A woman, for the shoulders up, in a dark room with an orange circle of stop motion light creating a halo around her head, symbolic of behavioral health services.Behavioral Health Services can be understood as how a person’s behavior impacts both their mental and physical health. Behavioral Health attempts to describe how a person’s unique behavioral habits, mental health and biology combine to determine their ability to function and thrive. Habits of a person like how they eat, how much they exercise and what substances they use impact their physical and mental health to form their behavioral health.

As addressed by medical professionals, behavioral health can refer to a wide range of services including and related to mental health treatment, counseling, addiction and withdrawal treatment, recovery, counseling, marriage and family counseling, preventative care and more.

A good example to understand behavioral health services is to think of the issue of obesity. While a doctor will look for the physical and biochemical causes of obesity, behavioral health professionals will look for what behaviors (and their causes) might be contributing to the issue.

Are Behavioral Health and Mental Health the Same?

No, behavioral health and mental health are not the same. Mental health is a part of behavioral health, meaning that improvement techniques offered by behavioral health can help improve a person’s mental health. An example is that adopting healthier behaviors like improved diet and exercising can help improve mental health.

Examples of the Difference

A good way to think of mental health is as relating to a person’s biology, neurology, biochemistry and psychological health. Behavioral health can be thought of as relating to how a person’s well-being is connected to their habits and behavior.

Another way to distinguish behavioral health and mental health from one another are to compare common mental disorders to behavioral health disorders. Some recognizable mental disorders that are not behavioral health disorders are depression, anxiety disorder and schizophrenia. Some behavioral health disorders that are not mental health disorders are substance abuse, gambling addiction and eating disorders.


Why Understanding the Difference Matters

Understanding the difference between mental health issues and behavioral health issues is important for many reasons, the least of which is so that they can be properly treated by qualified professionals. Another reason why understanding the difference is important is to learn how to treat friends and family that may be affected by mental health and behavioral health issues. Educating oneself on the exact nature of the issues affecting friends, family or co-workers can go a long way in helping create and promote better relationships, lessening the challenges that everyone must face.

The Major Areas of Behavioral Health

Addiction Recovery Services

When substance abuse becomes an issue in someone’s life, recovery is something that is nearly impossible to do alone. Proper addiction recovery involves many aspects such as withdrawal management, residential treatment, and recovery services.

Withdrawal Management

Withdrawal management services exist to safely detox a person from alcohol and other substances. This process can include intake, assessment, health screening, medical services and more, depending on the program and individual need.

Proper case management of a person’s journey to recovery will involve assessing what the next steps are for a successful journey to recovery. Following withdrawal management, a person is often kept under observation until discharge, at which time the focus shifts to residential treatment.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment is at the crux of addiction recovery services. Treatment involves a safe and structured environment where a person can learn the necessary skills to live a successful life without substance abuse. The process involves assessment and treatment planning, counseling, medical services and other treatment designed to address risk management and preparation for continued recovery.


Recovery is both a continued state of being and a transition to a healthy, successful life free from substance abuse. The process of recovery requires resources that behavioral health services can provide such as:

  • Case Management – Personalized assistance, planning, and managing a treatment plan for relapse prevention and successful recovery. This includes access to medical, rehabilitative, advocacy and other services that may include education, job readiness, housing assistance and physical fitness.
  • Counseling and Support – Peer managed counseling services to support sober living, adjustment and long-term recovery.


Mental Health Services

Mental health services can be thought of as pharmacological (medication) and psychotherapeutic (therapy) solutions intended to help an individual alleviate the symptoms of mental disorders and function at their best.

Prescription Medication for Mental Health

A large part of mental health services is utilizing medication to treat mental health disorders.  Prescription medication can greatly improve the lives of people affected by mental health disorders when it is taken as advised. Prescription medication plays a large part in behavioral health services by addressing mental health disorders from a biological standpoint – that is to say, the drugs work biochemically.

There’s a lot of evidence that many people are helped by the medication they take for mental disorders. There’s also a lot of evidence that many people experience negative side effects from the same medication. Finding the right medication can be a difficult journey.

Psychotherapeutic Support (Therapy) for Mental Health

Psychotherapy is when a mental disorder is treated by psychological means such as talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or some other related way not involving medication. Most medical professionals psychotherapy is a powerful tool that can help a person deal with many aspects of mental illness. It explores the roots, causes and symptoms of mental disorders, traumas and difficulties in a person’s life.

Psychotherapy focuses on identifying and working through emotional difficulties. Depending on a person’s life circumstances, therapy can be for an individual, group, family or marriage and couples. There is a seemingly limitless amount of different and specialized types of therapy including, but not limited to:

  • Talk Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Psychodynamic Therapy

Within mental health, the combination of prescription medication and psychotherapy can have a powerful, positive impact on an individual’s life. Utilizing the expertise of medical and psychological professionals can help individuals create a program for success. These programs work with attainable short- and long-term goals that build upon each other.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are a good example of a disorder that falls well within behavioral health because of their dual nature. These eating disorders include, but aren’t limited to anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and food addiction. All these eating disorders have both physiological and psychological aspects that combine to define the disorders.

For example, the way that someone suffering from an eating disorder thinks about their body and food is distorted. This thinking can cause them to make decisions that can have significant physical impacts on their health. In the same way, their physical health can cause them to form distorted thoughts that impact their mental health. Either a physiological or psychological solution alone would not have the same, or the correct, impact on the disorder. The best treatments address the physical, mental and behavioral aspects of the disorder. This is the mixture that behavioral health services strives to employ.


Self-harm is a possible symptom of an underlying mental health disorder and is often associated with substance abuse disorders and other behavioral health issues. Such a complex issue is usually approached with a combination therapies that may include talk therapy, in-patient treatment, medication and more. Therapy alone may not be sufficient to successfully address a crisis. It should be addressed from a behavioral health standpoint, one that addresses the mental health, substance abuse and any other contributing factors.

Behavioral Health Is Ever-Evolving

Behavioral health services encompass many disciplines, conditions and treatments. What they all have in common is the inter-connectivity between a person’s unique behavioral habits, mental health and biology. The treatment for an individual’s behavioral or mental health disorders needs to be multi-pronged. An approach that addresses all the contributing issues can help individual will be as successful as possible in their recovery.