What is a Doctor of Behavioral Health?

One of the most frequent questions I receive is, “What is a Doctor of Behavioral Health?” This question comes from individuals out of the healthcare industry and within the healthcare industry, and all have a puzzled look when asking. Perhaps it is easier to answer what a Doctor of Behavioral Health is not before answering what is.

A Doctor of Behavioral Health is not a psychologist like many assume; although psychology is mixed in the education curriculum, a DBH and a psychologist have different roles in the healthcare field. A psychologist is usually a state licensed provider and utilized for mental health testing and assessments, counseling, and diagnosing. A DBH can have a terminal Masters degree in counseling, clinical social work, or marriage, family therapy and retain a state licensure; however a DBH degree is not a licesenable degree yet, and therefore cannot bill insurance without a billable Masters degree. With that said, a DBH has been trained to conduct assessments related to healthcare disorders such as anxiety and hypertension, chronic illness and depression, substance abuse and HIV, and risk taking behaviors, all provided in a medical setting.

A DBH is not a nurse or medical doctor. A DBH is a valuable working part of an individual’s healthcare team alongside the medical doctor and nurses. The DBH helps coordinate care with the team by working with the patient on behavioral needs to improve medical conditions. They can not prescribe medications or diagnose medical ailments; however they can offer suggestions on behavioral therapies that may create better patient compliance with medications and treatments.

So what can a Doctor of Behavioral Health actually do? A lot! A DBH is trained in three main areas: mental health, medical literacy, and entrepreneurship. Those three areas open many possibilities for a DBH. Healthcare is moving away from a traditional model of healthcare and into a a holistic model of healthcare where the mind and body are connected in illness and not separated. This is called integrated healthcare and it is becoming the standard due to healthcare changes like the Affordable Care Act.

The marriage of mind and body in medicine has created a specialty niche for the Doctor of Behavioral Health because of the specialized training in medical literacy and mental health. Unlike a psychologist that is mainly trained in disorders of the mind, the DBH is trained to work with disorders of the body and how the mind impacts the disorder. For example, hypertension and anxiety have been shown to have a correlation. In most instances a physician will administer medication to a patient to treat the disorder and lightly inquire about lifestyle and changes. A DBH will work with the physician and patient to discover possible causes of the anxiety and make lifestyle change recommendations to the patient to help lessen the anxiety and thus lessen the hypertension. This is created through helping the patient learn to change anxiety provoking behaviors through psychoeducation, motivational interviewing, behavior interventions, solution focused counseling, and referral if indicated.

Great teamwork in healthcare leads to great results, and there is a place for the DBH on that team. By possessing the strong foundation in the three core areas, the DBH can lead a healthcare team in integration, reverse integration, clinical patient counseling, even in teaching groups and classes about healthcare. The Doctor of Behavioral Health is an essential part of person-centered care and is the future of medicine.

This is a small insight into what a Doctor of Behavioral Health is and does. The title may be a little newer, but the concept has been around for many years – the mind and body work together. A DBH helps connect the two and is proving beneficial in patient care.


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