- Health care professionals can feel hopelessness when facing the shortages in our (mental) health care system. It is increasingly difficult to refer clients who have needs that exceed the scope of our practice.
- The best resource for health care professionals is the client – tap into their experiences, networks and skills. Think outside the box to help support your client in their time of need.
As a health care professional, I understand the feeling of hopelessness one experiences when facing a client for whom no resources and referrals can be made available. A health care professional facing a client with needs exceeding the limits of their own practice without any proper resources available to support their client may feel: ashamed, discouraged, alone and overwhelmed. It is certainly not easy to explain to a client that no resources are available to support them in their time of need. The caring part of us is often crushed by this reality.
In today’s (mental) health care shortages, it is increasingly difficult to access high-quality health care for mental health needs. This is due to various reasons, such as social, financial, geographical and cultural factors. The most prominent barriers to mental health care are the long wait times and the financial cost of services for clients (1).
The feeling of hopelessness experienced by health care professionals is more than ever a reality. But, where do we go from here?
Recognizing Your Client as a Resource
In my opinion, our clients are often the most underutilized resource that is available to us as health care professionals. Clients have a wide range of experiences, connections and knowledge that can be immensely helpful when facing shortages in the (mental) health care system. Here are a few ways your clients may be a valuable resource:
1. Your client certainly has a past full of rich experiences. Throughout their lives, they have had to interact with the world in successful and less successful manners. The wide range of experiences of clients can provide a map of possible coping strategies in this new situation. Explore what has previously worked for your client in a similar situation.
2. The intricate personal and professional networks of clients can offer other options of resources. Examples of resources that may be available to your clients specifically include Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), people of their congregation, and online communities to which they belong.
3. Self-help resources can be found in many modalities – books, videos, conferences, etc. These countless resources have the potential to offer examples of experiences, learnings and possible next steps. It is important to recognize that although the self-help industry has grown exponentially in the past decades, it does not replace mental health services by mental health professionals.
Your client may have many ideas and resources to help themselves through more difficult times. As a health care professional, it is important to empower them to pursue these opportunities and encourage them to take charge of their own (mental) health.
Thinking Outside the Box to Prevent Your Client from Falling Through the Cracks
At times, the best resources for our clients come from unexpected sources. As we just discussed, clients can often be this unexpected resource. However, we may still be faced with what seems to be a complete lack of options for our client. This is when we must get creative.
If you are like me, your formal academic training may not have accounted for creativity being a basic skill of health care professionals. More traditionally, health care professionals pride themselves on understanding the facts and making decisions based in concrete available options. As this is the case, here are some of the ways I get creative.
Online resources: I often start my search for resources on the Internet. This is where I find resources for clients that are available as live or published material. I refer my clients to this tool as well (after having discussed with them the safest practices when looking for information online).
Plans for the refusal of service: I always have a plan B (and C) for clients wanting resources to help support them as they face (mental) health challenges. This is a practice I have adopted as program criteria often change without notice and services may be refused to an individual for reasons out of our control (no availability, changes in funding, etc.).
Piece together: I often find myself in a prime position to help clients build a team to support their needs. In a case where the needs of your client cannot be met by a sole service or professional, it may be possible to build a care team with your client. Different services and professionals would be supporting your client with a piece of their support plan. Although certainly not ideal, referring your client out to many services and professionals may be the only way to ensure appropriate care.
How You Can Work to Limit the Impact of Shortages for Your Clients
As you certainly are, I am highly aware of the shortages in our (mental) health care system. As this is at the forefront of my mind, I do my best to advocate for more high-quality resources for my clients.
Here are three (3) ways that I do my advocacy work:
- Mentor other health care professionals.
- Build strong professional networks.
- Flag challenges to governing bodies.
It is essential that we identify the needs and shortcomings of our (mental) health care system. I encourage you to reflect on how you are working to help mitigate the impacts of these shortages.
Many smiles, Gabrielle