Improve Tracking of Recovery Progress

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Introductory paragraph

Tracking progress in mental health recovery is essential because it allows us to gauge how far we’ve come, what we’ve become stronger in, what we’ve learned so far, what we can and should hone in on, and how we can help others with the tools we’ve learned. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states there are four components to recovery: health, home, purpose, and community. Health involves making informed decisions to promote one’s health and well-being. Home requires one to have a stable and safe place to live. Purpose gives us fulfillment in daily activities, work, school, volunteering, caring for our family, and being creative; it gives us the independence, income, and resources to effectively participate in society. Community allows us to build relationships and support with others to whom we can rely on.

In short, progress monitoring is a tool used by mental health practitioners that, “measures, monitors, and provides feedback,” to allow for real-time treatment responses and adjustments to be made [1]. The success of progress monitoring in mental illness, especially when a specific illness is targeted, is well documented and shown to be a beneficial tool that allows efficient, treatment-paced monitoring and evaluation of the treatment efficacy [2]. While there isn’t a significant amount of literature on its use in substance-abuse treatment, the few studies done on its use with SUDs have shown similar rates of positive patient outcomes [3]. It allows both the therapists and the client to monitor and adjust treatment in the interim, rather than waiting to view results at the end, ensuring that treatment is patient-focused and individualized. With documented results in mental health treatment and promising outcomes for substance use, improving and implementing recovery tracking should be a key component of treatment in a population with relapse risk as high as 85% within the first year [4].

Key Information

Relevance of Progress Tracking

Much of SUD progress tracking has solely revolved around treatment attendance and urine testing and is measured against group data, but often fails to address individual progress outcomes beyond the scope of continued drug use. Goodman, McKay, and DePhilippis (2013) report in their study that, while progress monitoring should be standard practice, only about 37% of therapists use any form of tracking and there is evidence to show that there are frequent inaccuracies in tracking and unrecognized deterioration of treatment [5]. The importance of effective progress tracking for patients with SUDs lies in the ability to recognize ineffective aspects of the treatment and adjust them accordingly during active treatment, ensuring that the patient is receiving care that is unique to their situation. The use of progress tracking scales will allow the practitioner to maintain focus on both the individual and the symptoms, aligning with the NASW ethical principles of commitment to the client, their autonomy, and treatment competency [6], [7].

Promotion/Implementation of Progress Tracking

Current research and recommendations can be used by clinicians to lobby for available progress monitoring tools, further conduction of studies, and encouragement for the use of unique and innovative tools that are cost-effective and user-friendly. Practices, whether private or public, should advocate for the use of (and ongoing training in) progress monitoring tools as an active component of treatment programs.

Considerations: Comorbidity of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Substance Use Disorder is a recognized mental health disorder and has a high rate of comorbidity with other mental illnesses, especially with anxiety, PTSD, depression, panic disorder, and bipolar disorder [8]. For successful progress monitoring to occur, clinicians must recognize and address diagnosed and potential comorbidities.

Relevant Research

“Outcomes and Progress Monitoring in Psychotherapy” [9]: This report by the Canadian Psychological Association (2018) provides a framework for progress modeling that includes relevant research on its success and background, gaps between research in implementation to consider, and recommendations for clinical implementation, maintenance, and training.

Goodman, McKay, and Dephilippis (2013) provide a meta-analysis on progress tracking in SUD. It compares several studies addressing traditional urine/attendance tracking against adaptive intervention including therapy treatments along with urine/attendance requirements. It’s a comprehensive review showing the significance of including treatment and progress monitoring outside traditional parameters in relation to positive patient outcomes[10].

Gaps: There is very little clinical research, especially randomized control trials in regard to progress monitoring for use with SUD, despite promising results and documented success with use in other mental illness treatments. Clinicians struggle to find inexpensive, user-friendly, real-time feedback tools, making progress monitoring a challenge [11].

Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

Laws addressing progress tracking typically pertain to individuals who have a criminal history related to substance use. The U.S. Department of Justice notes that while drug testing can be mandated as a condition of bail, probation, and parole, its implementation and duration vary by jurisdiction [12]. While treatment may also be a condition of probation and parole, its requirements also vary by jurisdiction. SAMHSA has a comprehensive list of acts regarding mandated treatment guidelines, backed by the federal government, that address evidence-based treatment and monitoring, disparities, and protected individuals [13].

