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Helping Telehealth Clients in Recovery Advocate for Their Own Health

Empowering clients to advocate for their own needs is a big part of what we clinicians do—whether in a more traditional therapeutic setting or in emerging telehealth contexts. And every client is different. For clients in recovery from substance abuse, for example, the individualized treatment needs are diverse. That makes it even more imperative that clients be empowered to advocate for their health.

But how do you achieve this in a telehealth setting? Below are some insights from my work with clients with substance use disorders (SUDs) and their families.

Encouraging Family Support and Involvement Where Possible

As a lead clinician for a team of therapists, I am constantly working to ensure that every client who comes through our doors has the support they need to be able to take an active role in their recovery, not just during treatment but afterwards, too. One of the ways this is done is through the family program that I supervise, which consists of weekly check-ins by phone with each client’s family. In addition to updating family members on their loved one’s progress in treatment, the goal of these telehealth sessions is to encourage and equip family members to:

  • Get engaged in their loved one’s recovery process
  • Share their own goals and air questions and concerns
  • Take ownership of their own recovery process
  • Connect with 12-step resources like Al-Anon and other supports for families in recovery
  • Be prepared for when their loved one returns home after treatment

We strive to engage family members in these telehealth sessions, because we know from an abundance of research that when families know how to support their loved one’s recovery—and are themselves invested in their own recovery—their loved one will find it easier to advocate for their health needs. Furthermore, in my own experience, clients who enjoy higher levels of family support tend to be more motivated to get better and stay engaged in recovery.

Relapse prevention is another example. Research shows that the involvement of one or more close family members in relapse prevention therapy can significantly reduce their loved one’s risks of relapse. Family-centered relapse prevention therapy helps clients articulate their addiction triggers and what they need from their loved ones -- physically and emotionally -- in order to manage cues and cravings.

Telehealth providers who wish to help clients in recovery advocate for their health needs can therefore encourage clients to pick just one immediate family member whom they trust and can confide in, who can also commit to helping them devise a plan for managing triggers, coping with stressors and taking care of their overall health.

Encouraging Clients to Become Active Participants in Their Treatment Plan

In addition to providing telehealth support to families, much of my work involves helping clients in an inpatient setting advocate for their best interests when working with their primary therapist. To this end, every client fills out a quick and painless assessment at the end of every individual therapy session. The assessment invites clients to give an evaluation (“Strongly agree,” “Agree,” “Neutral,” “Disagree,” and “Strongly disagree”) for statements like:

  • I believe my counselor is working with me to set my treatment goals.
  • My therapist and I agree on the treatment plan goals.
  • I believe my therapist understands my core issues.
  • I feel my counselor truly listens to me.

In this simple and accessible way, we encourage clients to become self-advocates from Day 1 of therapy and throughout their time with us.

Similar assessments can be applied in telehealth settings. Send the message that you care and value your client as an individual, and that their participation in the healing process is of the utmost importance.

About the Author

Anna Ciulla's picture

Anna Ciulla is the Vice President of Clinical and Medical Services at Beach House Center for Recovery, in Juno Beach, Florida, where she is responsible for designing, implementing and supervising the delivery of the latest evidence-based therapies for treating substance use disorders. Anna draws on her years of industry experience to help clients (and their families) understand their health and achieve successful long-term recovery.


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