Therapy progress notes

How to Write Therapy Progress Notes (with Examples)


Published Apr 13, 2022

Table of Contents

1.What are mental health progress notes?2.How to write therapy progress notes3.What should be included in a progress note?4.Sample therapy progress note5.What are some of the different mental health progress note types?6.Are progress notes the same thing as psychotherapy notes?7.How to use therapy progress notes with your EHR

There is no one size fits all method to completing progress notes, and they can be written in a number of ways. As you get to know your clients and their therapeutic needs, you’ll figure out the best method for your practice. But to start, here’s a breakdown of how to write therapy progress notes, and what to include in yours. 



What are mental health progress notes?


Mental health progress notes are what clinicians use to document the details of every session, focusing on the client’s condition coming in, as well as what transpired during the clinician’s interaction with the client. Clinicians have a legal and ethical responsibility to document each treatment episode as part of the client’s official medical record. These notes describe any notable symptoms or other relevant factors in the client’s presentation, changes since their last visit, their response to treatment recommendations, and interventions related to their goals, as well as assessment of client risk.



How to write therapy progress notes


There are a lot of different ways you can write progress notes for therapy. Many clinicians find it ideal to utilize electronic health record systems in order to speed up the process by utilizing clickable checkboxes and fillable templates that hit all of the important elements required for documentation. Electronic notes also have the added benefit of being consistently legible, which is a major requirement of progress notes. 


Others prefer to have a physical paper note, as they can complete some of it in-session. However, it is usually not possible to completely and thoroughly finish a progress note while also being attentive to your client, in addition to risking illegible handwriting.


A hybrid approach might involve some handwritten notes to assist you in remembering some key details when you complete an electronic note later. This approach can also consist of  incorporating a paper template form, containing sections for relevant information or checklists, that you can scan and attach to an electronic note. The hybrid approach may be particularly helpful for newer clinicians, in order to provide the added benefit of guiding your session, such as  remembering to hit on or assess certain areas, so you’re not kicking yourself later for not asking a key question.


To help you learn how to write these notes, we’ve created a therapy progress note template, which you can customize as you need and put to use right away in your practice.



Download our free sample therapy progress note template!



What should be included in therapy progress notes?


So, how do you write a therapy progress note? The elements that need to be included in your progress notes will vary somewhat depending on requirements of your state, licensing board, professional organization, ethical code, the organization where you work, the modality you are using, and insurance company or third party contracts if applicable. Each of these may require more specific information, so always check through each of these to add to your own format or templates. 


In general, all progress notes should include the following:


Demographic/identifying information


  • Client’s name, and an identifier like date of birth
  • Date of the session, and exact start and end time of the session
  • Clinician’s name, and a handwritten or electronic signature
  • For telehealth sessions, the location of the session/client


Description of your client’s behavior


  • A description of the client’s presentation (their mood, affect, appearance, and behavior in the session), as well as relevant symptoms that are reported by the client and observed by the clinician
  • A diagnosis
  • A safety assessment. While some clinicians do this as needed if a client reports suicidal ideation or self-harm behavior, if you work with high risk clients you may want to document that you checked on this in each session, and that a client denied these, as a safeguard. 
  • Any additions or changes to medications that may impact the client’s mood or symptoms, or a statement about medication compliance or noncompliance for any client who is already taking medications


Treatment plans going forward


  • What you did as a clinician (treatment modalities used, what you recommended, what you asked, what you prompted the client to consider, coping skills you taught, handouts or assignments you provided)
  • The client’s response to interventions listed above
  • The client’s progress toward established goals, in a more specific and short-term format than in their treatment plan, and whether any changes need to be made to the treatment plan
  • The plan for the client following the session (what the client will work on, what will be discussed in the next session, when the next session is scheduled)


In addition to these elements, it’s important to keep in mind that progress notes should be primarily objective in nature, and  completed with maintaining a client’s privacy in mind. Progress notes are part of the documentation that could be requested by your client, or subpoenaed and read out loud in a court of law. Does a jury, a client’s soon to be ex-husband, need to hear the contents of your client’s sexual dream, the identifying information of another individual in their life, or your personal opinion about the childhood root of your client’s issue? Most likely not.



Client progress note example


Here’s an example of how some of these elements might be written in your progress note: 


Clinician Name

Agency Name

1234 Office Address

Wherever, UR 12345


Client Name: Johnny Appleseed

Client DOB: 01/02/3456

Diagnosis: F 33.0, Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent, Mild


Date: 03/04/5678

Start Time: 07:03 pm

End Time: 07:58 pm


Client’s Subjective Concerns/Chief Complaint: “I’m starting to feel more depressed.” Client noted concerns about his mood, endorsing depressed mood, lethargy, insomnia, loss of energy and motivation, and urges to isolate from his romantic partner.  