Available Tools & Resources

Recovery Capital[14] is the breadth and depth of internal and external resources that can be drawn upon to initiate and sustain recovery from alcohol or drug problems. (Granfield and Cloud 2004). Recovery Capital is conceptually linked to natural recovery, solution-focused recovery therapy, strengths-based case management, recovery management, resilience and protective factors, and the ideas of hardiness, wellness, and global health.    

Sober Grid[15] is a free iOS/Android app that connects you with other sober people. You are instantly connected to a global sober community in your neighborhood and around the globe. You can build strong sober support networks and inspire others.

Sobriety Clocks 

Your own sobriety clock, which helps you easily track your days in sobriety abd provides:

1. Ability to share your sobriety clock with people who are supporting your recovery, such as friends, family, partners, coaches, or counselors.

2. Ability to message an accountability partner if you are feeling triggered to use.


SMART Recovery Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA)

The SMART Recovery Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) worksheet [16]is a complement to the SMART Recovery groups]. Using the CBA tool you can quickly see the consequences of potential actions. The CBA strategy helps many people recover from addiction and addictive behaviors, ranging from substance abuse to sexual addiction. The app makes performing a CBA convenient and easy.

A CBA is an assessment of 4 questions:

1. What are the advantages of using/doing?

2.What are the disadvantages of using/doing?

3.What are the advantages of NOT using/doing?

4. What are the disadvantages of NOT using/doing?

Keeping a notebook and writing down daily activities, thoughts, ideas, etc. Without holding back, writing all thoughts down can serve as evidence to recurring thought/behavioral patterns that one can more clearly identify when reviewing entries dating back weeks, months, even years.  If you have a partner, close friend, or therapist that can help you throughout your recovery, speaking with them about your progress may assist you in recognizing how far you’ve come. Oftentimes these people recognize changes before we do.

Using Scales and Feedback Programs

SAMHSA recognizes the Partners for Change Outcomes Monitoring System PCOMS) as a significant tool for progress monitoring. It combines the Outcome Rating Scale (ORS) and Session Rating Scale (SRS) in a collaborative effort on the part of the therapist and patient [17]. The therapist and patient work together to create goals that are reviewed by the SRS and encourage a positive partnership. The Canadian Psychological Association (2018) reports that the union of the ORS and SRS facilitates discussions of progress and relationship issues in the treatment, as well as the ability to alert the therapist to issues by “identifying off-track progress and alliance measures,” and has shown significant promise in tracking and treating SUD [18]. Link:

“A Preliminary Study of the Effects of Individual Patient-Level Feedback in Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment Programs” [19] - this is a unique study done on the effectiveness of patient-level feedback on treatment outcomes for SUD. It showed that patients who were “off track” in their progress and given the adapted Outcome Questionnaire (OQ-45) fared better than those who did not participate in the OQ-45. There was a marked decrease in drug use and promising improvement in mental health outcomes. A review of the OQ-45 allowed practitioners information to tailor treatment to the individual and provide any additional, unique support [20].

This link provides a table comparing available SUD monitoring instruments based on a number of important factors, such as availability, cost, content, and much more:

Promising Practices

Progress Assessment (PA) - A recent clinician-created and tested tool, the PA includes 5 items that assess the risk of relapse and 5 items that assess protective factors [21]. Study results showed that participants (cocaine use) with high risk and low protective scores at baseline and the 3-month mark were at greater risk of relapse. The PA is short and easy to administer and allows for flexible and adaptive intervention to take place, addressing the ongoing and changing needs of the client [22]

Treatment Progress Assessment-8 (TPA-8) - This newly developed instrument aims to monitor SUD symptoms and treatment progress [23]. Items that measure symptoms used DSM-V criteria, while items addressing treatment progress focused on self-efficacy, therapeutic alliance, emotion regulation, and hopefulness. The goal of this tool is a collaborative partnership between the clinician and patient to create a treatment plan based on goals, autonomy, and hope, allowing for assessment and adjustment monthly. It shows promising results in retention and preventing relapse [24].

Recovery Applications - An autonomous form of tracking one’s progress in recovery is to utilize modern technology. There are dozens of applications dedicated to assisting people in their addiction recovery journey. They range in modality, from providing resources, motivation, peer connection, use and recovery tracking, and much more. Dual Diagnosis and GoodRx provide a list of top-rated apps that clinicians can review and suggest to their clients:



  14. Recovery Capital
  15. Sober Grid