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Patient Bill of Rights for Mental Health Treatment

Here's what you should know when seeking mental health care.

Key points

  • Clients seeking mental health care should be aware of their rights.
  • It's important for patients to have a clear understanding of the various treatment options and how safe and effective they are.
  • If a specific treatment isn't working for a patient, they should have the information available to seek out alternative solutions.
Nile / Pixabay
Source: Nile / Pixabay

Recently, I was introduced to the Patient Bill of Rights developed by several organizations devoted to mental health. There are several different patient bills of rights but this specific set refers to a patient’s rights when receiving mental health care, such as counseling and psychotropic medication. As a psychologist, I was excited to see this and think it makes a great read for anyone contemplating or receiving mental health care.

Understanding a patient's rights

The first right is to know the evidence supporting a treatment. Sometimes there is no evidence, and sometimes there is a lot. Sometimes the evidence includes hundreds of gold-standard, randomized controlled trials, and sometimes the evidence is a few case reports. Regardless, a patient needs to know whether research shows that a treatment is effective and safe.

The second and third rights are about how a specific treatment and the evidence for that treatment fit the individual patient. That treatment could have multiple trials showing it is effective but not for that patient’s condition. The treatment could have been tested for depression but the patient has an eating disorder. While a patient can still try the treatment, they need to know the limits of what the evidence shows so they have realistic expectations.

The fourth and fifth rights are about progress in therapy or mental health treatment. If a treatment is not working for a patient, the therapist should let the patient know. This allows the patient the opportunity to decide their course of care and whether they want to switch to a different treatment or add on a second treatment (such as adding medication to counseling).

The sixth right refers to a patient’s right to ask for changes in treatment. If a patient does not believe a specific treatment is working for them, they can ask their therapist or physician for a change. This might require a referral to a health care provider trained in the specific treatment, but a patient has a right to request this as well.

The seventh right concerns knowing what treatments a provider is trained or experienced in. I usually tell patients in the first session which treatments I have training in, and if they ask about a type of treatment I am not trained in, I tell them. Even if a specific treatment is not being used but a provider is trained in that treatment, that can help a patient make decisions about whether they want to switch treatments with the same provider or change providers if they feel therapy is not working.

I highly encourage anyone seeking mental health care to read this patient bill of rights. Therapy can be an intimidating process, and patients should be able to ask questions about their treatment so they can find the right therapist and therapy for them.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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