Relationships with patients is a fragile thing, especially during the initial intake period. Careful language must be used during that all-important first impression. That first interaction can dictate whether a person will even continue with recovery, or may create a rocky start for a reluctant patient. Specific necessities must be handled during that first meeting. Still, there are also ways to streamline the intake process with a more inviting, human element.
The First Time
When addressing a patient, remember that they are probably coming in at one of their lowest points, and are most likely experiencing an extreme amount of fragility. They may be unsure of what to expect but are almost certainly feeling like they are about to be judged. What they may need in this time is not a form to fill out, but a human being to see them as a person beyond whatever they may put down on an intake sheet.
While a receptionist may be the first person a new intake meets, meeting with a social worker, therapist, or psychiatrist will always carry a degree of nervousness and distance. Careful language, both body language and spoken, need to be considered. However, this is more than just the words themselves. The simple act of speaking can set the tone for how they will perceive the service as a whole, far beyond the first interaction.
White Coat Effect
Regardless of whether the white coat is actually present, people are going to be tense when meeting with a therapist. This is especially true when there is no personal connection yet made between the two parties. There is an innate wall between the patient and the people that want to help. They may not have too much information on the facility in which they find themselves.
They may have attended on the urgings of a loved one or asked for help in a rock-bottom moment. It is hard to connect to something when there is no idea of what to expect, and this goes for programs as well as people. The therapists that may be working with them start out as a faceless entity on a computer, taking down information on a numerical scale. Patients will often feel dehumanized as they try to boil down their complex emotions and context into a 1 – 5 number bubble.
Prioritizing the Patient
The intake form is essential, but it can all be fruitless if the patient doesn’t feel like they were heard as a person. Even taking a minute or two to introduce oneself on a human level can make a big difference. While facilities often operate on a very tight schedule, patients notice if you seem rushed. Constantly checking the clock can make them feel like just another number. Nothing is an adequate substitute for the human interaction that a person needs. Transparency in person and program is to be prioritized.
Being afraid to divulge anything personal at all, even inconsequential things like one’s favorite food, sets an air of secrecy. This reinforces the barrier that a therapist may be telling them to break down. Also, be very clear about the program and what it will look like for them on a day-to-day basis. A patient will leave that intake appointment having grasped something. Having a transparent human on the other side can reinforce the thing that they latch onto as positive.
As mentioned before, the paperwork for an intake is essential in establishing a launch point going forward. It can provide valuable information on where to start, but even the answers themselves may be skewed from the start. Already feeling out of place in a new environment is stressful enough, and focusing too much on the paperwork denies the human element. Allowing standard intake paperwork to be available online or to take home and fill out in a more comfortable environment can lead to more accurate information for this starting point. This method also allows that very first action in one’s recovery – filling out that paperwork – to be at the patient’s complete agency. Allowing a patient to take the reigns of their own recovery can lead to a more genuine dialogue when that first interaction takes place.
Nothing is more impactful than feeling heard when going through recovery. The first impression can make or break years of potential progress. Introduce something personal before getting to the paperwork or having them fill out another questionnaire. Sit in such a way that you are clearly visible without physical barriers like a computer or desk. Populate your office or room with things that express something personal.
As mentioned earlier, patients may be feeling at their lowest point and coming in to be judged on their mistakes and guilt. This is an inherently compromising position for anyone to be in. Taking the time to interact with them as an individual is the first step to establishing a beneficial relationship in which recovery can grow.
Alta Centers champions a positive, fun environment to create a positive connotation between sobriety, recovery, and personal life. Their patient-first mentality ensures that they are prepared to modify any part of their program to accommodate each patient’s unique goals. This personal approach creates opportunities for you or a loved one to take that first step towards sobriety in a lasting healthy, happy life. For more information on their services available, from detox to aftercare, contact Alta Centers today at 1-888-202-2583.