Provider Resources

Meeting Patients Where They Are Helps Them Meet Their Treatment Goals

Treatment embodies a collaborative partnership. Discover how building a strong therapeutic alliance creates the foundation to assist patients in reaching mutually defined treatment goals.

Written by
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Carlos Rivera
Resident Expert in Treatment Planning
Clinically reviewed by
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Woman sitting down writing her goals in a notebook

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    Treatment is a partnership. The more we align ourselves with our patient’s needs, the better the outcomes. As providers, we want to be approachable and accessible to our patients. These qualities create the foundation to assist patients in reaching our mutually defined objectives.

    The strength of setting treatment goals lies in tailoring plans to the individual’s unique background, needs, and journey. A treatment plan isn’t simply a series of steps. Instead, it’s a collaborative exercise where patients invest effort while we provide unwavering support, meeting them precisely where they stand. 

    As clinicians, this demands preparation and a commitment to our professional growth. It calls upon us to embrace our role in the partnership wholeheartedly. 

    The importance of a feasible treatment plan 

    Achieving treatment goals hinges on a practical approach. Plans must align with a patient’s lived experiences, considering vital aspects like:

    • Timeframe: accommodating the patient’s pace.
    • Resources: matching their means and support.
    • Willingness: respecting their agreement with the plan.

    Keep in mind a treatment plan is a collaborative roadmap. It fosters mutual understanding between patient and provider, outlining achievable steps. It must empower the patient to confidently say, “Yes, I can navigate this path.” 

    How your treatment plan might be getting in the way of meeting your goals

    Patients often encounter common obstacles while pursuing their goals. To prevent the treatment plan from becoming an additional challenge, prioritize a manageable and realistic approach, respecting both your timeframe and the patient’s commitment.

    Here are some other points to watch for. 

    The treatment goal is too broad

    A comprehensive plan spanning several stages may be unrealistic for a patient within 4-6 sessions. It’s vital to break down the roadmap into manageable steps for this time frame. At the same time, ensure the treatment objective is precise and attainable for the patient. 

    For example, if a patient struggles to communicate with their partner, the goal of “improving the relationship” is overly broad.

    Instead, the goal must offer opportunities for the patient to hone new skills. For instance, practicing active listening during escalated conversations and introducing strategies to maintain composure for effective communication. 

    You’re getting ahead of your patient

    As clinicians, we aim to connect with patients at their current point. However, enthusiasm sometimes leads us to believe, “I’ve seen this situation before, and I know the solution!” While recognizing the potential for progress is inspiring, we can’t expedite the endpoint, leaving our patients lagging. 

    You can gauge your pace by observing your patient’s responses, fully listening and remaining attentive to any potential miscommunication. Be open to seeking clarification and invest effort in creating an environment where they feel at ease expressing themselves. 

    This approach fosters a sense of respect and validation for the patient’s experience. 

    Your treatment plan is an outline of scheduled sessions

    The treatment plan focuses on tackling the specific issue your patient is encountering. It’s not just a schedule for future appointments. While an excessively lengthy plan might be impractical, one that’s too sparse could lack guidance. 

    Ultimately, the treatment plan should be a path to recovery. The overarching objective is for patients to leave each session equipped with skills to navigate their challenges independently.

    Your therapeutic alliance is essential to meeting treatment goals

    Building a therapeutic alliance is so important for meeting patient goals. Creating a space where patients sense safety, validation, and non-judgment is paramount. 

    Patients seek relatability in their providers. Normalizing the therapeutic experience fosters a sense of comfort. Achieving this involves addressing their experiences, active listening, and responding to convey understanding.

    How to maintain a strong therapeutic alliance with your patients

    Acknowledge the potential power dynamics between provider and patient, and strive to humanize yourself to cultivate trust with your patients. Achieve this through attentive listening, maintaining appropriate boundaries, and respecting cultural variations and the limits of your role. 

    Maintain strict boundaries

    Maintaining clear boundaries in your patient-therapist relationship is crucial. While it’s natural to feel a sense of warmth toward your community and those who share their lives with you, being overly friendly can blur these boundaries. This may make patients feel judged or offended by something said during sessions. 

    Patients depend on your objectivity. When objectivity wanes, it can erode the therapeutic alliance and hinder progress toward your goals, potentially affecting trust and outcomes. 

    Help your patients with scheduling 

    The way you address scheduling future sessions can significantly impact your therapeutic alliance. Particularly within people in communities of color, a distinct power dynamic often exists between therapists and patients. Patients may need an invitation to schedule the next session after seeing their provider. 

    As the provider, it’s easy to assume that individuals seeking help will naturally return for it. However, this only sometimes aligns with the patient’s perspective. If, at the end of a session, a patient isn’t encouraged to express their feelings about the session or invited to plan the next one, they might interpret this as rejection and hesitate to initiate further sessions.  

    Appreciate your limitations

    To both humanize oneself and uphold a strong therapeutic alliance, therapists can start by acknowledging their areas of expertise, both professionally and personally. 

    While there’s a natural inclination to help everyone, it’s crucial to be mindful of our scope of knowledge and readiness to refer patients elsewhere when their needs surpass our expertise. Embracing the idea that it’s acceptable to take a step back and honestly state, “I can’t provide that. You’d benefit from seeing someone else,” benefits both therapist and patient. 

    Certain patients will ask about your familiarity with their cultural background or demographic. Often, this factor shapes their trust in you. It’s valuable to recognize your limitations and acknowledge when a patient would be better served by a clinician who shares a closer experience, aligning with their goals. 

    Get support in your professional growth

    Your growth directly enhances your capacity to foster robust patient relationships and effectively achieve their objectives. At Spring Health, we offer an expansive and talented network that connects patients with well-suited providers. We facilitate growth avenues and streamline administrative responsibilities, allowing providers to concentrate on enhancing their patient’s lives.

    Furthermore, Spring Health extends various resources to network providers, including peer support, case consultations, personalized coaching, and regular mental health assessment results. Recognizing that many of us are clinicians, we understand the provider’s work and seek to cultivate a cohesive community offering unwavering support. 

    Take a moment to appreciate the therapeutic partnership

    This work is demanding, and we understand that both providers and patients recognize its challenges. After working as a clinician for a while, it’s possible to overlook the substantial personal investment aimed at enhancing lives. Similarly, it’s easy to underestimate patients’ significant steps when seeking help for the first time. 

    Recognizing the profound impact on you and your patients is pivotal to your success. Be there with your patients for the first time, every time. Make each interaction meaningful, valuing the significance of every endeavor.

    Learn how implementing effective strategies and centralized scheduling platforms can prevent patient no-shows and late cancellations. 

    About the Author
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    Carlos Rivera
    Resident Expert in Treatment Planning

    Carlos Rivera is a health and wellness professional with 28+ years of experience. He has dedicated his career to improving the accessibility and quality of healthcare services for vulnerable populations. Carlos has worked in the nonprofit, government, and for-profit sectors, providing direct services, creating and improving services to match community needs, and engaging in community-wide strategic planning. Carlos received his Masters in Social Work from the University of CT, his MBA at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and his Masters in Public Health from the University of CT. He is married, has four children, and resides in Middletown, CT.

    About the clinical reviewer
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