There are many qualities that help you succeed as a mental health professional — compassion, patience, expertise, great listening and communication skills, and — perhaps one of the most important qualities for driving better outcomes — clinical integrity.
Here’s why maintaining clinical integrity is so important to delivering the best care for clients and what you can do to ensure it plays a consistent role in your care delivery.
Having clinical integrity means behaving ethically and implementing best practices in the therapeutic space to ensure clients have the right care and support for their unique needs and goals. Clinical integrity helps gain client trust and establish a safe therapeutic environment, which is key to ensuring clients are comfortable opening up about their feelings and concerns — including their symptoms, treatment plan, goals, and their relationship with you. Most importantly, clinical integrity plays a vital role in treatment success in all forms of psychotherapy.
As a mental health professional, delivering the best care to clients is your top priority. Maintaining clinical integrity helps you do this. To ensure you’re practicing clinical integrity in all aspects of care delivery — from the first client intake to a client’s last therapy session — consider these tips.
A vital part of the new client intake process, informed consent documentation ensures clients can make informed decisions about participating in therapy. While informed consent documentation legally protects you, it also shows new clients that you understand their unique needs and goals and explains what they can expect from working with you (such as your treatment approach). Be sure to obtain and discuss informed consent before beginning therapy in case clients have any questions or concerns.
State and federal laws, as well as the American Psychological Association's (APA’s) Ethics Code, typically require clinicians to maintain appropriate records of their therapeutic services. Therapy records document the nature of your therapeutic services, how you deliver them, and the progress and outcomes of services, and can help you resolve disputes on issues such as fee agreements or treatment progress.
Ethically, you shouldn’t conduct a personal relationship with current or former clients. This is because there is an inherent power difference in a therapeutic relationship that doesn’t develop with an organic friendship or romance, which can make it difficult to establish a healthy relationship. Conducting anything beyond a professional relationship with clients can take your focus off of their well-being and goals, cause ruptures in the therapeutic relationship, and negatively impact outcomes. This is why it’s important to establish boundaries and expectations with clients early on in the therapeutic relationship.
Using evidence-based treatments and following clinical practice guidelines can help ensure you’re always taking an ethical approach to care. When considering complementary approaches to care such as yoga or acupuncture, be sure to consult your state’s scope of practice laws and regulations and check if these complementary practices have been proven through research to be beneficial. With all treatments, be sure to have the training and credentials needed to deliver that care.
Mental health professionals are ethically bound to protect clients’ privacy and must follow HIPAA’s Privacy and Security rules. These rules govern the use, disclosure, and transmission of protected health information (PHI). Keeping client information confidential and protected also means you can’t discuss a client with anyone else without their written consent unless it is with someone who is part of their treatment team, to protect them from serious harm, or due to a court order. This helps ensure clients feel comfortable opening up in therapy and trust that their information will be kept safe and private.
A strong therapeutic relationship is key to successful therapy. Building a good relationship with clients means establishing mutual respect, trust, and working together when it comes to discussing goals and deciding on a treatment plan. This ensures you’re working collaboratively with clients throughout their therapy journey, and are facilitating growth and development in ways that support their interests and well-being. When therapists and clients agree and collaborate on treatment goals, studies have shown this collaboration leads to enhanced therapy outcomes.
Everyone has biases, however it’s important for mental health clinicians to recognize their biases within the context of the therapeutic relationship. This can help improve clients’ experiences in therapy and ultimately lead to more successful outcomes. To avoid bias, it’s important to self-reflect, recognize your biases, and steer clear of using your own values and life experiences to influence clients. Continuing professional development is key to helping you do this. Consider taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to help you identify attitudes or beliefs that you may not know you have.
If you’re not familiar with a client’s cultural background, it can be challenging to ensure you’re taking the right approach to their care. Being culturally competent helps make sure you have the tools to work through ethical dilemmas and helps reduce unintentional cultural offense. That’s why it’s crucial to continuously build your knowledge on strategies to help clients from diverse backgrounds improve their well-being and reach their therapy goals. As a SonderMind provider, you get access to continuing education opportunities such as a cultural humility in clinical practice course in SonderMind University to help you do this.
A key part of clinical integrity is demonstrating empathy and compassion. This helps you best connect with clients and fosters a strong therapeutic relationship, ensuring you’re creating a safe place for clients to be open and honest. Showing empathy is considered to be a key aspect for adherence to treatment plans, and is one of the most important therapeutic relationship skills for improving outcomes.
Therapeutic best practices often change over time, so it’s important to continue your professional education and training to ensure you’re updated on new developments that can help you deliver the best care to clients. You can continue your education through psychological and academic institutions, such as the APA. Continuing education opportunities are available via workshops, seminars, community service, peer consultations, research, and online courses.
SonderMind is committed to delivering the highest quality, evidence-based care to clients. That’s why we provide our clinicians with the the tools they need to maintain clinical integrity, including:
Maintaining clinical integrity is easier when you have end-to-end support to help you deliver high-quality care. Join SonderMind to get the tools you need to do just that, including a clinical strategy rooted in evidence-based care, exclusive resources and technology, and career development opportunities.
American Psychological Association. (2007). Record keeping guidelines
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**Disclaimer: This document is intended for educational purposes only. Please check with your legal counsel or state licensing board for specific requirements.
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