What Are Strategies for When Patients Disagree With Diagnoses Or Treatment Plans?


    What Are Strategies for When Patients Disagree With Diagnoses Or Treatment Plans?

    When patients challenge their mental health diagnosis or treatment plans, it's crucial for professionals to navigate these situations with care. We've gathered insights from seven mental health experts, including an Integrative Psychiatrist and a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, on how to manage such scenarios effectively. From exploring the patient's disagreement to emphasizing the diagnosis as a formality for care, these professionals share their strategies for fostering understanding and cooperation.

    • Explore Patient's Disagreement
    • Foster Empathy and Open Communication
    • Employ Active Listening and Collaboration
    • Cultivate Acceptance and Client Autonomy
    • Discuss to Understand Patient's Viewpoint
    • Encourage Patient Involvement in Treatment
    • Emphasize Diagnosis as Formality for Care

    Explore Patient's Disagreement

    In a situation where a patient does not agree with my diagnosis or treatment plan, I will first ask the patient what leads them to disagree, and I will try to get them to be as specific as possible. Once I find out why they disagree, I will then provide evidence and further psychoeducation as to why I came to the diagnosis or treatment plan. If they are still disagreeing with both, then that is telling me I am still not aware of certain aspects of their history, so I may want to spend more sessions focused on exploring that, or there is something emotionally they are holding on to that I am not aware of that is getting in the way of them accepting or understanding what I am trying to say. One way to do this is by asking, 'What thoughts or emotions are coming up for you about the diagnosis or treatment plan that I am presenting?' and try to get the patient to be as specific as possible. One may want to allow more time in an intake to allow space for this type of discussion or exploration because the last thing you want is a patient not aligned with you on this in the first visit. If you can spend the time exploring and getting curious about their disagreement, that will go a long way in not only rapport-building but it might remove the emotional block for them to understand and accept the diagnosis and treatment plan you are presenting.

    Michael Broukhim
    Michael BroukhimIntegrative Psychiatrist, HOPE Integrative Health

    Foster Empathy and Open Communication

    When a patient does not agree with my diagnosis or treatment plan, I approach the situation with empathy and open communication. It's crucial to recognize that the patient is not questioning my competence but rather grappling with significant news that might make them feel vulnerable or defective. I take the time to listen to their concerns, validate their feelings, and provide clear explanations about the diagnosis and the rationale behind the treatment plan. I encourage a collaborative approach, where we can explore their reservations together and adjust the plan as needed to better suit their comfort level and goals. By fostering a compassionate and understanding environment, I aim to build trust and help them navigate this challenging experience. Remember, when you receive unwelcome news, it likely triggers insecurities and fears; acknowledging this can deepen your empathy for your patients' struggles.

    Veronica Cisneros
    Veronica CisnerosOwner Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Outside The Norm Counseling Inc.

    Employ Active Listening and Collaboration

    Handling situations where a patient disagrees with a diagnosis or treatment plan can indeed be challenging in mental health practice. However, through active listening, empathy, clarification, and collaboration, these issues can often be resolved together with clients.

    Active listening allows patients to express their concerns and feelings about the diagnosis or treatment plan without interruption. By acknowledging their feelings and demonstrating understanding, therapists can help build and maintain trust and rapport within the therapeutic relationship.

    Clarifying the diagnosis involves providing clear and detailed explanations about the diagnosis, including the criteria used and how the diagnosis was reached based on session disclosures. Additionally, helping clients understand the rationale behind the proposed treatment plan, including its benefits and potential risks, is an important aspect of clarification.

    Clients often feel more heard and understood when they are actively involved in the decision-making process. This includes setting goals together, discussing various treatment options, and considering the patient's preferences and values. Involving clients in these ways fosters a sense of partnership and empowerment.

    By employing these strategies, mental health professionals can navigate disagreements with patients in a respectful, effective, and patient-centered manner. This approach not only addresses the immediate concerns but also strengthens the therapeutic alliance and supports better long-term outcomes.

    Jennifer Wozniak
    Jennifer WozniakLicensed Mental Health Counselor, Private Practice Owner, Bene Therapy, PLLC

    Cultivate Acceptance and Client Autonomy

    As a therapist, I emphasize cultivating acceptance and building autonomy in clients who disagree with their treatment plan, as it is essential for effective therapy. Acceptance fosters understanding and respect, enhancing trust and openness in the therapeutic relationship. Providing autonomy and choices empowers clients, encouraging control and collaboration in their treatment, which can boost engagement and adherence to the plan.

    Here are a few ways to achieve this:

    1) Involve clients in setting treatment goals to align with their values.

    2) Psychoeducate them on their diagnosis and treatment rationale to increase comfort and confidence.

    3) Offer a platform for feedback to address individual needs.

    4) Teach coping and problem-solving skills to promote client independence.

    Architha Raj
    Architha RajCounselling Psychologist

    Discuss to Understand Patient's Viewpoint

    When a patient disagrees with the diagnosis or proposed treatment, my standard protocol involves having a thorough discussion with the patient to understand the reasons for their disagreement. This discussion often reveals important information. It may show that the patient does not have the necessary symptoms for the diagnosis, or that their symptoms have changed, affecting the accuracy of the initial diagnosis. Sometimes, it becomes clear that the patient doesn't understand their symptoms well, leading to different perspectives. By having an open conversation, we can usually reach a mutual understanding of the diagnosis and agree on a treatment plan that considers both the patient's and the provider's viewpoints.

    Dr. Jameca Woody Cooper
    Dr. Jameca Woody CooperBoard certified Counseling Psychologist and Criminal Psychology consultant, Emergence Psychological Services/Dr. Jameca/

    Encourage Patient Involvement in Treatment

    Therapy is ultimately for the patient, and if a patient does not agree with the diagnosis or treatment plan, it is important to have a direct conversation about it. With regard to diagnosis, it is important to give the patient an opportunity to share their perspective, why they disagree with the diagnosis, and for the mental health professional to explain why they provided the diagnosis. If the patient still disagrees, I always invite the patient to seek out a second opinion. With regard to the treatment plan, if a client does not agree with or does not buy into the treatment plan, as a mental health professional, it is my responsibility to create a treatment plan that the patient feels will work for them and is evidence-based for their particular diagnosis. This is why collaboratively creating a treatment plan is so important because it gives patients an opportunity to voice their opinion, create their own goals, and be heard. If the patient is seeking a treatment modality that I am not competent in, it is my responsibility to refer them to another mental health professional who can provide that specific treatment.

    Jessica Rabon
    Jessica RabonLicensed Clinical Psychologist

    Emphasize Diagnosis as Formality for Care

    Anytime a patient does not agree with a diagnosis, I always remind them that a diagnosis is required for insurance purposes and ethical reasons, but as their therapist, I base my treatment plans on their unique story and case. Therefore, I encourage them not to get too hung up on the diagnosis and instead view it as a formality. When it comes to treatment plans, I remind my patients that it is a collaborative process. I will explain why I have chosen a specific treatment plan and encourage them to trust in the process; however, I emphasize that I value their input and our treatment plan is not set in stone. Therefore, it can always be adjusted as needed. The overall idea is to promote a sense of trust, autonomy, and confidence within the patient.

    Taylor Rahe
    Taylor RaheOccupational Therapist, TRU Whole Care