What’s the real value of family engagement

I have a brother with bipolar disorder and our story is one of the more tragic. I say our story because we are a family; his life impacts ours and his illness has broken us all. Every single clinician I’ve ever talked to says they value family involvement. Every CEO of a behavioral health care organization says they and their staff engage families where they can. But what does that really mean? Unfortunately, when you dig a little deeper into what family engagement looks like in the daily routine of clinical practice, there isn’t much to demonstrate that families are encouraged to participate in adult treatment services; or more importantly, that clients are actively encouraged to involve their families. And to clarify, it’s not just mom and dad. Family can include any and all individuals in our circle of support who make our lives meaningful, who support us when we’re struggling, and who can help ground us when life feels disjointed. Even how we ask the question, “Do you have any family you want involved?” or worse, “Is there anyone you want to sign a HIPPA release so we can talk to them?” The way the questions are asked assumes that involving others is unnecessary or somehow admitting a weakness. The questions almost implies that having family involved gives someone license to dig around in your affairs or gives your clinician someone to report to when you’re not doing what you should be doing. It’s one example of how an unconscious bias can be embedded into an organization’s culture. A bias that the most important relationship is between the client and the clinician; that everyone else in the client’s immediate circle is superfluous, time-consuming, or possibly problematic? The thing is, why shouldn’t you want a family member involved? Would you go through cancer alone? Shouldn’t the standard be to work towards having clients engaged with their social network? They come home to us and when they’re not doing well with their treatment, we see it firsthand. So often there’s nothing we can do to get someone to listen to, or value, our view into what’s working and what’s not working. The time has come to change how we think about and engage with families as non-traditional, non-clinical partners in care. Research supports the clinical value of family engagement and training tools are available to help organizations. In addition, the move toward value-based health care will allow for growing flexibility to update organizational structures and implement new clinical models that take advantage of the practical support families bring to adult mental health treatment. So how do we get the system to change? The answer is one organization, one clinician, one person at a time. Will you join me? I started INCITE Consulting Solutions with a passion to support the individuals and organizations that work tirelessly to save the lives of individuals impacted by mental illnesses and addictions. In the coming months, we will be launching a new initiative to work with behavioral health organizations and their staff to explore how we talk to clients about their circle of support. We know changing practice isn’t easy and there are real barriers. We’re going to start small, build sustainability, and collect data to prove the value proposition. My personal ask of friends and colleagues is take a few minutes to reflect on where families are missing from your work and/or your organization. As INCITE Consulting Solutions travels down this road, I want to hear from you. Please email or call me to share what’s working, how are you helping staff to build broader networks of care for clients, and if you’re interested in working with us as we move forward. Because at the end of the day, we all want and need others in our lives to support our journey of health, wellness, and recovery. Kara


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