Strengthening Engagement Skills

Strengthening practitioner engagement skills with clients increases trust, goal striving and improves outcomes.

The Challenge

A large county-run mental health agency was seeking to better align practices with their recovery-oriented mission. In particular, the agency’s staff was struggling with developing and maintaining working relationships with their clients. Clients were not showing up for appointments, were frequently late or dropping out prematurely. Clients also appeared disengaged from their care and uninspired by the goals on their treatment plans. Similarly, agency staff were feeling discouraged, frustrated, and ineffective.

The Process

After meeting at a conference, the agency director contacted CPT with concerns about staff and client engagement. “Our clinicians are feeling discouraged about their work and complain that most clients seem uninterested in working to improve their situation.” After several conversations to learn more about the agency’s challenges and goals, we suggested an agency-wide training on recovery-oriented engagement strategies. First, however, we wanted to get a clear picture of the agency’s strengths and where they were struggling. We took time to engage with the staff and learn about their strengths and gaps by hosting focus groups with individuals from all areas of the agency: front desk, crisis care, administrators, clinical directors, outreach workers, medical staff and practitioners. We also had the entire agency and their clients respond to a survey asking about their experience with the agency’s person-centered, recovery-oriented practices. From the focus groups and survey, we learned that the staff cared deeply about their clients and were invested in helping them reach their goals. However, many of the staff struggled with understanding and accepting their client’s current level of motivation and staff didn’t know how to assist clients in defining their own recovery goals. This resulted in the client’s disinterest and lack of motivation in pursuing a goal they weren’t invested in.

The Solution

We developed a multicomponent engagement training plan that was tailored to enhance the agency’s strengths as well as address their needs and gaps. The multiphase, multi-year endeavor included an agency wide assessment, tailored engagement training, consultation, assessment of practitioner skills and competencies, client feedback, and a sustainability plan to insure deep implementation and future success.

The Result

Due to the economic costs and disruption of the Pandemic, this project ended early. However, preliminary data demonstrated a statistically significant increase in the participants’ recovery knowledge and applied skills. Trainees demonstrate growth in their ability to inspire a client’s hope for the future and in supporting the client’s unique strengths to help them achieve their goals. The data analysis also identified a connection between skill and knowledge: there was a significant correlation between improvement in knowledge scores and engagement skills.

Not only did trainees benefit from improvements in engagement skills and knowledge, most indicated that they learned new information and skills, had a positive experience, and expressed that the workshop format was conducive to their learning and professional development.