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 zero in on next, and how we can help others with the tools that we’ve learned. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlines 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.

Progress tracking 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. Since metrics are compared to group data, this 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. Further, they report that there is evidence of 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 to adjust accordingly during active treatment. This ensures that the patient is receiving care that is matched to their situation. The use of scales in progress tracking allows the practitioner to maintain focus on both the individual and the symptoms. This aligns 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, conduction of further studies, and encouragement for the use of 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 comorbidity.

Relevant Research

  • The Canadian Psychological Association published a report titled “Outcomes and Progress Monitoring in Psychotherapy.” [9] This report provides a framework for progress modeling that includes relevant research on its success and background, an evaluation of gaps between research and implementation, and recommendations for clinical implementation, maintenance, and training.
  • Vista Research Group provides a website with links to a variety of current research findings. Gaps: They conclude that 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. [10]
  • A meta-analysis. This article provides a review of findings associated with 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 is a comprehensive review showing the significance of including treatment and progress monitoring outside traditional parameters in relation to positive patient outcomes. [11]
  • A Preliminary Study of the Effects of Individual Patient-Level Feedback in Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment Programs. 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. [12]

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 [13]. 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 federal treatment guidelines that address evidence-based treatment and monitoring, disparities, and protected individuals. [14]

Available Tools & Resources


Recovery applications utilize modern technology to support an autonomous form of tracking one’s progress in recovery. There are dozens of applications dedicated to assisting people in their recovery journey. They range in modality, from providing resources, motivation, peer connection, use and recovery tracking, and much more. Dual Diagnosis provides a list of top-rated apps that clinicians can review and suggest to their clients. [15] GoodRx has a comparable list. [16] A small sample of these types of apps is provided below:

  • Sobriety Clocks. These apps track the number of days in sobriety. They provide the ability to share clock data with people in a recovery support network. They also provide the capacity for an individual to message an accountability partner if they are feeling triggered to use.
  • REC-CAP. is shorthand for recovery capital which has been defined as "the breadth and depth of internal and external resources that can be drawn upon to initiate and sustain recovery from alcohol or drug problems. [17] 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. The REC-CAP tool is appropriate for implementation in both clinical and peer settings, bridging the gap between a client’s exiting addiction treatment and assuming responsibility for self-directed recovery. The tool:
    • Assesses an individual’s recovery strengths, barriers and unmet service needs
    • Supports trained navigators to guide individuals in the execution of concrete recovery goals
    • Delivers longitudinal measurement of recovery capital gains over quarterly intervals
  • Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA). This app is distributed by SMART Recovery. [18] 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. SMART Recovery also recommends uncensored journaling about daily activities, thoughts, and ideas. This serves to identify recurring thought/behavioral patterns when reviewing entries dating back weeks, months, even years. This also fosters communication with people in an individual's recovery network, who may more rapidly recognize changes. The CBA tool serves to bring awareness to the consequences of potential actions by assessing four questions:
    • What are the advantages of using/doing?
    • What are the disadvantages of using/doing?
    • What are the advantages of NOT using/doing?
    • What are the disadvantages of NOT using/doing?

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. [19] The therapist and patient work together to create goals that are reviewed by the SRS and encourage a positive partnership. The Canadian Psychological Association notes that such union of the ORS and SRS has shown significant promise in tracking and treating SUD. It 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.” [20]

Promising Practices

  • Progress Assessment (PA). This is a tool created and tested by clinicians. It 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 use DSM-V criteria, while items addressing treatment progress focus on self-efficacy, therapeutic alliance, emotion regulation, and hopefulness. TPA-8 fosters 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]



  17. Cloud, W., and Granfield, R. (2004). A life course perspective on exiting addiction: The relevance of RC in treatment. NAD Publication (Nordic Council for Alcohol and Drug Research), 44, 185-202.