The concept of embedded behavioral health care in the military can be traced back decades, with the intent to promote psychological health and readiness in operational units through targeted prevention and risk reduction efforts. As opposed to the traditional concept of a clinic, embedded assets bring behavioral health to the unit. In addition to providing direct behavioral health support, embedded providers strive to make connections with unit members to gain insight into their unique needs. By carefully assessing an organization’s climate, they can collaborate with leadership and make recommendations to improve the operational environment and quality of life for unit members.
While each of the military services may have its own vision or model that guides the embedded behavioral health mission, the integral role of behavioral health technicians (BHTs) remains consistent across the enterprise. BHTs are key members of an interdisciplinary team of professionals responsible for providing embedded care to soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and their families.
To understand an organization or unit’s behavioral health needs, embedded providers first need to understand the largest component of the population they are serving – the enlisted force. The enlisted force makes up more than 80 percent of military personnel and is known for having its own heritage, customs, values, and traditions. As enlisted service members, BHTs are already in a position of trust to make meaningful connections. Regardless of how often leadership reminds unit members that they have an “open door policy,” there will continue to be reluctance among some in the enlisted ranks to speak openly to officers about personal issues or concerns related to the organization’s morale. Behavioral health providers working in an embedded position can help bridge this gap by leveraging BHTs’ enlisted status and optimally utilizing their BHTs’ skills.
The role of the BHT in an embedded environment is dynamic and flexible, and the variability reflects both the mission and individual needs of unit members. When utilized effectively, BHTs fulfilling an embedded role can expect to perform duties both independently and alongside a clinician. These duties range from one-on-one intervention and conducting psychoeducational groups to consulting with leadership and facilitating referrals when a higher level of intervention is warranted. As provider extenders in embedded roles, BHTs can increase access to care and dramatically reduce the wait times that are often associated with seeking traditional mental health care in a military treatment facility.
By focusing on prevention rather than pathology, embedded behavioral health personnel are able to enhance unit members’ performance and mitigate risk associated with leaving behavioral health concerns unaddressed. Supporting service members in a comfortable, familiar, and easy-to-access environment encourages help seeking and is shown to have a positive impact on reducing the stigma often associated with seeking behavioral health treatment. By openly communicating and making recommendations, BHTs help leaders address issues and make adjustments in the workplace to improve the health and welfare of the military’s greatest asset – the men and women responsible for executing the mission.
Tech Sgt. Rehmert is the mental health technician subject matter expert at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. She is an Air Force mental health technician and certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor (CADC).
The views expressed in Clinician's Corner blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence or Department of Defense.