Outlining the scope of behavioral health practice in integrated primary care: dispelling the myth of the one-trick mental health pony

Fam Syst Health. 2014 Sep;32(3):338-43. doi: 10.1037/fsh0000070. Epub 2014 Jul 14.


Patient presentation in primary care ranges from psychosocial considerations to physical and mental health concerns including serious mental illness. To best prepare for addressing all aspects of health, integrated primary care practices should be equipped with the expertise and resources to appropriately treat the range of presentations. We conducted a literature review of research articles to determine the span of service types provided by behavioral health providers in primary care settings. Among 675 articles retrieved, only 17 addressed health behaviors, 64 examined both health behaviors and mental health, and 160 included only mental health topics. Within these groups, depression was the dominant screening, assessment, and treatment target, and only 42% of all studies included Method and Results sections. Literature supports that integrating behavioral health providers and services into primary care settings benefits patients, primary care providers, and the practice at large, resulting in improved care experiences. However, primary care practices appear to not use the full range of services behavioral health providers can offer. Increased health policy efforts and payment reform are needed to enable a more expansive view of what behavioral health providers could do in a primary care context.

MeSH terms

  • Behavioral Medicine / methods*
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Care Team*