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Mental health treatment plan goals: Setting providers and patients up for success

Treatment plans are crucial to a behavioral health practice as they can help improve client outcomes. Setting mental health treatment plan goals and objectives is a crucial aspect of the process, and providers and their clients need to work together in identifying long-term therapy goals. They should also communicate openly about the objectives used to achieve these goals.

The concept of SMART goals can be valuable here. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. In other words, treatment plan goals should be clearly defined, able to be measured, and realistic. Vague or open-ended goals are usually not as helpful as SMART goals.

Differentiating mental health treatment plan goals and objectives

The words “goal” and “objective” are not interchangeable in this context, and it’s important to understand the difference. Goals are broad, overarching outcomes that provide direction and purpose. Objectives are smaller, measurable steps that contribute to achieving goals.

In other words, goals provide the big-picture vision for treatment outcomes. They include the patient’s overall well-being once treatment is complete, the reduction of mental health symptoms, and/or how the patient will rate on outcome measures.

Goals will be measured over time, and the presence or absence of progress toward them will indicate whether treatment is working or whether a different course of treatment is needed.

Objectives are the action steps to reach the big-picture goals. They are often behaviors or practices that providers ask clients to practice between treatment sessions. Clients can meet objectives but still not be moving toward their goals, which is important to remember when assessing treatment progress.

Examples of goals vs. objectives

If the difference between goals and objectives feels too abstract, consider the following examples to help shed light on the distinction.

Imagine a client with generalized anxiety disorder and the need to differentiate between the goals of treatment and the treatment objectives. Here’s an example of what that might look like.

Goal: Reduce symptoms of anxiety (as measured by the ASQ assessment for anxiety) to improve overall quality of life.

Objectives: Within the first four sessions, the patient will learn to identify and challenge irrational distressing thoughts. The patient will continue practicing thought-challenging between appointments and engaging in 15 minutes of body scans and meditation daily.

Here is another example, this time for a patient with OCD:

Goal: Improve OCD symptoms to reduce their impact on daily functioning.

Objectives: Practice exposure to the triggering fear and refrain from engaging in compulsion during therapy sessions. The client will continue this exposure/response prevention therapy for at least 15 minutes daily for the next two weeks.

Why SMART criteria matter

Research suggests that when patients don’t feel they have clear goals in therapy, their treatment outcomes tend to be worse. The same study shows that it’s important to create treatment goals early in the therapy process, as patients who discussed goals early on tended to have more clarity about them.

Using specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals to gain clarity helps the treatment planning process in several ways.

SMART goals have several benefits in mental health treatment. They:

  • Make it easier to develop action steps as they tend to be more concrete
  • Set the client up for success as they are designed to be achievable, encouraging the client to tackle challenges that they can manage
  • Improve communication with the client, making it easy to “check-in” and determine where the treatment process needs to go.
  • Create accountability and clear objectives. The client will feel accountable for putting objectives into practice regularly, and the provider will feel accountable for staying abreast of progress or stagnation in the patient’s journey.
  • Aid in assessing progress by spelling out desired changes that clinicians and clients can track easily.

Leveraging prebuilt templates for treatment plans

If capturing concrete goals and objectives in a treatment plan feels demanding on top of everything else treatment plans must document, consider utilizing a library of prebuilt, evidence-based templates to speed and simplify the process. Composing treatment plans from a template is quicker than writing them from scratch.

Providers’ ability to customize plans to meet individual clients’ needs shouldn’t be impeded by this.

Treatment plans are an essential tool in behavioral health patient care. By capturing important patient details such as demographics, symptoms, diagnosis, and plan, treatment plan templates promote consistency in patient records and make sharing information between providers easier. A sample treatment plan can help patients better understand and engage in their care, providing clarity on goals, strategies, and collaborative efforts involved in treatment.

This transparency builds trust and encourages participation, improving patient care by offering more opportunities to set goals and track progress. With the structure and clarity they provide, treatment plans guide the way to positive outcomes and help patients reach their goals.

Ram Krishnan joined Valant in 2020 as an experienced technology executive to lead the organization through its next stage of growth. His passion for listening to customers and building strong teams, coupled with his demonstrated ability to drive scalability, provides a solid foundation for Valant to grow as it discovers new ways to serve the behavioral health care market.

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