Imagine how you would feel upon receiving a diagnosis of cancer, COPD or any chronic illness. Then imagine that your doctor’s office provided the services of a behavioral health provider to support you through the emotions brought on during this change to your health – all under one roof. For Kathy Muzzy, LCSW that vision has become a reality and so much more for the patients she treats.
Muzzy is one of more than 60 behavioral health integrated (BHI) clinicians working for Maine Behavioral Healthcare who are embedded at medical practices throughout the MaineHealth system. She was one of the first Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) clinicians and has been with the program for ten years. Her schedule is divided between the Arthur Jewell Community Health Center in Brooks, ME and Stockton Springs Regional Health Center.
Patients come to Muzzy for a wide variety of reasons that include children, adults and even couples. “People automatically think a ‘counselor’ is only for a mental health disorder,” Muzzy said. “But someone may be adjusting to having diabetes and just need some coaching to get through some difficult parts of their lives. All of us need support when going through change. That may include dealing with the aging process, trying to lose weight, smoking cessation or adjusting to retirement.”
While most of Muzzy’s patients are seen on a short-term basis, there are some exceptions. These include individuals with chronic mental health issues, like bipolar disorder or depression, who need to check in on a regular basis. This is part of the beauty of the BHI program, as each clinician, like Muzzy, adapts to the uniqueness of her assigned region. This is particularly true in the more remote town of Brooks, where traveling for treatment is not an option for a lot of people. In some cases, patients are reluctant to see a counselor but are perfectly comfortable at their trusted primary care office. It’s a special arrangement that Muzzy truly enjoys.
“I like hearing about people’s lives and having an opportunity to point out their strengths while placing the focus on behaviors. It’s so rewarding to watch my patients capitalize on those strengths and develop patterns that are healthier for them. They get to see that they have control over how they handle their anxiety or depression.”
“Kathy is a strong clinician and we’re lucky to have her,” said Stacey Ouellette, BHI Director. “She is a vocal advocate for her patients and for doing the right thing, and just a good person who appreciates the little things.”
One of Muzzy’s strengths is her enthusiasm and willingness to learn new methods of treatment. Most recently, she began providing Integrated Medication Assisted Treatment (IMAT) to people with opioid use disorder. The remoteness of her practices has made it challenging for those in need to receive this critical service but she is able to offer the therapeutic support that is so necessary during the recovery process. One of her first IMAT patients had experienced this challenge. Thanks to the care that Muzzy, along with other members of the medical team, are able to provide the patient is now six months into recovery.
What is most rewarding for Muzzy is seeing the evolution her presence has had on the practices she supports. “The doctors and staff have really come to see this service as a big support for them and they don’t hesitate to knock on my door,” Muzzy explained. “We’re able to take a holistic approach by working together on the medical and emotional health needs of our patients.”