One of the cornerstones of a successful therapeutic alliance is confidentiality.
If I don't have your family member's permission to speak to you then I cannot give you information about their diagnosis, treatment, or goals in therapy. This can be very frustrating for family members who are sometimes eager for information so that they can be helpful and supportive.
While I cannot speak for all mental health professionals, I love hearing from the family members of my clients—even if I am not able to respond to emails or phone calls.
Listed below are some things that you may want to consider if you would like to communicate with your loved one's treatment provider. Please keep in mind that your family member's therapist or program may have their own specific guidelines about communication.
• I want to hear from you.
I don't necessarily need to hear from you every Monday at 9:00 am but I love to hear from all of my family members once or twice a month. I don't need long detailed emails but a few sentences here and there can often be very beneficial.
Sometimes I don't hear about things that are happening in the family—either with siblings or other loved ones. If you suspect that your family member may not be sharing something potentially vital to your loved one's success in treatment, it's okay for you to let me know.
• I want to hear about your loved one's (or family's) past.
If you think that something that happened long ago may be relevant to treatment today, then I would want to know.
This might include things like early childhood losses, important preschool or elementary school experiences, other diagnoses, trauma history, previous medications that were helpful, or more information about a family history of mental illness can sometimes help fill in the gaps of my limited knowledge.
• I want to hear about the good things.
Sometimes I only hear details about when things are going wrong or when a family member isn't using their dialectical behavior therapy (or DBT) skills but it can be even more important to share the times when your loved one did the dishes without being asked 20 times or when they used a skill to keep themselves safe and stayed out of the hospital.
It can be tempting to only focus on the challenges but letting a mental health professional know that things might just be getting a tiny bit better can also be incredibly valuable.
• I want to know how you're doing.
I believe that a client's success is often strongly tied to the healthy self-care habits of their immediate family members and friends.
If you need a suggestion for a local support group, a good book to read, or a referral to a psychoeducation class, I'm ready with those recommendations. If you are also interested in learning DBT, then I have even more resources to suggest.
Remember: This kind of communication does not break the confidentiality agreement that a health care provider has with your loved one.
Interested in more information like this? Join my mailing list for family members and friends of individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.