Treating mental health problems in primary care: Discrepancies between therapist expectations and clients’ attendance

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Faculty of Social Work


Models of collaborative primary health care were introduced in Ontario in 2005 with the goal of providing comprehensive care, including that of mental health, to patients. While the success of this model of health care delivered through Family Health Teams (FHT) has been established, evidence based guidelines to guide mental health therapists regarding the number of sessions needed to treat common issues such as depression and anxiety seen within this model is lacking. The goal of this study was to gain a better understanding of how therapists conducted therapy, including type of intervention, under a physician determined eight session cap. Questionnaires completed by the therapists after the first session and again when therapy ended, a focus group and a chart review were conducted over an eight month period involving a total of 147 patients. Several key findings were identified including the unanticipated outcome of a discrepancy between how many sessions were initially thought to be required by the mental health therapist compared to how many sessions were determined helpful by the patient. Conversely, it was also identified that eight sessions was insufficient to treat more severe mental health issues such as trauma. Such results suggest that the treatment of mental health issues within Family Health remains a little understood and explored issue, with the authors suggesting better ways of negotiating session caps reflective of mental health issues addressed within this model of care.


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