When Paperwork Becomes a Barrier

When Paperwork Becomes a Barrier

How can providers of mental health care or other social services prevent paperwork from becoming a barrier to services?

Amanda Luzzader
Amanda Luzzader
Content Writer
When Paperwork Becomes a Barrier

Imagine a potential therapy client, Jessica, who has depression. Jessica works full-time and has two children. She has

trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating. Jessica feels sad and hopeless and has stopped doing things she enjoys.

When Jessica finally works up the courage and strength to seek help from social services in her area, she is

presented with stacks of paperwork. She must complete long, multi-page intake forms before she can receive any


The sight of the paperwork is daunting to Jessica. "I'm having a hard time even showering. How can I complete all

these forms?" she asks.

For clients who face crisis or mental health challenges, intake forms can present a real obstacle. Some clients opt to

not receive services rather than fill out the multiple forms required by social service agencies. It's not that the

questions are particularly difficult. It's more that the clients are simply overwhelmed and are experiencing the

feeling that they cannot take on even one more task. It takes a lot of effort to seek out services in the first place. To

then be required to fill out multiple forms can lead individuals to give up---sometimes starting the forms, but never

quite completing them. Social workers are often eager to provide the help the individuals so badly need, but are

barred from offering any kind of service until certain information is gathered. Further, many individuals who have

had experience with social services in the past may find the required paperwork triggers feelings and memories

related to past negative experiences. Clients also may experience embarrassment at not being able to complete the


How can providers of mental health care or other social services prevent paperwork from becoming a barrier to


1. Ask fewer questions.

At the time of intake, when a client is likely to be most overwhelmed, consider asking only the questions that are

absolutely necessary before providing services. Other evaluations can be completed at later times. Collect

information gradually, rather than bombarding the client with questions at the very start.

2. Limit intake questionnaires to one page.

The sight of multiple pages of long forms can be overwhelming. By simplifying forms to one page, completing the

questionnaire may seem less daunting and clients can complete the requisite information more quickly.

3. Use electronic data collection.

As an alternative to paper forms, using electronic data collection, like Pulse Kiosks or online surveys, allows clients a

quick and easy way to provide the required information for client intake. These methods of information-gathering

present the client with only one question at a time, helping to avoid the overwhelm they may feel with pages of

questions. As a bonus, this method compiles the information for providers, so they can spend more time one-on-one

with clients and less time managing data entry and filing paperwork.

In an article in the August 24, 2016, Guardian, Matt Bee's article "Are you a social worker drowning in paperwork?"

states, "All it would take is one local authority to run with this idea, and to realize that the solution to too much

paperwork is to do less of it."