It is not always easy for someone to reach out to a medical professional and ask for help. When an individual expresses interest in getting some assistance with psychological problems, they do so because they are motivated to change. However, that motivation is often short lived. The many barriers to therapy, including stigma, fear and cost, can quickly outweigh the motivation for recovery. According to results of a recent study led by Joshua K. Swift of the Department of Psychology at the University of Alaska, the length of time between initial contact and first appointment is directly related to first appointment attendance.
Swift conducted research aimed at determining if treatment outcome expectations influenced first appointment attendance. He used a sample of 57 individuals from training clinics and assessed their levels of hope, optimism, and distress at the time they were referred for treatment. Then, Swift examined how the length of time between referral and initial appointment was related to attendance. He found that although expectations were somewhat indicative of attendance, lag time between referral and appointment was a much stronger indicator. In fact, every day of wait time led to a 150% increase in absenteeism. Also, Swift found that prior therapy experience was highly associated with attendance. Specifically, the participants who had been in therapy had a tenfold increase in attendance rates when compared to those with no previous therapy experience.
Upon further examination, high levels of distress had a minimal relationship with attendance, but hope had a strong association. Regardless of whether people were highly distressed, if they were optimistic about treatment, they were more likely to attend the first appointment. Although these results did not support Swift’s theory of expectations and attendance, he believes these results demonstrate how important it is for those at the first point of contact to instill hope in clients. Every effort should be made to minimize the time between referral and appointment to increase the chance of attendance. “Further research is needed to empirically test whether early expectation-enhancing strategies are effective in increasing appointment attendance and early changes in therapy,” Swift said.
Swift, Joshua K., Jason L. Whipple, and Patricia Sandberg. A prediction of initial appointment attendance and initial outcome expectations. Psychotherapy 49.4 (2012): 549-56. Print.
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