How to Use Outcome Measurement Tools in Mental Health

Outcome measurement tools, in mental health therapy, empower you—and your clients—to set goals and determine the treatment’s effectiveness.

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” —Pablo Picasso

Modern counseling has evolved to be a diverse practice with clinicians who embrace various methods, theories, and populations. In your private practice, while you may subscribe to a particular model, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, holistic health, strength-based, or others, you still temper treatments based on an individual client needs. However, if there’s one thing that’s for sure, outcome measurement tools in mental health therapy can be embraced by any school of theory and positively shape a therapeutic relationship, too.

Standardized instruments were developed to monitor whether or not treatment is effective, and measuring results aids both the client and clinician through the treatment process, regardless of whether you use self-reporting or performance-based measures. By setting goals with new clients, they can track their own progress over time, giving them the motivation to continue treatment and celebrate successes along the way.

Outcome measurement tools in mental health therapy also allow counselors to measure the impact of treatment over the course of time. If little-to-no progression occurs, the client and clinician can tweak the course of therapy to see better results.

So, are these methods efficient tools to use in treatment? It appears so. In “The Effects of Providing Therapists with Feedback on Patient Progress During Psychotherapy: Are Outcomes Enhanced?” published in Psychotherapy Research, Lambert et. al. found at‐risk patients staying in treatment longer, and twice as many patients overall improving, by incorporating outcome measures into treatment.

01-how-to-use-outcome-measurement-tools-in-mental-healthUsing outcome measurement tools in mental health therapy

The first step to using outcome methods in your private practice is to determine which specific standardized assessments suit your demands. Individual therapists will prefer different evaluation methods, so find the one you are most comfortable using. Then, create the goals—working with your new clients—to measure treatment effectiveness.

Ensure the goals will measure the outcome, not the process. For example, one way to assess the effectiveness of therapy for a client with OCD is to monitor the frequency and/or amount of times she washes her hands. If her baseline for hand-washing at the start was 1-2 minutes at a time, or over 25 times a day, and through the course of treatment it decreased to twenty seconds at a time, or only ten times throughout the day, the process is proving successful.

Something more abstract, such as depression and anxiety, can be monitored by identifying which behaviors correlate with the issue. For example, if a client starts treatment by indicating they spend most of their day in bed, treatment can be measured over the course of time to determine whether the client is spending more time out of bed, in the house, or even in the community. Any additional time spent out of bed is an indication that therapy is progressing positively.

02-how-to-use-outcome-measurement-tools-in-mental-healthOptions for outcome measurement tools in mental health therapy

The choice of standardized measurement varies significantly between clinicians, so it’s best to identify those which you feel most comfortable using. However, you will need to identify—depending on the goal—whether to use performance-based, self-reported, or a hybrid of outcome measurements. All are helpful, but consider that self-reported outcomes project a client’s belief of accomplishment (and can be skewed based on self-limiting or grandiose beliefs), whereas performance-based metrics showcase actual therapeutic findings.

Regardless of the method chosen, stick with the same outcome measurement tools in mental health treatment, instead of using one to start, and changing to a different one later. That would be comparing apples to oranges, and no significant value could be determined.

03-how-to-use-outcome-measurement-tools-in-mental-healthThe relationship between client satisfaction and outcome methods

Does a positive clinical relationship play a role in whether clients will meet set outcomes? A 2001 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that “the quality of the client–therapist alliance is a reliable predictor of positive clinical outcome independent of the variety of psychotherapy approaches and outcome measure.” Developing trust by ensuring confidentiality and active listening are ways to encourage a therapeutic bond.

However, it’s important to distinguish outcomes from satisfaction. Clients who feel comfortable with their counselor may open up more readily, and share information about their day-to-day events, such as crafting or cooking, but if that same client’s OCD remains unchanged treatment isn’t as effective as initially hoped. In this example, the client satisfaction is high (he or she enjoy the time with their therapist) but the outcome (stopping or limited compulsive behaviors, such as washing hands excessively cooking) is not attained.

One more suggestion: detailed treatment notes will help measure results. SimplePractice can help you stay organized with secure progress, chart and psychotherapy notes. Try us free for 30-days.

Do you have a favorite way to measure clinical outcomes with your clients? Share your ideas in the comment section.

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