Practicing Partnership, a Recipe for Success

Written by on November 1, 2011 in Practice tips - No comments

By Denise Hanson, Psy.D.

When I decided to open a private practice in Wilmington, N.C., in March of 2000, the community embraced not only a new and unique model of medical and mental health care, but also embraced me. This was a welcome surprise as I had recently relocated from Boston, Mass., and felt very much an “outsider.” Today, eleven years later, The Center for Integrated Health Care, PC (CIHC) has a difficult time keeping up with the volume of referrals we receive.  It has been an inspiring and rewarding venture and we have grown tremendously as a result of the positive response from the patients and clients we serve.  My practice has been shaped by my passion for and commitment to making a difference in this world and to help others to do the same. 

CIHC was founded by my husband, Russell H. Gerry, Board Certified Internist, and myself, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist.  After many visits to Wilmington, we concluded that this city was truly a unique place due to its location, beauty, resources, and most of all, its people.  We decided that Wilmington was exactly the type of community we could call “home,” and also a community that would be open to our longstanding vision of health care.  For many years, we looked forward to establishing a health care practice that was founded on a model of integration.  Although the “Mind-Body Connection” has long been accepted as a theoretical model of health care, our experience was that most practices continued to treat them as separate entities.  We wanted our delivery of physical and mental health care to be centered on the premise that the mind and body are truly interdependent.  We are proud to say that the care we deliver at CIHC does, in fact, center on the premise that mind and body are to be treated as an integrated entity.  The medical and mental health team of professionals at CIHC is concerned about the whole patient or client, recognizing that each individual’s unique health care needs involve multiple factors, including their physical health, emotional or behavioral health, spiritual beliefs, family, environment, and community.  Dr. Gerry and his medical team provide general internal medicine care, including preventive, acute and chronic health care, while the mental health team I lead provides mental health care to children, adolescents, adults, and families.  Not all patients receive care from both the medical team and the mental health team at CIHC, but for those that do, the medical and mental health teams work closely together with their patients towards.

Marketing a practice through collaborative relationships

When I opened my practice, I decided to market my services to several different groups, in addition to medical and mental health professionals.  I reached out to schools, both private and public, social service agencies, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, tutors, and agencies that support individuals with disabilities, such as vocational rehabilitation.  In addition to marketing my services, one of CIHC’s primary goals in reaching out to other professionals was to expand our network of integration by partnering with other disciplines in the Wilmington community.  Working alongside other disciplines has been, and continues to be, a very important part of my practice.  In addition to educating others about CIHC’s model, I learn unique aspects of care that other members of my community provide.  I believe that our efforts at interdisciplinary networking and education have served as a vital foundation for the comprehensive care we strive to provide for our patients.  I am grateful that so many local practitioners, each with a unique and invaluable skill set, have welcomed and accepted my efforts at integration.  Our practice continues to grow through our relationships with our patients and our relationships with the professional community.  Our community partners include pediatricians, general practitioners, internists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, schools, tutors, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, medical specialists, mental health practices, parents, and of course, our patients.  They are not only our partners, but also support the growth of CIHC through referrals.

Getting in the driver’s seat of your own health

One major observation that our clients and patients make is that our practice model empowers them to take ownership over their own care.  They report feeling heard and understood by our clinicians, and most importantly, they report feeling respected.  Our clients are encouraged to learn everything they can about their health care needs and to work collaboratively with our health care providers towards optimal health and well being.  These patients share with us that this has not been the case with many of their previous medical and/or mental health care experiences.  One common perception is that they were not encouraged to work collaboratively with their doctors, but rather told what to do or not to do.  Their take-home message was “the doctor knows best, so do what is recommended and don’t ask questions.”  Most patients and clients come to us with this very expectation, and they are initially perplexed over our expectation that they are a team member, just as important a player, and with as much control over their care as their health care provider.  Over time, however, they begin to embrace the idea that it is their health and their right to make important decisions regarding their health.  When they come to accept their role fully, we see a big difference in the way patients and clients take care of themselves.  Without a doubt, they do it better.

For example, a patient contacted CIHC in 2002, reporting longstanding multiple physical and mental health problems.  He had been seen by several medical and mental health providers prior to being seen at CIHC.  Over time, at CIHC, he learned that many of his medical problems, such as his bleeding ulcer, sleep disturbance, and gastrointestinal symptoms were related to his mental health diagnosis, posttraumatic stress disorder.  He had never been told that he had PTSD.  He was unaware of the symptoms and their relationship to the medical problems he had endured for so many years.  Together, Dr. Gerry, and myself, worked closely with this patient to help him not only understand his medical and mental health needs, but to develop and implement a plan of care that would address his complex health care needs.  The patient has made significant behavioral changes in his life, in addition to taking charge of his health care by asking questions and learning about treatment options and medications.  Other than his sleep, which is still not regulated completely, this patient’s medical problems have significantly abated.  This patient has participated in therapy since 2002, with fewer and fewer medical visits due to his improved physical health.

Empowering patients who need mental health care

As a mental health provider, empowering my patients to become experts on their conditions is of utmost importance.  The stigma of having a mental health disorder continues to lurk in the lives of most clients who seek mental health care, and lack of knowledge and awareness only serves to exacerbate their feelings of shame and vulnerability.  Educating clients about their mental health disorder is an integral part of the treatment process in my practice.  Over time, my clients develop a new “narrative” about their illness, one that bridges the mind with the body.  We view mental health illness the same way that we view physical illness.  Brain chemistry is at the root of many mental disorders.  Physical chemistry is at the root of many physical disorders.  The mind affects the health of the body and the body affects the health of the mind.  The stigma of mental illness is difficult to overcome, but many of my patients are able to rid themselves of the shame that has caused them so much emotional pain.  In doing so, they feel much less powerless.  This is a huge and important step in becoming emotionally healthy.  In order to help our clients accomplish this, their team of health care providers needs to convey the same message.  In my practice, this is what we strive to do.

My practice has expanded to include an affiliate, “Mentoring Minds for Mental Health” (MMMH), a company that serves a special population of children, adolescents, and adults through neuropsychological, psychological, and learning evaluations.  The clients of MMMH are not suffering from a mental health disorder; rather, they are suffering predominantly from a learning disorder and/or attention deficit disorder.  Diagnosis of a learning disorder and/or attention deficit disorder is the first step in helping an individual realize their cognitive and academic potential.  Once a diagnosis is made, an academic plan for success can be developed and implemented.  The MMMH team now consists of teachers, parents, school guidance counselors, pediatricians, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and myself.  I spend a good deal of my time at local schools, working with a child’s academic team in the interest of addressing the child’s unique learning needs.  Helping an individual develop a love for learning in the face of many obstacles, has been, and continues to be, the most inspiring part of my work.

Denise Hanson, Psy.D.
Dr. Hanson has been providing psychological services since 1977.  She strongly supports an integrated model of health care that includes collaborating and partnering with other professionals in her community towards optimizing health care for her patients. Dr. Hanson is currently licensed in both Mass. and N.C. and is a member of The National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology, The American Psychological Association, The North Carolina Psychological Association and The Cape Fear Psychological Association.  As a result of her work in the Wilmington community, Dr. Hanson was nominated for membership to the National Association of Professional Women, and has been nominated twice for the YWCA Women of Achievement Award.  She currently serves on the board of directors for the Hill School of Wilmington, a private school serving children with learning differences.


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