Clinical Observations: Client appeared disheveled, which is unusual for him, and a marked change since last session. Client sat in a hunched position upon the beginning of the session, and appeared tired, with slowed movements and dysthymic mood. He was attentive and cooperative, and had congruent and appropriate affect. Client denies suicidal ideation. 


Issues and Stressors Discussed/Session Description: Client discussed experiencing increased difficulty with depressive symptoms beginning last week, following an argument with his romantic partner. Client reviewed the details of the argument, and stated that it occurred late on Tuesday night, causing him to get only 4 hours of sleep. Client has continued to attend work, and reports compliance with prescribed medication. Client stated that the argument is now resolved, and he has been communicating with his partner, though he has had thoughts such as “What’s the point? He doesn’t understand me.” Upon further exploration, this writer learned that, since Tuesday night, the client has been spending more time than usual on his mobile device at night, continuing to get a less than ideal amount of sleep (5-6 hours), and negatively impacting his energy level and mood. While the client did roll his eyes upon this writer bringing up his mobile phone use, he then laughed and stated, “I know, I know, I’m doing it to myself.”


Interventions/Methods Provided: Discussion of symptoms, supportive counseling, identification and exploration of emotions, Psychoeducation: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Emotion Regulation skills, discussion of vulnerabilities, ABC PLEASE handout provided. Review of client’s safety plan. 


Assessment: While client’s endorsed symptoms and presentation are in keeping with depression, but are part of a sudden change prompted by an argument and reduction in sleep, it is likely that client’s emotional reaction to the argument with his partner and subsequent poor sleep hygiene are responsible for this sudden shift in mood and appearance. Client does not appear to be at risk of suicide at this time, discussing the importance of being available for his younger brother and pet dog, and is agreeable to following the steps outlined in his safety plan if symptoms increase or ideation occurs. However, the client is at risk for worsening depression if he is unable to prevent further decompensation.


Plan: Client has committed to resuming a sleep schedule, beginning tonight, and agreed to turn off his smartphone an hour before the established 11PM bedtime. Client will monitor his symptoms, and reach out to this writer if symptoms increase. If symptoms worsen by the next session, this writer may encourage the client to outreach his psychiatrist for an earlier appointment, as their next follow up is not scheduled for another month.


Next Appointment: 03/11/5678


Clinician Signature: ____________________________________

Clinician Printed Name, LCSW



What are some of the different mental health progress note types?


There are several widely used formats for progress notes that can provide a template for making your note-keeping more efficient, while including all of the necessary key points: 


  • DAP (Description, Assessment, Plan)
  • BIRP (Behavior, Intervention, Response, Plan)
  • SOAP (Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan)


Each kind of note template is similar, but there are some differences that might lead you to choose one format over another. For example, since SOAP notes were created for healthcare settings, some may find that they prefer DAP notes, which allow for a bit more subjectivity around the elements of mental health that are less black and white. Conversely, some clinicians can easily veer off-course with an open-ended description section like in the DAP note, preferring the more concrete objective or behavioral categories in the SOAP or BIRP notes. 


Both SOAP and DAP notes contain an assessment section, unlike BIRP notes, which focus on the response to the in-session interventions, but not the overall condition of the client. Since this type of assessment may be required, particularly for health insurance companies or if you are in a setting that requires you to justify the need for more treatment on a regular basis, many clinicians opt for the SOAP or DAP formats.


Ultimately, you might consider your strengths and difficulties as a note taker. If your notes tend to be lengthy without guidance, or you easily find yourself getting lost in the details and including too much personal client information or subjective opinion, choose a format that helps you to be more succinct, like SOAP or DAP notes. If these formats cause you to feel boxed in, you might prefer to create your own template that includes all of the factors required, without having to fit them into the categories of any of these formats. 



Are progress notes the same thing as psychotherapy notes?


You may have also heard about psychotherapy notes, and it’s important to note that these aren’t the same as progress notes. Psychotherapy notes are private notes, kept separate from the client’s medical record or chart, that are for the clinician’s eyes only. Psychotherapy notes cannot be subpoenaed and aren’t part of the record that gets shared with the client or other providers. This option is helpful to keep in mind when you want to remember some personal details the client shared, a direction you’re thinking of moving in treatment, or some internal experiencing to discuss with your clinical supervisor—but the information would be inappropriate to place in the client’s progress note.  


