I have seen a client for three months and have learned new information that changes my diagnosis from major depressive disorder to post traumatic stress disorder. In light of this new information, we’re also working on different treatment goals than we talked about at the beginning. What is the best way to document these changes in our work together?
You are describing a situation that is common in clinical work. The information that clients give us at the beginning of treatment reflects what is uppermost in their minds as well as what they feel safe to disclose. Often they remember and reveal more after they feel understood and become less worried about being judged or criticized. When you work with children or adolescents, you may also get additional information from parents or teachers that affects your diagnosis and treatment plan.
Before discussing how to document these types of changes, I’ll share some thoughts about the content of your documentation. Since your new diagnosis is post traumatic stress disorder, your client has evidently told you about past traumatic events as well as revealing more about the different symptoms she is experiencing. The details of these traumatic events may be sensitive, and you should think about the possibility of your client or a third party viewing your record as you record this information. Your documentation should include enough detail to support and explain your clinical decisions while also preserving your client’s privacy. For example, you could say that the client was exposed to domestic violence but put the details of the incident and the family situation in your psychotherapy notes rather than the clinical record. (Click here for an explanation of the difference between progress notes and psychotherapy notes.)
Your documentation of these changes in your clinical work can take two forms: progress notes and separate assessment and treatment planning documents. Ideally, the changes would be reflected in both of these documents. If your agency receives a request for the client’s record, they may only send the assessment documents and not include progress notes. However, your progress notes should describe the treatment progress, and this requires including the information you describe above.
Regarding the progress notes, they should incorporate your client’s report of symptoms and traumatic incidents and your revision of the diagnosis. If you only included the client’s report in your previous notes, you can add a paragraph to your next note identifying the new diagnosis and your assessment that led to this revision. Similarly, you should describe your conversation with the client about new treatment goals and your plan for working on them. It is best for this to be included in the note for the session in which you had that conversation, but if you have already written that note you can create a supplemental note or include the information in a note for a later session, identifying the date of the original conversation.
If your agency has one or more documents for assessment and treatment planning, you may have a form for revisions or updates that you are required to complete every three, six or twelve months. If you don’t have a version of those forms to use for revisions, check with your agency supervisor. You may be able to write an addendum to the original form or simply complete a new assessment and treatment plan with a new date.
I hope you found this helpful in updating client documentation. Please email me with comments, questions or suggestions for future blog topics.