As scientific literature has increased awareness of the relationship between the biological and psychological aspects of the human condition, and terms such as multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary have become the norm, so has the presence of psychology as an integral component of treatment teams.
From a global perspective, research shows that the presence of a mental health professional embedded within a team greatly contributes to the success of the team and patient outcomes at large. Given the culture and training of different disciplines however, not every member may appreciate the utility of mental health representation.
As psychologists settle into new roles within teams, some may struggle to find their voice and identity, or find they are largely left out of patient care altogether. In the pursuit of whole-person care, what can we do when we find ourselves working in less inclusive cultures?
First take note of the team culture. As a new member, getting the lay of the land and assessing team dynamics will be useful information to assist you in being more effective within the team.
Next, take note of the individual members. What are their goals? How do they approach their work? How do they function within the group? While this step takes time, learning how the team functioned before your arrival will inform you on how to integrate successfully.
While we are aware of the value of our skillset, psychologists have a responsibility to educate others on the assets we possess and the assistance we can provide.
Increasing your colleague’s awareness of the role of psychology and the importance of mental health support is crucial for survival within the system. Find time to share with colleagues your knowledge and how mental health can be of service to team and patient outcomes. Even today, many disciplines are unaware of how a psychologist functions within healthcare or even what skills we bring to the table.
Demonstrate your worth
Contribute to team outcomes by helping other disciplines achieve their goals. Focus on problem solving issues from a team perspective. Be willing to jump in and do the dirty work. Demonstrate through your actions that the goal is to put the success of the team above that of the individual in order to reduce a sense of competition and opposition.
Build up the team, set healthy boundaries
Praise others for their accomplishments. Celebrate team and individual achievements. However, avoid landmines such as team splitting and gossip. By gently ignoring the behaviors that create barriers to effective teamwork, you set the precedence that you are a member with integrity, respect, egalitarianism and collegiality.
Check your ego at the door
Appreciate that being a good member of a team means you must let go of any self-centered positions. Approaching interactions with the attitude that only you and your discipline have the answer to a problem will alienate you and the profession. Share decision-making, and be open to the input, perspective and expertise of others.
Make yourself available
Have an open-door policy, and more importantly, be mentally present when others come to you. It’s important to send the message that you value the input of others, and that you are open and willing to work together toward a common goal.
Alternatively, reach out to team members. The more you engage with your teammates, the more people will think of you as part of the team. Use your rapport building skills you developed as a psychologist to your advantage and capitalize on your ability to form relationships with others. Get to know the other team members; not just for what they contribute professionally, but who they are personally.
Recognize your true value
Lastly, in your training as a psychologist, you are often taught to approach interactions with humility and passive support. While those skills have a time and place, learning to be actively engaged with a clear and confident but respectful voice will earn you greater respect by your colleagues as an asset to the team.
Appreciate your skills for what they are. Be mindful of psychology’s value in its ability to diversify and deepen the impact healthcare delivery systems can have on a person’s meaningful recovery and quality of life.
Cinnamon Westbrook, Psy.D., received her doctorate degree in clinical health psychology from Loma Linda University. Following a medical psychology internship in Dallas, Texas, she received her postdoctoral specialty training in neuro-rehabilitation psychology at the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System Polytrauma System of Care. She is in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.