Provider Communication

Communicating with Mental Health Providers About Your Loved One

Family members play a significant role in their loved one’s recovery and should be able to share beneficial information with the providers who are treating their loved one. Unfortunately, not all providers welcome caregivers to the table to hear how things are going at home. A large part of our work as FERC Family Advocates is working with providers and families to bridge communication. Below, you’ll find some tips and approaches for how to talk to mental health professionals. Please also connect with someone from our FERC team if you’d like more individualized support. Helping providers see their patient’s caregivers as allies is the heart of our work. You can reach us at (888) 896-3372.

Before you meet with a mental health professional like a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or nurse, think about what you want to talk about and write it down. Are there things you are worried or concerned about? Are there reactions to things like medication you would like to share? You should make sure you capture your thoughts in writing and bring them with you to your next meeting.

  • The name of your relative’s mental health condition and why they have received this diagnosis
  • Information about how they are planning on treating this mental health condition
  • How they will include your loved one and the family in decisions about their treatment
  • How the professional thinks the mental health condition will affect your loved one in the future
  • If there will there be other professionals or a treatment team working with your relative
  • If so, ask who they will be and why they will be involved
  • If they can suggest ways that will help you and other members of your family to work with your loved one, especially around ongoing problems, situations, or actions
  • What does the professional expect your relative to achieve in the near future
  • Ask about specific timelines and some examples of what progress might look like
  • What does the professional expect your relative to achieve in the long run
  • Ask them how much time is involved in the long run

It is important that you tell the professional about what you have noticed about your relative’s mental health conditions. Tell them about your relative’s behaviors since getting mental health treatment, and other things you think are important for them to know about. Tell the professional about your loved one’s medical treatment history and include past medications they have taken; being able to provide written documentation is very useful.

You should know the professional you’re talking to. Find out why you’re supposed to talk to them. Is there someone else on staff you would rather talk to? Is the person you’re talking with the same person that will be spending the most time with your relative? You should get answers to these questions during the first meeting.

  • When you find out who will be working with your loved one, you should call and make an appointment to meet with this person. If you cannot meet with this person, arrange so that you can talk with them on the telephone without being interrupted.
  • Think about whether you want your relative included in the meeting. After you decide, let the professional know the reasons for your decision.
  • You are an important person to your loved one, and how you feel is important. You should let the professional know this.
  • Tell the professional how it has been for you and the rest of your family since your relative started having mental health issues.
  • You should share how you and your family feel about the professional’s treatment plans for your loved one. For example, how will you and your family feel if the professional wants to move your relative out of the house? Or, if the professional wants your relative to remain in the family home?
  • Talk about your relative’s relationship with medication, if applicable, and how they behave when they take medication. For instance, does your relative stop taking medicine as soon as they start feeling better? When they take medicine do they talk about how it makes them feel? What do you notice when they take medicine compared to when they don’t?
  • It can be frightening to be around a person who you think may hurt your family or themselves. If your loved one has ever been violent and/or talked about, or attempted to kill themselves, you should let the professional know about this.
  • If the professional wants to have your relative live in a new place, you should find out why they want to move your relative, what kind of place they’ll be in, and if they will be safe there.

Many professionals have a difficult time talking to family members because they are worried about breaking the law regarding confidentiality. This means that to protect the patient’s right to privacy, the law forbids professionals from talking about them to other people. There is no law that forbids you from talking to the professional. For example, you could tell the professional that you’d like to tell them what you’ve noticed about your loved one while they are in your care. Instead of talking about your relative you could say, “How do you usually treat this kind of situation?” or, “If a person seems to be sleeping a lot, could it be because of medication they are taking?”


Family Education & Resource Center
7677 Oakport St. Suite 100
Oakland, CA 94621

Warm Line: (888) 896-3372
Office: (510) 746-1700

Contact Us

To Get the Support You Need

Being a caregiver is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone. Family Education & Resource Center supports the families and caregivers of children, youth, adults, and seniors working through mental health challenges. Our dedicated team, extensive program offerings, peer support groups, and resource library are here to help you every step of the way. Contact us today to connect with an advocate.