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Developing Treatment Plans

May 14, 2021
social worker taking notes in patient session

As a social worker, a treatment plan is an important tool when working with clients. This written document is a roadmap for both you and your client as you work toward addressing the challenges in their life.

A social work treatment plan does more than identify the issues a client wants help with, it includes specific goals and instructions on how they will work together. In addition, it covers the length of time these steps will take and an outline of what was decided on.

A treatment plan can work for many different individuals facing a range of challenges, including those struggling with a mental illness, couples going through a challenging time in their relationship, and individuals working to make a life change. A treatment plan looks different for every individual, even if two people are struggling with the same issue. That’s because a social worker must take into account their backgrounds, including their socioeconomic status, their upbringing, the relationships and support in their life, as well as their financial circumstances.

Social work treatment planning is important as clients encounter hurdles or obstacles toward meeting their goals. Learn more about the three components of developing a successful treatment plan from the expert social workers at Yeshiva University.

Identify problems

Assessment is an important part of social work treatment planning. From the start, it’s important to meet clients where they are at, which means taking into consideration their feelings about seeing a mental health professional and their comfort with medical or mental health labels.

Beginning can be as simple as discussing the client’s reasons for coming and the circumstances or relationships that might be contributing to their problem. Social work treatment planning can help address problems related to their family or job, substance abuse, mental health, or other medical issues.

As part of this process, it’s critical to note and discuss basic information about a client, including their age, whether they’re single or married, the number of children they have, their living circumstances, as well as their current and past medical and mental health issues. However a social worker should note additional information, the kind that goes beyond a standard form questionnaire: what the client is wearing, how talkative they are, how they speak, their emotional state, if they have a history of trauma or witnessing violence, and other less quantifiable observations.

During the assessment stage, it’s also extremely important that a social worker look out for any signs of crisis or if there is a need for immediate action to be taken.

Setting goals and objectives

Both you and your client need to clearly understand the goal that they’re working toward. There are many methods to defining a goal, but it’s critical to outline how long it will take to address these issues and specifically how a client will progress. In short, these goals need to be defined, measurable and achievable.

This goal needs to address the original problems identified initially by you and your client, which could be quitting a certain substance, addressing a mental illness or making a life change. One way for a social worker to help a client better define a goal is by asking the client to picture what their life could be like without the problems they’ve identified.

Objectives are the smaller steps that clients work on as they move toward their larger goal. It’s important that the objectives are specific, measurable and realistic like the goals. For example, if someone’s goal is to reduce their anxiety, their first objective might be setting time aside to meditate or practice self care. The progression from small goals to larger ones can help clients stay motivated without feeling entirely overwhelmed. Objectives can also act as small milestones for the client to track how far they have come along.

Selecting interventions

Interventions are what you use to help and support your clients. These techniques, tools and exercises offer valuable structure to the treatment plan. It defines how you will help the client meet their objectives and goal. An important part of this is thoroughly understanding a client’s strengths and what they’re working to achieve. Interventions need to be specific and consider the client and their emotional and physical circumstances.

The relationship between a social worker and their client is a critical one built on trust. A client needs to trust that their social worker not only understands them and their struggles, but also provides them with knowledgeable support. It’s important for the client to feel like they’re a part of the creation of their treatment plan.

Develop a stronger treatment plan—and career.

Building a trusting relationship with your client is a critical part of successful social work treatment planning. To achieve that, it’s important for a social worker to have the experience and competency needed to work with a diverse range of individuals and groups.

As you begin pursuing your career as a social worker, be sure to choose a program that prepares you with the skills and insights to be culturally responsive and adaptive. In the online Master of Social Work at Yeshiva University, you will find the tools to realize your full impact. Learn from seasoned experts and our interactive learning environment, “The Heights,” where students can practice working in many different virtual communities and environments.

Learn more about our online MSW program and its optional focuses to better prepare students to meet growing communities in need: Gerontology and Palliative Care Embedded Certification or the Credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) Credentialing.