For those clinicians that want a way to document a lot of detail, and have recognized they are likely sharing too much in the description section of their DAP progress note, psychotherapy notes are a great solution as an addendum to the progress note.



How to use therapy progress notes with your EHR


There are several ways you can incorporate digital notes with your EHR. You can either upload a template, or follow the structure within your software. A top-rated EHR will have a dedicated section for notes and documentation, as well as easy-to-use templates that are built right into the platform. 


If you’re looking for a fully integrated EHR that works for behavioral health practitioners like you, try SimplePractice for a free 30 days. SimplePractice makes it easy to streamline your notes and documentation, while also improving your clients’ experience. 



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How to Write Therapy Progress Notes (with Examples)

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How to Write DAP Notes (with Examples)


Published Feb 16, 2022

Table of Contents

1. What is a DAP note?2.What’s the difference between SOAP notes and DAP notes?3.How long should a DAP note be?4.How to write a DAP note5.DAP notes therapy example6.How to use DAP notes with your EHR

There are many different formats and structures available for psychotherapy and counseling progress notes. One of those formats is DAP notes. Bear in mind that the requirements for documentation vary by clinician, clientele, and a number of other factors. Simply put, there’s no single right way to do documentation, but your documentation format and content should be aligned to your specific practice and needs.



What is a DAP note?


A DAP note is one of the most popular and current ways to write a psychotherapy or progress note. So what is a DAP note? DAP stands for Data, Assessment, and Plan, and is used by counselors and psychotherapists everywhere. DAP notes provide a standardized way to document your sessions and follow the D-A-P format every time. This note structure also helps clinicians develop documentation that is both brief and complete. Done well, each section should make good logical sense based on the information in previous sections. 


Download our Free DAP Note template!



What’s the difference between SOAP notes and DAP notes?


The main difference between SOAP notes and DAP notes is the last section. If you’re familiar with the SOAP note structure, DAP notes are very similar. DAP notes take the Subjective and Objective sections of a SOAP note and combine them into a single section: data



How long should a DAP note be?


There’s no rule for exactly how long DAP notes should be. The note length depends on a lot of factors, and it’ll vary based on your individual client and the treatment plan you come up with together. 


As a guideline though, DAP notes can be shorter when the client is making routine, expected progress. This can be toward treatment goals, if they present low risk for suicide or other violence, and if there are no changes to their diagnosis or treatment. Longer notes typically are the result of a client not making expected progress, if their symptoms change, if they present heightened risk, or when changes appear necessary to the diagnosis or treatment plan. 



How to write a DAP note


When you write a DAP note, it will always follow the same format no matter who your client is. However, the content that’s included in each section of the DAP note can vary based on a number of factors. We’ll go through what each section of a DAP note should include, and how they would be applied with an example. 


D – Data


This section is where you add data from your counseling or psychotherapy session. This could include: 


  • Reason for the visit
  • Client presentation/appearance
  • Client mental status
  • Client reports of current symptoms or important events since the last session
  • Results of screening or other measures
  • Interventions applied in session
  • Client responses to interventions applied


It’s important to note that this section should be limited to information, not interpretation. Speak factually, and if appropriate, use direct quotes.


A – Assessment


This section is where you take the data from the first section and apply your clinical judgment to it. This could include: 


  • How the client is progressing
  • How the client’s status relates to their treatment goals
  • How the client responded
  • Changes to the client’s diagnosis


Every note typically includes some evaluation of risk in this section, to ensure that potential indicators of suicide or other forms of risk have been assessed and the clinician has responded appropriately.  


All conclusions in this section should be clearly supported by the data in the first part of the note. In fact, when the Data section is done well, the Assessment section will read to clinicians as obvious conclusions based on that Data.


P – Plan


Given the observed data and your interpretation of it, where does treatment go from here? This section could include: 


  • The date, time, and location of the next scheduled session
  • Homework assigned to the client
  • Referrals provided to the client
  • Consultation or other third-party contact planned by the clinician
  • Changes to the treatment plan based on the client’s progress so far
  • Additional steps related to the treatment that the client or clinician is expected to take


Related How to Pick a Therapy Notes and Billing Software



DAP notes therapy example


We’ve created DAP note example to help give each section more context.


DAP note example for depression


D- Data 


Client reported on time for a third session of CBT to address symptoms of depression. Client was well-groomed and fully oriented. The client reported feeling “a little bit better here and there” since the last session, and noted that they have had an easier time getting to sleep at night. Client also noted recent financial stressors. The client scored a 14 on the BDI-II, scoring in the moderate range. In session, challenged the client’s automatic negative thoughts around their work performance and relationship functioning. Client reported feeling increasingly agitated but understanding that this was “part of the work.” When offered the opportunity to stop the intervention, the client asked instead to continue. Client neither displayed nor reported any other current risk factors for suicide or violence.


