(10):704-11.


Background and objectives: Family physicians are trained to assess mental health symptoms and provide some mental health interventions to their patients. Because of obstacles to referring patients to mental health specialists, many family physicians independently provide outpatient mental health treatment such as brief office counseling. Questions exist regarding physicians' interest in, perceived competence with, and their actual practice of brief office counseling in family medicine.

Methods: Surveys were administered to physicians at 11 family medicine residency programs in Florida.

Results: Physicians regularly evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients with mild to moderate mental health disorders. Physicians prefer to evaluate patients themselves but refer patients who require counseling to specialists. However, physicians often provide brief office counseling themselves. Physicians believe they have the knowledge and skills to competently and effectively provide brief office counseling to their patients. They also believe that patients are receptive to and prefer to receive brief office counseling from their family physician rather than from a mental health specialist.

Conclusions: Physicians are willing and feel competent to identify and treat patients with mental disorders in the family medicine outpatient setting, including the provision of brief office counseling. Further research is needed to understand what effective mental health interventions can efficiently be taught to family physicians. Having family physicians treat mental health disorders may lead to greater patient satisfaction, improved chronic care management, and a positive impact on quality of care.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence
  • Counseling / statistics & numerical data*
  • Faculty, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Physicians, Family / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires