Understanding Treatment Plans in Mental Health Therapy

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In mental health, a treatment plan refers to a written document that outlines the proposed goals, plan, and methods of therapy. It will be used by you and your therapist to direct the steps to take in treating whatever you're working on. 

Factors Influencing a Treatment Plan

A treatment plan may be highly formalized or it may consist of a less structured outline for a treatment plan. Which form it takes is dependent on a number of factors.

For instance, your insurance company may require documentation of your diagnosis and treatment in order to cover the costs. Likewise, the facility where you get treatment may have its own standards for a formal plan.

Many therapists also have their own preferences. Some may have found that informal treatment plans are more effective while others prefer to work with patients in a more orderly fashion. They will also take into account the severity of the presenting problem for each individual. Someone dealing with minor depression may have a simpler treatment plan than a person who has struggled with it for years with little or no progress.

No matter how formalized, however, the treatment plan is always subject to change as therapy progresses. Therapy often focuses on breaking down each issue into small, manageable action steps to work out the concerns of the bigger picture. It's only natural that as you progress, so will your treatment and if something isn't working, a different approach may be required.

Parts of a Treatment Plan

In general, a treatment plan consists of four parts. These guide both you and your therapist along the path to discovering what is causing your concerns, your goals for therapy, as well as the techniques you're going to try.

  • Presenting problem: A brief description of the main issue or issues.
  • Goals of therapy: An annotated list of both the short-term and long-term goals of therapy.
  • Methods: A short, annotated list of the techniques that will be used to achieve the goals.
  • Time estimate: A brief estimate of the length of time and/or the number of sessions needed.

For example, a treatment plan for anger management may list a series of goals for therapy, along with an estimated number of sessions that would be needed.

Your Involvement in the Treatment Plan

As a client, you should always be involved in developing a treatment plan. Yet, it's important to realize that this is generally accomplished through informal discussion of the situation.

As you speak with your therapist, particularly in the initial sessions, they will get to know you and understand your concerns. These conversations allow them to recommend the next steps and develop goals you might want to work on. While they may not say they're developing a plan, they really are because that is the foundation for effective therapy.

Many therapists present a written copy of the treatment plan to their clients. Others may prefer to discuss the treatment plan verbally and less formally. A copy of the plan, however, should always be available upon request.

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