Tips for Getting Your Paperwork Done On Time

by Dr. Maelisa Hall, Documentation Expert

by Dr. Maelisa Hall, Documentation Expert

What’s one of the most common problems I see with students and recent grads? They have trouble getting their paperwork done! I’m the Quality Assurance Manager for a community mental health agency and it’s my job to make sure I give all our students and therapists the best tips and tools to make the documentation part of their job easier. I know, I know, you thought my job was to make their lives miserable, right?  

As a student or a recent graduate you usually have external requirements for your paperwork. You have deadlines, you have people reviewing your notes, and someone else has likely chosen the template for you. If you’ve had multiple supervisors you’ve probably also gotten disputing opinions on how much to write and what should go where. But I’m sure you also got one overarching message- get your paperwork done on time!

Easy Tips for Timely Documentation

Here are some easy tips for getting your paperwork done on time. You can start using these right away. Warning: Not every method works for every person! Be disciplined about sticking with a method for at least two weeks and then evaluate whether or not it’s working for you.

1.     Write in chunks. Some people are able to see a client for 45 minutes, write a 10 minute note, see the next client for 45 minutes, etc. If you can, stick to it and more power to you! Most of us aren’t able to do that, though. An alternative is to write notes in chunks. For example, see 6 clients on Monday from 11am-5pm and then spend an hour writing notes for all those clients. The time you select will depend on your schedule and flexibility, but try to keep it within 72 hours of your session so you don’t get backed up or forget what happened. When I worked at an agency I always scheduled assessments in the morning and made sure my afternoon was clear so I could finish it that same day (and then it was off my plate!). For regular sessions, I often saw clients in the late afternoon/evening so I didn’t want to stay until 8pm writing notes. I would schedule an hour or two in the mornings the next day and do all my previous day’s notes then.

2.     Be consistent. Regardless of whether you write in chunks daily, every other day, or hourly you have to be consistent! Missing one day’s notes means adding an extra 60-90 minutes on the next day you come in. Find the schedule that (realistically) works for your lifestyle and then write it in your calendar. Documentation time has to be kept as sacred as a client’s weekly appointment time and your lunch break or you’ll always find other things to do.

3.     Create a plan to catch up. If you do get behind in your notes (and most of us do, at some point or another), the workload can spiral out of control very quickly. Be honest with yourself and create a plan as soon as you notice the problem. A common mistake new therapists make when catching up is neglecting their current notes to complete the older notes. This keeps them in a constant battle of catch up. Stay consistent with your current notes schedule and make additional time in the short-term for writing the overdue notes. Start with the oldest notes and just move forward until they’re all done. Once you catch up, you’ll be glad you stayed up on your current notes and you can get right back to your regular schedule!

4.     Get support. If you’re having difficulty figuring out which schedule works for you or find that writing notes seems to take you longer than your colleagues, seek out help from your supervisor. Tell them your struggles early on so you have someone to keep you accountable as you problem-solve. Also, talk with colleagues to find out what strategies work for them. It’s great to stay connected with others so you know your struggles are normal and you can also find others who have worked through them. If you’re not a part of the MFTGuide Facebook group, click here to join and connect with likeminded therapists who are making the transition from student to working professional.

Follow these tips and you should be successful in completing your documentation on time! I know it’s not the most exciting part of what you do, but it’s just as necessary as being present during sessions. If I’ve learned anything from reviewing hundreds of client charts it’s that timeliness has a significant impact on the quality of documentation. I can tell when a therapist wrote an assessment or progress note within 24 hours and I can definitely tell when they waited 24 days!

As therapists, we deal with such ambiguous but powerful feelings and ideas. Much of what we do is intangible and it’s sometimes difficult to put into words. Combine that with the stress of studying for exams, dealing with client crises, and lapses in memory over time and you have a recipe for disaster when you procrastinate writing notes.

If you’re looking for more tips on time management and making documentation more relatable to your clinical work, check out my free online training: The Private Practice Paperwork Crash Course. Regardless of what stage you are in your career, there are helpful tips that apply to therapists working in all settings. Now, use the strategies above and map out your plan to get your paperwork done in no time!

Dr. Maelisa Hall of QA Prep

Dr. Maelisa Hall of QA Prep

Author Bio:

Dr. Maelisa Hall is an expert in clinical documentation who loves teaching therapists how to create rock solid documentation so they can spend more time focusing on their clients and less time worrying about paperwork. Click here for instant access to her Private Practice Paperwork Crash Course for mental health professionals.

