Tag Archives: Referrals

Making Referrals to Additional Services

hispanic young woman in therapyI have been seeing a client for a couple months and I think she needs more help than I can provide with individual psychotherapy. I have recommended that she get a psychiatric evaluation, join a DBT group, and sign up for a subsidized housing program. All of these services are available at the agency where I am doing my practicum training, but so far she hasn’t followed up on any of my referrals. How can I encourage her to get the additional help she needs?

Many clients in individual psychotherapy also need and benefit from additional services. Therefore, our work as therapists often involves some case management such as making referrals and collaborating with other professionals. We sometimes think of these case management tasks as outside of our therapeutic role and handle them pragmatically. This blog posting will help you think about making referrals as an integral part of the psychotherapy, which may lead to a better outcome.

I’ll start with some discussion of the reasons for recommending additional services. The combination of services you mention suggests you have multiple purposes for your referrals: clarifying the client’s diagnosis, managing crises or instability, improving living circumstances that contribute to symptoms, and following the recommended practice for specific clinical presentations. It also seems like your client presents with a complex set of emotional and psychosocial issues and you may be feeling overwhelmed. I would suggest first that you take some time to reflect on your countertransference responses to this client, preferably with some consultation from your supervisor and colleagues. This may clarify the support you need in managing this case and help you identify the reasons for your referrals. With a clearer perspective you can develop the most effective method for helping your client.

Once you have become clearer about the purpose of your referrals, approach them in order of priority. You can prioritize the referrals based on the client’s preferences and goals as well as safety concerns. It may be useful to use a harm reduction approach, which is often used with substance use disorders and has application for other situations involving safety. Identify the areas of greatest potential harm to your client and work first to reduce that harm, through your work in therapy as well as through referral to additional services. For example, if your client’s suicidal ideation puts her at serious risk, you would begin by looking for ways to reduce that risk. She might benefit from any of the referrals listed above or from accessing a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline, and the best recommendation would be the one that she is most willing to pursue. The remaining referrals would be deferred until her suicidal risk is reduced.

You express a view that your client needs more help that you can provide. There are some instances in which individual therapy can only be effective in conjunction with other resources. Talk with your supervisor about the client’s risk so s/he can help you decide whether to require the client to use one or more other services as a condition of individual therapy. That is sometimes the best decision to make in a complex, volatile clinical situation.

A final issue to consider is the therapeutic tone and manner of your referral recommendations. Pay particular attention to your countertransference and the possibility that you want to hand off this client to someone else because she feels like too much for you to handle. It is easy for a client to experience a referral as a sign of rejection rather than support. The client is bringing her concerns and difficulties to you and may feel your ambivalence about helping her. She is more likely to experience your support if you discuss your countertransference with your supervisor, then make it clear to the client that you plan to continue working with her. It will also help to describe how you believe the other services will contribute to the therapy rather than being a substitute.

I hope you found this blog helpful in making referrals in a therapeutic manner. Please email me with comments, questions or suggestions for future blog topics.

Clinical Approach to Case Management

therapy1I have a part-time job as a case manager at a homeless shelter while I am gaining hours toward licensure.  I don’t know what to do when my clients don’t follow through on the referrals and other support I give them.  Since I’m not their therapist, I can’t talk to them as I do with my therapy clients to understand what’s getting in the way.

It is true that your relationships with clients as a case manager are different from the relationships you have as a therapist.  However, some of the interventions you use as a therapist are valuable in case management, and your clinical knowledge is a valuable tool for understanding the reasons for your clients’ lack of follow through.

Motivational Interviewing is a useful approach when clients show ambivalence about getting help or about changing aspects of their lives that are problematic (www.motivationalinterview.org).  Using this as the basis for your work helps you establish a collaborative relationship and puts the client at the center of the decision making about change.  Identifying and resolving ambivalence is a central feature.  Talking with the client in a way that is consistent with Motivational Interviewing may help you to shift from a position of responsibility to help the client use your referrals and support to a position of supporting the client to identify her/his goals and the steps s/he is ready to take.

Your experience as a therapist may also be helpful in understanding the basis for the client not following through with your referrals or suggestions.  You can develop a conceptualization of the client’s difficulties and strengths as you would do with a therapy client, based on the information you have about her/his history and diagnosis.  As a case manager, you are probably working with more limited information than you have in psychotherapy, but you may have enough information to make some inferences about the underlying reasons for the client’s lack of follow through.  For example, clients with a history of trauma may be sensitive to feeling coerced, clients who have a psychotic disorder diagnosis may misinterpret your suggestions or be confused about the information you give them, and clients who have lived on the streets for many years may need the sense of community and self-identity of homelessness to feel safe.

Another application of your clinical skill is in identifying the client’s interpersonal style with you as a way to understand her/his internal template for relationships.  This will help you develop ways to work with the client based on her/his assumptions and fears about relating to others.  For example, if you feel intimidated by the client you can infer that s/he organizes relationships around issues of power with one person holding power and the other being powerless.  This would indicate that interacting with the client in an authoritative but non-punitive way is likely to be more productive than either attempting to take charge or responding passively.  A statement reflecting this middle ground would be “I have some ideas that might be helpful to you, but it’s hard for me to sit here with you when you’re yelling at me.  Would you be willing to stop for a moment and see if any of these resources are relevant for you?”  Using your clinical skill in this way will result in subtle but important differences in how you talk with different clients and is likely to be more effective in helping the clients use the resources you have to offer.

I hope you are able to use these suggestions in bringing your clinical knowledge into case management work.  Please email me with comments, questions or suggestions for future blog topics.