When Paperwork Becomes a Barrier
How can providers of mental health care or other social services prevent paperwork from becoming a barrier to services?
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."