What is Behavioral Health?

By Jennifer O’Neal, UAA MSW Student Intern

VOA Alaska offers behavioral health services to Alaska’s youth and families. These programs range from residential care for youth struggling with substance use, to outpatient mental health counseling along with hands on life skills development in the community. All of these services are connected. Each one compliments the other, allowing personalized care for every youth that walks through our door. But what’s the bigger picture here? How are they all connected? And what even is behavioral health?

Behavioral health is the connection between our behavior and our overall wellness.

Behavioral health includes anything we do in our daily lives that affects our physical health, mental wellbeing, relationships, and connections in the community. And it’s unique to everyone, with each person having different habits and making different choices from day to day. The choices we make can be helpful or harmful to our health. By making healthy habits a routine, we not only maintain a healthy body, but also can improve our mood, thoughts, and relationships.

Behavioral health can be sustained with proactive choices, healthy social supports, and an ability to adequately cope with life’s many challenges. However, even the best laid plans, most careful habits, and loving supports cannot prepare us for all that life can throw (or has thrown) at us sometimes. In those times, help is just a call away. It does not mean you have failed; it only means you are human. Sometimes we need others in our lives to help us grow and get to the next step – it has been that way for all of time. We thrive on human connection.

College of staff enjoying wellness activities to boost the mental, emotional, and physical health.
VOA Alaska staff showing off their favorite wellness activities (including the author, bottom left).

Behavioral health impacts everyone.

We can all think of a “bad habit” we’ve had to work through in our lives. What made you want to quit that pesky habit? Odds are it was having some negative impact in your life. Whether it be for fitness reasons, to save money, or to avoid shame and embarrassment; we know there are some things we do that we’d like to change or some things we’d like to start doing to improve in some way. 

All behavior is an attempt to meet a need. Sometimes simply knowing what you’d like to change and being motivated are not enough. A habit can be incredibly difficult to change if you’re unclear on its purpose or if you don’t have another way to meet the same need. Perhaps you or someone you know has tried “everything” and nothing seems to work. This can be an incredibly frustrating experience and can lead to feeling defeated or hopeless to make any lasting changes.

Behavioral health services help bring needs into focus.

Behavioral health clinicians consider the needs of the whole person within their environment and existing relationships. The types of tools, skills, and interventions used to address any behavioral health concerns are tailored to individual needs, are flexible, and are guided by the person requesting them.  This is quite different from a medical model, where often there is a prescribed “cure” or “treatment”. A treatment plan will often include individual or family counseling, behavior coaching, and sometimes peer mentorship. Also, depending on the level of need, these services can be offered in the community or home as well as more structured residential settings when personal safety is a concern.

Behavioral Health also views the individual as expert to their experience and as the key to their own success. One of the first steps is identifying a person’s strengths, motivations, and resources to address challenges or concerns. From there, specific target goals are developed as well as the specific steps that can support growth, change, and confidence to be successful in reaching them. The ultimate goal of behavioral health services is self-sufficiency; the ability to believe in and engage in behaviors that create lasting overall health, wellbeing, and connections in the community.

At VOA Alaska, we are skilled in addressing a variety of behavioral health challenges, and believe in a holistic approach to working with Alaska’s youth and families. From mental health counseling to residential substance use treatment, our services are designed to meet youth and their families where they are at and are dedicated to ensuring the right service is provided at the right time.

We are here to help you. Call (907) 279 9640 to connect with a caring professional today or click here to get started.

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