If we want to improve the lives of people with mental illness and their families, we must shift to a culture that embraces engagement as a new standard of care. How do we as providers better serve people with mental health conditions who are not engaged in care? We need to better understand the process of engagement and explore how the quality of relationships and interactions affect outcomes for people with mental illness. We must also have an understanding of the factors that contribute to effective engagement in mental health care.
What is engagement?
Engagement is the strengths-based process through which individuals with mental health conditions form a healing connection with people that support their recovery and wellness within the context of family, culture and community.
Engagement is built and sustained on the foundation of hope, mutual trust, respect, effective communication, and overall rapport and recognition of the strengths and resources people experiencing mental illness bring to their own recovery.
Encouraging a client’s willingness and commitment to engage in treatment can be very challenging. It is common for a client to disengage if he/she senses treatment is not working, he/she lacks trust in the process, or he/she has difficulty accessing treatment for reasons such as transportation. Given each client’s situation will be unique based on their social determinants, it is important to look at solutions to improve engagement that target any and all presumed roadblocks for the individual.
How Can We as Providers Help
As providers it is our job to find effective and creative ways to build and maintain relationships in order to improve client engagement. Some ways we can do that are as follows:
- Meet the client where they are at. Listen, observe, and ask the right questions at the right time. Do your best to speak the language of your client, listen without judgement and be mindful of when to confront.
- Instill Trust. As providers we do not always know how/what our client is feeling when beginning treatment. It is important to use our training, empathy and compassion to build trust with our client.
- Include them in all decisions. A sure way to effectively achieve buy-in, is to include the people who will be impacted in the decision. This would be no different for a client/therapist relationship.
- Establish concrete goals. A client can often feel discouraged when he/she does not have clear and concrete goals to measure progress. It is also important to meaningfully include the client in the development of these goals.
- Identify barriers and create solutions. It is important to be sensitive through the process with your client – remain curious and non-judgmental and always attempt to be a part of the process. This will keep you mindful of any barriers – cultural, attitude-based, or environmental – that will present themselves.
In conclusion, promoting a culture of engagement will require change in how we, as a society and providers, view mental illness and the individuals who live with mental illness. Providing a safe connection to care for behavioral health clients is essential for improving client treatment and increasing client engagement, ultimately building excitement for the client to participate in and follow through with services.