Beginning Behavioral Health Treatment

sunrise_1My agency has a lot of forms for clients to fill out at the first session. I want to build rapport in the first session but instead I’m explaining forms and getting the client to sign them. Are these forms really necessary?

Many clinicians feel frustrated about the amount of paperwork that is required when providing behavioral health services, especially in agency settings. Generally, each form meets a particular requirement and it may be helpful for you to ask your supervisor about the purpose and rationale for them if that hasn’t been explained to you. The two most important forms that are required by the legal and ethical standards of our profession are informed consent and notice of privacy practices. These establish a treatment relationship between you and the client. An informed consent form provides confirmation that the client knows the nature of the treatment, including its limitations, and agrees to participate. A notice of privacy practices informs the client about the exchange of information about the treatment between you and others, with or without the client’s permission. In California and some other states, clients must also be informed when the clinician is not licensed and is working under supervision. In addition to these basic requirements, your agency may have forms related to accreditation or certification, billing and payment, and collection of demographic and clinical data.

We often make an assumption that getting the client’s signature on required forms is an administrative task separate from the clinical work you are being trained to do. However, building rapport begins in your first interaction with the client and the way you discuss the forms and their content sets the tone for your future treatment relationship. You can convey your desire to work collaboratively with the client by introducing the forms with a statement like “I need to go over some aspects of our working relationship so that we have the same understanding of how we’ll be working together.” It is useful to practice summarizing the key points of each form so you can explain it concisely and clearly to the client.

One other tip regarding forms is to acknowledge the necessity to attend to some paperwork and express your interest in the client’s concerns. It is a good idea to prepare the client ahead of time when you set up the first appointment. At the beginning of the session, you can introduce the forms with a statement like “I’m interested in learning more about you and the concerns you have.” You can follow that with a collaborative statement like the one above or “Can we take a few minutes first to talk about some of the important points about our work together?” or “There are some things that I want to talk with you about before we begin.” You don’t have a treatment relationship with the client until the informed consent and privacy practices are explained and agreed upon, so it is imperative that you discuss these and ask for the client’s signature before moving into clinical material.

I hope you have a better understanding of the reason for the abundance of forms and can make use of these suggestions to handle them in a sound clinical manner. Please email me with comments, questions or suggestions for future blog topics.