Move Over, Western Medicine

Executive Briefing | by | July 7, 2011

Monica E. Oss
Monica E. Oss

July 7, 2011

I want to end the “back of the bus” talk—the constant complaining that behavioral health disciplines come in last in health system priorities—that we hear so frequently at meetings of behavioral health professionals. Because I think the reality is that behavioral health specialists are on the wrong bus – they should be diving into the chronic disease mainstream and competing. Three recently published research articles brought to mind new opportunities in some pretty different areas.

The newest of the pack had to do with consumers suffering from strokes. As it turns out, talk-based therapy increases the survival rates and decreases the incidence of depression in stroke survivors (‘Motivational’ Interviews Reduce Depression, Increase Survival After Stroke).

Then, the new numbers on diabetes – recent research has found that the number of Americans living with diabetes has tripled over the past three decades, and that a high percentage of that increase is attributed to changing diets, rising obesity, and growing rates of physical inactivity (Diabetes Cases Double to 347 Million). I’ve written in the past about the behavioral management opportunities in diabetes (Chronic Condition Management Is Behavioral Management all members) – and this new data just makes the opportunity more attractive.

And, we’ve also seen increasing numbers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease – 5.2 Million Americans Have Alzheimer’s Disease . A meta-analysis of existing research, Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline: Evidence Report/Technology Assessment , confirms that there is an increased risk for Alzheimer’s associated with issues such as diabetes, smoking, and depression – and that a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s may be associated with cognitive engagement and physical activities. More behavioral interventions.

What struck me when I read these articles in succession was that we’re seeing scientific study move us from the oft-referred-to “western medical model,” to something more akin to the mind-body connection, or to use the term coined in the 1970’s by University of Rochester researchers, Robert Ader and Nicholas Cohen – psychoneuroimmunology. Rather than treating the mind and body as separate entities, as is often done in “western medicine,” psychoneuroimmunology looks at the interrelationships among the psychological processes, behavioral processes, nervous system processes, and immunology. Two decades ago, this was considered “edgy” – but the last twenty years of research have supported the basic premise.

As scientific knowledge increases, one “finding” is consistent – the outcome of (and spending for) most chronic conditions are heavily influenced by behavioral interventions. And addressing those behavioral issues is the core competency of most professionals in the behavioral health market space. What I don’t know is whether the professionals and organizations in the behavioral health care space will want to move onto the new bus.


Monica E. Oss
Chief Executive Officer, OPEN MINDS


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