Mighty Blog

What does an integrated behavioral health specialist do?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month – a designated time to spotlight the importance of taking care of your mental health and reducing the stigma of mental health conditions.  

We know prioritizing kids’ and teens’ mental health is vital to their overall well-being. At Children’s Minnesota, we are proud to provide integrated behavioral health (IBH) services at all nine of our primary care clinics. Behavioral health specialists are integrated within primary care clinics to help recognize and address early signs of mental health concerns in kids and teens during their visits to ensure they get the care they need when they need it most.  

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re highlighting Children’s Minnesota kid expert, Sarah Quinn, LICSW, integrated behavioral health specialist, to learn more about her role and tips for families to de-stress and take care of their mental health.

Sarah Quinn, LICSW, integrated behavioral health specialist
Sarah Quinn, LICSW, integrated behavioral health specialist

Get to know Sarah!

Tell us about your role and how long you’ve worked at Children’s Minnesota.  

I’m a behavioral health specialist at our primary care clinic in Minneapolis and I started in January 2020. I work with all our primary care clinicians and patient families that access our clinic. My role has three main parts:  

  1. I do brief therapy with kids/families (5-10 sessions) that focus on symptom relief, which has generally focused on anxiety, mood and coping skills.  
  2. I do some case management work related to mental health care and connecting kids/families to appropriate mental health services.  
  3. Lastly, the part that makes our role really unique is being fully integrated into our primary care clinic. This means I get to meet with kids and families when mental health needs come up during visits with our pediatricians.  

Tell us more about the program and why it’s important to ‘integrate’ in primary care

As I mentioned above, the most unique aspect of our IBH model is the ability to respond in-the-moment if a mental health concern comes up during a patient’s clinic visit. In most other health care systems, if a mental health need comes up, you are referred to an entirely different department and must wait for someone to connect with you.  

With IBH, we are able to address the concern while you are here and because our work is short term, we are able to schedule with families relatively quickly. These concerns can look like chronic stomachaches in younger children that might actually be anxiety or an elevated screening tool that reveals a teen has contemplated suicide. By integrating, we are demonstrating the importance of mental health care and that it is just as important as our physical health. We are able to stay connected to the child’s pediatrician so that everyone understands what care the child is receiving. When services are siloed and occurring in different systems, it can be very difficult to coordinate care. Families and patients are also coming back to the space they are familiar with, as our therapy rooms are physically located in our clinic space.  

What’s your favorite part of your job? 

One of my favorite things is working with such a great group of professionals in our clinic; we have wonderful providers and a great team. Secondly, I really like that even if I have finished the therapy piece with kids, because they are still coming to the clinic for checkups, I am still able to see them. It is really a unique part of my job to stay connected to kids and families throughout their childhood.  

How can families take care of their mental health?  

For children of all ages, routine and consistency are key. Other important things:

  • It is important for kids to have regular expected routines around sleep, play and eating.
  • We can make sure kids have access to healthy food, physical activity and adequate sleep (8-10 hours per night).
  • We can help by staying connected to the other adults our children interact with, such as their teachers and coaches.
  • We can help our children by connecting with them on an emotional level each day by asking kind and curious questions about how their day is going and validating their emotional experience.

If you feel like your child is struggling with their sleep, eating, mood, or worrying excessively, we encourage you to connect with your pediatrician to address these concerns as early as possible.  

What are your favorite ways to de-stress and take care of your mental health?  

I really enjoy spending time with my friends and family; I have two young children at home that are wonderful and hard work! Connecting with my friends is really helpful. I enjoy listening to music and baking. I also attend therapy for myself regularly and have for several years. It has been immensely helpful for me! 

Alexandra Rothstein