Miranda Palmer

I have successfully built a cash pay psychotherapy practice from scratch on a shoestring budget. I have also failed a licensed exam by 1 point (only to have the licensing board send me a later months later saying I passed), started an online study group to ease my own isolation and have now reached thousands of therapists across the country, helped other therapists market their psychotherapy practices, and helped awesome business owners move from close to closing their doors, to being profitable in less than 6 weeks. I've failed at launching online programs. I've had wild success at launching online programs. I've made mistakes in private practice I've taught others how to avoid my mistakes. You can do this. You were called to this work. Now- go do it! Find some help or inspiration as you need it- but do the work!

In the Trenches: Good Supervision

Miranda Palmer, LMFT (Your MFTGuide) here to introduce our very first "in the trenches" post from an MFT Intern current gathering hours. I had the pleasure of meeting Michaela Renee Johnson at the 2013 California MFT (CAMFT) Conference in Sacramento, CA. I would love for you to hear her thoughts and recommendations about finding a good clinical supervisor while gathering hours for California licensure! 

When I was in Grad school, people talked about the concept of a “good” supervisor and a “bad” supervisor.

The concept was lost on me as people told horror stories of “bad” supervisors in practicum.
It wasn’t until I was half way through my practicum that I finally understood. The first supervisor I had was everything I had envisioned a supervisor to be, she was easy going, a great listener, educated, theoretical yet tactical and humorous. She was exactly what I needed in that first experience to get my bearings and build confidence at such a pivotal moment. But, I only could only fully "see" that in retrospect. 

Halfway through my practicum she announced she was moving out of State, and we would be assigned a new supervisor.

I was incredibly sad, because I’d come to appreciate and enjoy her as a supervisor and a mentor, but it wasn’t until my new supervisor was assigned that I started to truly appreciate what I’d had, and lost.

Every supervisor has a different skillset and style that they bring to the experience.

And not knowing what I didn't know- I sort of expected supervision was a standard thing. That there was a specific formula and that my new supervisor would be just like my old supervisor. 

Supervision is a very personal thing, and every supervisor has strengths, and areas that could be improved.

  • There are supervisors who are more oriented toward the technical details of being a therapist, making sure to verify your assessments match your treatment goals and that your prog notes have every “I” dotted. This can really help build your confidence with record-keeping. 
  • Then there are supervisors who are lackadaisical, letting you swim the river of BBS paperwork, insurance paperwork and clients on your own. You almost have to track them down to get five minutes outside of your weekly hour to ask questions as they come up. This will teach you to own your experience and build assertiveness skills to get what you need. 
  • There are also supervisors who are more focused on your talents and what happens in the office with your clients…you could say, your instinctual ability to be a good therapist (or a bad one). These supervisors sometimes feel like those one in a million experiences. And, that person who "gets you" just perfectly may be different for each of us! 
At some point in your clinical development, finding a supervisor who meshes with your personal style is critical to your success as a therapist. Here’s why:
  1. You aren’t going to be under supervision forever, at some point you are going to have to either work for an agency or branch out into your own private practice.
  2. Your supervisor isn’t going to be sitting next to you as you take the state exam.
  3. It’s ultimately up to you to find your personal style, theoretical orientation and beliefs about finances and insurance.
  4. A supervisor who doesn’t connect with you on a personal level, means you are missing out on a great deal of inherent learning through osmosis.
  5. A supervisor who doesn’t encourage the strengths they see in YOU means you never get the opportunity to feel confident before you are out on your own. 
  6. A supervisor who isn’t the kind of therapist you want to be, isn’t going to make a great coach or mentor.
While as therapists we may be good at letting go of judgment, finding a supervisor that is best for you, is one place you should be able to be clear about your needs and assess whether someone can meet them. At the beginning of internship, 3,000 hours feels like a life time away. I can assure you, 1500 hours  and four supervisors into the process, it goes quicker than you realize.
I have been afforded the opportunity to work with supervisors who fell into all the categories above. I’ve also turned down opportunities to work at some facilities based upon the person who would be supervising me.  
I’ve learned that sometimes we have to accept a supervisor because it’s the best financial position, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t consult with other supervisors who have more experience, or just better match with our personal goals as therapists. After all, the point of supervision is not just to have someone to bounce cases off of, but for our own personal growth.

Michaela Renee Johnson is a Board Registered Marriage and Family Therapist intern who works in private practice as well as in non profit.

(Would you like to submit an article for publication? We are currently accepting anonymous as well as byline pieces to share with therapists around the country. Send to We accept stories that tell a story, and that while they may talk about the difficult parts of this profession- offer real strategies to be successful.) 



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