Kirsten Wendth, MSW, LCSW, addictions psychiatry clinical social worker, Care Coordination Department

Kirsten Wendth, MSW, LCSW, and Joji Suzuki, MD

Kirsten Wendth, MSW, LCSW, and Joji Suzuki, MD

The Addictions Psychiatry Consultation Liaison Service (formerly known as the ACE team) has become an integral part of BWH’s psychiatry consultation service. In 2009, the ACE team was integrated into the broader psychiatry consultation service to enable greater coordination and flexibility in providing consultations around substance abuse issues in hospitalized patients.

There is a high incidence of comorbidity between substance use disorders and psychiatric illness,” said Joji Suzuki, MD, director of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry. “Today, with the integrated approach, we are far better able to meet the needs of our medical/surgical colleagues.”

As the clinical social worker on the team, I work with our addiction psychiatrists and primary medical teams to provide compassionate and evidence-based care to inpatients with ongoing addictions and substance use needs. Using motivational interviewing (MI) techniques, I am able to obtain pertinent clinical information and provide supportive counseling and education to patients, families and staff.

To me, engagement is the most important first step in establishing a therapeutic alliance, which I aim to achieve through a non-judgmental stance and reflective listening with patients. I am fortunate to be a member of the BWH Motivational Interviewing Skills Group, which meets biweekly to practice techniques and discuss patient cases.

Care coordination is an important aspect of social work, due to the need to foster communication and collaboration with outside facilities to formulate dispositions to inpatient psychiatric levels of care, post-detoxification stabilization units, residential treatment, intensive outpatient programs and supportive programs in the community.

Having collaborated with patients and families from all walks of life, I’ve seen firsthand that addiction does not discriminate by race, gender, age or socioeconomic status. Knowing this is important in deepening one’s acceptance and understanding that addiction is a disease with the ability to affect anyone. As such, I believe that all patients deserve the opportunity to receive the care they need. Being a good listener is an important skill, mainly because it provides individuals who are often marginalized with an opportunity to be heard; it also fosters a culture of patient-driven care. My job is to listen to and advocate for patients’ goals.

Working on the front lines in the field of addiction psychiatry during a time in which the disease has become so pervasive is an honor. The most rewarding aspect of working in this field is witnessing the powerful opportunity for change that comes from an acute medical hospitalization; greater than any “thank you” or praise, it is a joy to see patient progress. My hope is to reduce the stigma associated with substance use, to cultivate increased compassion through education and to provide patients with the support and necessary tools they need for a more fulfilling, preferred future.