A – Assessment 


Client reports of reduced sleep symptoms and improved mood, and their improved score on the BDI-II relative to initial assessment, suggest improvement toward treatment goal of reducing depressive symptoms below diagnostic threshold. Client responded well overall to interventions, and appears to be well-motivated to continue. Client appears to demonstrate low risk level for suicide or violence; the safety plan established with the client at the first session remains in effect.


P – Plan


Our next session is scheduled for Thursday, March 17 at 10:00 am via telehealth. Assigned the client a thought record chart to specifically log instances of automatic negative thoughts regarding relationship functioning. Provided the client with referrals to three potential financial advisors to address reported recent financial stressors. No changes indicated to the treatment plan. Client to follow steps of established safety plan if symptoms significantly worsen prior to the next scheduled session.



How to use DAP notes with your EHR


Now that you have an understanding of the question “what is a dap note,” it’s time to explore how to put them to use in your practice. To use DAP notes with your EHR, you can either upload a template, or follow the note structure within your software. A top-rated EHR will have a dedicated section for notes and documentation, as well as easy-to-use templates that are built right into the platform. 


If you’re looking for a fully integrated EHR that works for behavioral health practitioners like you, try SimplePractice for a free 30 days. SimplePractice makes it easy to streamline your notes and documentation, while also improving your clients’ experience.


Sign up for emails from SimplePractice

Build the best practice you can.

Our resources to help you & your practice take the next step.


Benefits of an EHR: How Software Can Support Private Practice


What is an EHR System?


Self-Care Worksheets: 3 Tools to Help Your Clients


5 Free Coping Skills Worksheets


How to Build Self-Esteem: 5 Free Self-Esteem Worksheets


Child Anger Management Worksheets (Free Download)


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Worksheets


5 Anxiety Worksheets (Free Download)


Group Therapy Activities (with Examples)


How to Write Therapy Progress Notes (with Examples)

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Cognitive therapy. Complete guide

Starting from the third, the sessions are held in the same format. The content varies depending on the patient's complaints, concerns and goals, as well as the goals of the therapist. In this section, we will touch on the course of therapy throughout the sessions. More information about treatment planning can be found in chapter 16.

As we have already mentioned, in the beginning the therapist takes over setting the agenda, actively assisting the patient in identifying and evaluating automatic thoughts, assigning homework and debriefing the session. Over time, responsibility gradually shifts to the patient. By the end of therapy, most of the agenda is set by the patient. He also uses tools such as the Dysfunctional Thought Worksheet (DDM) to assess his own thinking (see Chapter 9), sets a homework assignment for himself and sums up the final conclusion of the therapy session.

During the course of therapy, the focus shifts from automatic thoughts to an exploration of the patient's ingrained beliefs (see chapters 10 and 11). There are also changes in the relative emphasis of behavioral

aspects, although they are less predictable. Patients with depression should be encouraged from the start of therapy to plan their activities and lead a more active lifestyle (see Chapter 12). (Patients suffering from major depression may initially be unable to do cognitive work, so the therapist tries to increase their behavioral activity and refrains from cognitive interventions until the patient's condition improves at least to some extent.) When therapy approaches the final stage , the focus shifts to preparing the patient for the end of treatment and teaching them how to prevent relapse (see Chapter 15).

When planning an individual session, the therapist takes into account the current stage of therapy. As emphasized in chapter 2, he guides the therapy process using the patient's conceptualization. Before the session begins, the therapist enters the items on the agenda on the "Therapy Notes" form (see Figure 4. 3), but is prepared to disregard them if necessary. As the client talks about his mood, how the week went, and sets out agenda items, the therapist mentally formulates a specific goal or goals for the session. For example, in the third session, the therapist's goals are to train Sally to evaluate her automatic thoughts in a structured way and to convince her to continue planning for enjoyable leisure activities. During the fourth session, the therapist discusses with the patient problems with finding a part-time job and teaches how to properly respond to negative automatic thoughts. The therapist constantly seeks to align his goals with the issues proposed by the patient as an agenda. So he teaches her problem solving and cognitive restructuring skills in the context of the situations she brings to therapy. This combination of problem solving and helping the patient respond to his thoughts usually gives both the therapist and the patient sufficient time to consider only one or two issues on the agenda for a given session.

Learn more