By Abigail Cooper, PhD
Coined by John Maxwell in 2002, the saying “teamwork makes the dreamwork,” is just as apt today as it was 20 years ago (sorry to any Millennials who now feel old) and it is just as relevant in the context of mental health care. Teamwork is beneficial for patients and providers alike: as it allows patients to benefit from the insights of many professionals and providers to receive logistical, intellectual, and emotional support. For teamwork to be beneficial, you need to be able to listen, take one another seriously, and respect differences in perspectives. With that comes collaboration, harmony, cooperation, and communication, which aids in accurate diagnosis and effective treatment for the individual patient (Olson et al., 2020). In mental health care, providers work as a team in a multitude of ways, and below you’ll find just a few ways teamwork is helpful in this setting.
You might be surprised to hear this, but one way that mental health providers (i.e. psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers) collaborate is through a weekly consultation team, during which they work together to provide one another with validation and problem solving skills to ultimately better support their patients. It’s basically therapy for therapists!
Another way teamwork comes into play here is during the intake process, when your evaluator is gathering information (aka asking a lot of questions) about what is bringing you in, as well as your history, to best understand the presenting problem. Part of what we do behind the scenes, with your permission of course, is called collateral work, where we gather even more information from outside sources by looking at school reports or speaking with other medical providers, for example. We often try to involve others in your treatment so that you can have a team to support you throughout your therapy and we can take into consideration other points of views.
Last, but not least, you and your therapist are a team! Once you build a trusting relationship- which is at the root of teamwork and a therapeutic alliance- you can work together to reach your [the patient’s] shared goals. The therapist brings their expertise on diagnosis and evidence-based treatment and you [the patient] are the expert on yourself- your experiences, problems, and strengths. Teamwork in this context is crucial for effective treatment and how well therapists and their patients work together has been shown to be one of the greatest predictors of treatment success.
Don’t forget that, in general, humans are social beings and we can thrive in groups; we benefit from being around and sharing with others. That being said, working as a team won’t be rainbows and butterflies all the time! When conflicts arise, the best way to approach them is with openness and honesty, both with friends and mental health providers.