Recently, there’s been an interesting discussion on the Academy of Cognitive Therapy listserv about the therapy notes patients take home with them to review. Here’s how I make sure a patient is able to remember important ideas we discussed in treatment, specifically the changes a patient makes in his thinking:
Generally, when I ascertain that the patient has modified his thinking during a session (e.g., following Socratic questioning, behavioral experiments, roleplaying, etc.), I’ll ask the patient for a summary. I might say:
• Can you summarize what we just talked about?
• What do you think it would be important for you to remember this week?
• What do you think the main message is?
If the patient comes up with a good summary, I positively reinforce him and ask whether he wants to write it down or if he would like me to do so. If his summary is not quite on point, I usually offer a revised version and ask the patient whether he thinks it might be helpful to remember it this latter way. If he agrees, he or I will write the summary down. At that point or later on in the session, I will ask the patient how likely it is that he will read these important therapy notes every day at home. If he’s not highly likely, I’ll ask him about what might get in the way.
I’ve found that most patients just don’t learn the skill of writing cogent summaries. They rarely write down complete ideas and they usually add in extraneous or less important material which dilutes what is really important; that’s why I’m nicely directive about what is written down. I want to be certain the patient has good notes to read this week and ten years from now, if a similar problem arises.