How I Transformed My Aversion to Writing Notes
What is it about writing progress notes that leaves us feeling so resistant? I think many of us would prefer to not write notes at all, instead being content to focus all our energy on being present with our clients in session. As Highly Sensitive Therapists, we use a considerable amount of energy during client interactions because our brains are wired to process deeply and our mirror neurons are producing more empathetic responses. This is an incredible gift during our clinical work, but unfortunately does not leave much left over for our administrative tasks. After the session is over, we need time to decompress and process. As a result, we procrastinate and the uncompleted notes pile up, leaving us feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
Since we do have a duty to record our clients’ progress, how can we transform this obligatory task into something that takes up less of our precious emotional energy? Below are five strategies that I have used to reclaim control over my note writing process and squash the lingering overwhelm of undone notes…
Let Go of Perfectionism
As the saying goes, "done is better than perfect". Highly Sensitive folks have a strong tendency towards perfectionism which can sabotage our productivity and contentment, especially in the notes department. This approach will help you get your notes done in less time.
Keep It Brief
Although we want to capture all the important details from the session, it is in the client’s best interest to stay generalized and not go into too many specifics. Therefore, we can take the pressure off ourselves to write a lengthy note. To support this process, try implementing a limit on how much time you spend writing each note.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Many therapists tend to have a specific area of focus and a set of favorite tools, meaning we often use the same handful of interventions with clients. Instead of creating every note from scratch, create a checklist of common interventions and templates for common note types such as intake, assessment, termination, etc. You can keep your templates in a Google Doc or create a custom note in your EHR system.
Create a Routine
Besides the common benefits of a daily routine, Highly Sensitive People use considerable brain power to make decisions because we are wired to pause and reflect before acting. Therefore, it takes us longer to make decisions, complete simple tasks and transition between activities. Creating a routine around note writing takes away the need to analyze the decision to write notes. Is this a good time? How long will it take me? Once I started writing notes at the same time everyday, it became much more effortless.
On Your Own Terms
Having nervous systems that are very susceptible to the effects of overstimulation when under time pressure, it is best for us to complete notes when we have time to settle into the activity. For instance, setting aside 30 minutes at the beginning or end of the day to write notes may feel much more supportive than rushing to finish notes between sessions. However, if you prefer to write notes immediately after sessions, consider extending time between sessions to allow for self-care activities. Find what approach works best for you, even if that looks different than what your colleagues are doing.
If you find yourself extremely behind on notes, you are probably feeling a lot of anxiety and overwhelm right now. You are definitely not alone as many of us Sensitive Therapists have been there. Instead of trying to get the notes done in chronological order, you may need to stop the hemorrhage. Start writing your current notes each day and come up with a system for clearing away the backlog. When this has happened to me, I wrote a list of which clients had unfinished notes and tackled a few clients each day until I was caught up. It can also be helpful to invite a buddy to co-work with you.
Since Sensitive Therapists use more physical and emotional energy during our interactions with clients, we need more time to decompress afterwards and may feel overstimulated by the pressure to complete notes between sessions. When we create a structured routine that works for our needs and take the pressure off ourselves to be perfect, completing notes can become much more effortless.