5 Steps to an Effective Treatment Plan

I've had so many of you ask for a blog on treatment plans... so here it is! Actually, here is the first of many, I'm sure. 

To be honest, I hesitated writing a post about treatment planning because it is such a vague yet sometimes polarizing topic. Some therapists yearn for detailed treatment plans they can easily follow while others scoff at the idea of trying to put on paper what really happens throughout our time with clients. 

A couple things we know for sure- 1) talking with clients about progress makes therapy more effective and meaningful for clients and 2) most ethical guidelines state that a therapist or counselor should have a treatment plan in mind while working with clients.

That's all well and good but what does that really LOOK like?! I've outlined five step-by-step principles you can use for treatment planning with any client in any setting. And then I'm offering you the ultimate tool- a template that puts this in action. 

1. Goals (or objectives)

Every good treatment plan starts with a clear goal (or set of goals). Identify what your client would like to work on and write it down. Don't be scared of limiting your work, you can always adjust these as time goes on. However, it's helpful to write down and discuss what your client's purpose is for starting therapy. How will they know they are on the right path? What will you both use to determine when the client is ready to terminate?

Having a clear goal makes sure everyone is on the same page and keeps you both accountable to focusing on what is necessary. It also helps your client to feel like therapy is something that is more than esoteric, something they could describe to a spouse or family member, if desired.

2. Active participation

A treatment plan then follows up with how each party will work to achieve the goal(s). This is really important and often missed. Talk with your client about your role as a counselor and how you plan to help them achieve their desired outcome. This opens up a great discussion about the role of a counselor and how therapy looks with you, specifically, as compared with others.

The other key piece here is how the client will participate. This is where you have the opportunity to explain what is expected of them and that you're not there to simply "fix" anyone. Therapy is often hard work but can have amazing results. However, success is 100% dependent on the client's motivation and willingness to engage in the process.

3. Support

Another aspect of treatment planning that is so often forgotten in private practice settings is the client's support system. It's not just you and the client against the world. They'll need other supports in place to be successful throughout life. Identify any support as part of your treatment plan and you have already shown your client some of the tools in their toolbox. 

Get creative here. Perhaps the client's support is a family member or friend but it could also be a pet or a support group. Maybe it's a hobby or spiritual practice that helps keep them grounded. Perhaps some character traits like being fiscally responsible, planning ahead or being very outgoing or creative. These are all supportive things that help the client reach their goals.

4. Outcomes

The last important aspect of the written plan is the outcomes, or success. Make sure to write these down at various intervals. Maybe you visit the outcomes so far once a month, maybe every three months, etc. Choose what interval works best for your client and your style and make sure to plan to talk with them about it. 

Is this still the primary goal or do we need to adjust something? Are we staying on track with these? If not, is time to redirect or do we need to revisit some things? What success have we made and what contributed to that? What will we continue to do in order to reach that goal? 

And once you do clearly reach that goal, have we discovered other things through the process that we need to prioritize? Is it time to talk about termination and what will that look like? I could go on and on. The clinical material is just waiting to be discussed!

5. Client involvement

I've save the most important step to effective treatment planning for last. Involving your clients is crucial. Without their feedback, your treatment plan is no more meaningful than a term paper with a bunch of words on it. Remember, your documentation serves you and the client, not the other way around!

This is an ongoing conversation to have throughout treatment. Treatment planning isn't something you do at the first or second session and then forget about. It's an integral part of the counseling process. It's a clinical discussion that's simply put on paper to provide a clear outline and clearer understanding of the direction in which you plan to go. 

I've created a template using these five steps as the foundation. You are welcome to download the template and use in your own practice, or modify it to better suit your style and client population. I love seeing how people adjust my templates and personalize them so if you do make changes, share them by emailing me or leave a comment below. 

To access the template, simply sign up for my free Private Practice Paperwork Crash Course. I've got lots of goodies in there, along with some more direction for you on treatment planning. I wish you all the best using it with your clients!