Partnership between Families and Mental Health Professionals

Partnership between Families and Mental Health Professionals

The partnership between families and mental health professionals is often a key component of adequately supporting a loved one with mental illness. I see this every day in my working life as an occupational therapist — when there’s no buy-in from the family, chances of an intervention being successful are dramatically reduced. When my brother developed chronic anxiety and depression seven years ago, I had to practice what I preach and actively foster a good relationship with his medical team. Here are some points about that experience that I wanted to share.

What It Takes to Create a Positive Family/Mental Health Professional Partnership

Partnership Means Communication with Consent

Partnership between families and mental health professionals should always be in-line with the wishes of the person at the center of the care — in our case, my brother. There are certain components of his mental health treatment that he wants the family to be involved in.

Particularly in the early stages of treatment, we had family meetings with his mental health professionals to discuss what was working and what wasn’t. We’ve found it’s always best to use the principle of « nothing about me without me » — my brother is always in the room when we’re discussing his case and we have never attempted to organize a meeting where he isn’t present. One of my brother’s symptoms is paranoia, and the idea of people talking about him without him being present could be very damaging to the relationship he had with both family and professionals.

Of course, if you have immediate concerns about your loved one’s safety or their risk to others, you might have to contact their medical team without their input — but this should very much be the one-time exception rather than the rule.

There are components of my brother’s care that no one in the family is a party to — his CBT sessions, for example, are something that he organizes and attends without family input. For us to attempt to instigate communication with my brother’s CBT facilitator without his consent would be inappropriate and disrespectful.

Partnership Means Welcoming Constructive Criticism

A family member receiving a mental illness diagnosis can be a vulnerable experience — and vulnerability often leads to defensiveness. I used to find it difficult to accept constructive criticism from mental health professionals about how to approach my brother, especially because I work with mental illness in my day job.

I have since realized that supporting a family member through mental illness is worlds away from supporting a client through mental illness. I’m so emotionally invested in my brother’s wellbeing that it can be difficult to see the wood from the trees. Because of this, I am now grateful for the guidance of mental health professionals who can take a step back and provide objective observations. This shift in my attitude has been key to fostering a helpful partnership between my family and the mental health professionals that support my brother.

What has your experience been like with the family/mental health professional partnership? Does your family have much involvement in your loved one’s treatment? Let me know in the comments.

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