December 8, 2022

When choosing your therapist, make sure they use measurement-based care. Here's why.

The science is clear: measurement-based care (MBC) is the current standard of care in behavioral health treatment. 

When seeking care for your physical health, chances are you'll want your healthcare provider to be using state-of-the-art approaches. Why not apply this same quality metric to your future therapist? When shopping for a therapist, there are many factors to consider. Here are three reasons to make sure that use of measurement-based care tops that list: 

#1: MBC helps you feel confident you’re in therapy with the right therapist 

Imagine you wake up one morning with fever, chills, and pain in your throat. You head to the doctor who swabs your throat, runs a diagnostic test, and confirms you have strep throat. Although she suspected strep from the physical examination, your doctor noted that your symptoms could have been caused by a few different underlying pathologies, hence, the testing. But, because this is a bacterial infection, she prescribes antibiotics, which would have been rendered ineffective if the infection was instead caused by a virus. You pick up your antibiotics from the pharmacy and you start to feel much better after just a couple of days. 

Your doctor ran a diagnostic test because it informed treatment. This is how treatment selection should work in mental healthcare, too. In therapy, assessments are used as tests to aid in diagnosis. High-quality assessments ask clients to answer questions about frequency and severity of their symptoms either via self-report questionnaire or a semi-structured interview. Many assessments have been shown in scientific studies to diagnose mental disorders with a high degree of accuracy, just like the lab test your doctor used to diagnose strep throat. 

Once your therapist has a clear and robust picture of all your symptoms, they will know 1) what type of treatment is most likely to help address your symptoms and 2) whether they are equipped to provide that treatment. After all, therapists have specialties just like physicians do. Not all therapists are equipped to treat every type of presenting problem. Proper assessment can help make sure that you are matched with the right care with the right provider as quickly as possible. 

#2: MBC ensures your session covers what’s most important to you

If you’ve been in therapy before, you are probably familiar with the feeling you get when your therapist asks “How has your week been?” and you draw a blank. Or, perhaps the argument you had with your partner last night has made you forget that, earlier in the week, you successfully used a new skill from therapy. 

Measurement-based care involves between-session monitoring so that you don’t have to rely on your memory. Sure, you might be a conscientious client who already has a system for self-monitoring. But, there’s nothing worse than using precious minutes of your session trying to fill in your therapist on the details of your week.Picture this: At the beginning of every session, you and your measurement-based care-practicing therapist are presented with an overview of your week, including your mood changes, sleep quality, target behavior frequency, and homework skill use. 

Also, not everyone experiences the same symptoms in the same way. You are unique! You deserve to use a tool that captures your individual symptom profile. Measurement-based care helps you identify specific symptoms that you want to target in treatment. Platforms like Blueprint allow your therapist to view your symptoms holistically so that you can use your entire session to focus on what matters most.

#3: MBC makes it easier to tell whether you’re getting better over time 

Therapy is time-consuming and expensive. When therapy works, the benefits certainly outweigh the costs. But it’s important to make sure that your therapist is using an approach that keeps financial and time burdens to a minimum by helping you achieve your goals in a timely manner.

Measurement-based care can help make sure that your time and money are used as efficiently as possible. Incorporating brief standardized self-report assessments like the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) or the 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder questionnaire (GAD-7) at each session can help provide a picture of how your symptoms have changed since the beginning of treatment. Because getting a grasp on your mental health progress can feel overwhelming, measuring symptoms over time can help bring clarity to your progress. 

When things aren’t progressing as you’d like, objective measurement is critical when deciding with your therapist whether to change course. As most therapy is designed to elicit symptom reduction in a few months, repeated assessment can help inform whether a different approach or higher level of care might be needed. If you feel like progress ought to be moving faster, you don’t need to rely on that nagging feeling; you can turn to objective data instead. 

Perhaps mental health support has been part of your life for awhile, or perhaps you are beginning your search for a therapist for the very first time. No matter your history, measurement-based care will enhance your therapy experience. Here are a few questions you might consider asking your potential therapist:

  1. I have heard that it’s important to incorporate measurement-based care throughout treatment. What does this look like in your practice? 
  2. I want to be fairly confident that my diagnosis is accurate. What tools do you use to help you make diagnoses? 
  3. It’s important to me to discuss ahead of time how we’ll know if our approach is working. How do you evaluate treatment progress with your clients? 

Remember, as a potential client, you hold the power to be a discerning consumer. You deserve the highest quality care, and that means make sure that your next therapist practices measurement-based care.