Therapy is a process of healing that occurs over time and ultimately helps people return to healthy functioning in their work, personal relationships, and their relationship with themselves. Ups and downs, gains and losses are all part of the journey.
Sometimes things may feel like they are getting worse before they get better. Likewise, a positive change for one family member may be perceived as a negative change for another.
An assessment of the problem areas and a comprehensive plan that targets the desired changes set by the patient is best completed early in treatment. It can have a stabilizing affect on the emotional unpredictability that sometimes accompanies the therapy process.
It is important to set a course for treatment and monitor progress until the treatment goals are met. The best way to accomplish this is by developing a treatment plan. Through a collaborative effort between the patient and the therapist, short-term objectives are laid out that will lead to the attainment of long-term goals.
For example, a treatment plan may indicate that someone that is depressed will, for the short-term, take a 20-minute walk daily to increase energy and give them a sense of accomplishment. They will take medication as prescribed and keep track of any side effects. Also, they will utilize cognitive restructuring techniques to replace distorted thought patterns with functional and realistic ones. These short-term objectives should lead to long-term improvement in mood and better overall functioning.
Of course there are various types of treatment plans, from a single sentence plan that covers both the short-term and the long-term to intricate detailed treatment plans that break goals down into the smallest measurable parts. Each type of treatment plan has a different purpose.
The patient will participate in cognitive behavioral therapy once a week and see a psychiatrist once monthly to elevate and maintain mood, is an example of the single sentence treatment plan. It may be suitable for an individual whose situation is uncomplicated and the therapist is the only one who will need to see the plan.
More complex treatment plans break the objectives and goals down into small sub-steps of the larger goals and use deadlines to increase the immediacy of action toward them.
Insurance plans and managed care companies require specific treatment plans that pare the goals down to those that will serve to get the patient back to their previous level of functioning the quickest. These treatment plans tend to emphasize short-term goals.
Gaining a deeper understanding of why a person continues to choose a certain personality type for relationships or resolving early childhood issues, generally requires more time and would not be consistent with the brief counseling model that most insurance plans utilize.
Having a written plan gives the patient a sense that therapy is leading to some conclusion and it is more than just a weekly conversation with the therapist. It is also a good way for the patient to maintain accountability to the goals they set and to their own desired changes. In addition it also helps serve as a measurement of progress. Seeing that their mood, self-worth, and relationship effectiveness have improved is a powerful reinforcer and generally helps maintain the new behavior longer. A patient who can see that he has made a lasting change over time is more likely to see it as something he was able to achieve through his efforts rather than as a random event that was merely a coincidence.