Formulation: Putting the Diagnosis Into a Therapeutic Context and Treatment Plan

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<ul><li><p>C L I N I C A L P E R S P E C T I V E S Associate Editor: Michael S. Jellinek, M.D.</p><p>Formulation: Putting the Diagnosis Into a TherapeuticContext and Treatment Plan</p><p>MICHAEL S. JELLINEK, M.D., AND JOHN F. MCDERMOTT, M.D.</p><p>What we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our methodof questioning (p. 58).</p><p>W. Heisenberg</p><p>Currently there are two competing methods for evalu-ating and diagnosing children with psychiatric disor-ders. There are marked differences between them. Oneis represented by the DSM-IVderived structured in-terview and is symptom based; the other is the tradi-tional open-ended interview, sometimes using play orprojective materials. The first is quantitative and seeksaccuracy; the second is more qualitative and seeksmeaning. Each has its own advantages and disadvan-tages. Together they represent the science and the art ofchild and adolescent psychiatry. The science of thestructured interview is built on reliability, evidencedbased, and tested by well-accepted research methods,although some question the clinical validity and com-prehensiveness of a symptom-based system that doesnot address underlying psychopathology. The tradi-tional open-ended interview is more subjective, hard toquantify, difficult to reproduce reliably, and heavilydependent on clinical judgment. Some argue that itssubjectivity is inevitably hit or miss and can never serveas the basis for a scientific medical specialty.This drift toward bifurcation rather than integration</p><p>has been noted in the general psychiatry literature byGabbard and Kay (2001) in their article Fate of In-tegrated Treatment: What Happened to the Biopsy-chosocial Psychiatrist? They expressed concern thatgeneral psychiatry was moving away from comprehen-sive formulation and integrated treatment. They won-</p><p>dered, for example, whether too narrow a focus wouldresult in limiting the impact of a therapeutic re-lationship that otherwise might improve the patientsadherence to medication and add to the overall im-provement. The child psychiatric literature has oftenneglected the integrated use of the biopsychosocialmodel. Our fields research on evaluation is supportiveof structured interviews used to assess symptoms anddiagnosis. However, much of this work has been definingdiagnosis and prevalence rather than focusing on for-mulation or the integration of biopsychosocial factors.Over the past decade, multiple pressures on our field</p><p>have encouraged the use of a more reliable structuredapproach for diagnostic evaluation, often leading tomultiple diagnoses that are then prioritized. Currentmanaged care contracts offer higher rates of paymentfor time spent on psychopharmacology and scrutinizetime for evaluation and therapy. Many child psychia-trists, researchers, and pharmaceutical companies sup-port a symptom-based, structured approach as not justmore reliable but more succinct and accurate in itsability to define a treatment plan. Yet, many experi-enced clinicians and training directors have continuedto use the open-ended approach, using a broader rangeof evaluation and interventions than suggested by thesymptom-based approach. The effect of each methodon the frequency of medication use is unknown. Some,however, wonder whether the more focused, symptom-based approach results in more use of medications (Jell-inek, 2003; Zito et al., 2003). Of course, withoutexternal validation, one cannot know the correct fre-quency. In any case, the modern clinician needs toknow both methods and find the best way to combinefeatures of both with his or her own personal/profes-sional style.After gathering data using either or both methods, a</p><p>formulation is necessary to sift, prioritize, and integratedata for treatment planning. We need to understandhow this patient and family came to be as we see them</p><p>Accepted January 12, 2004.Dr. Jellinek is with the Child Psychiatry Service, Massachusetts General</p><p>Hospital, the Newton Wellesley Hospital, and Harvard Medical School; Dr.McDermott is the former editor of the Journal of the American Academy ofChild and Adolescent Psychiatry and Professor Emeritus of the Department ofPsychiatry at the University of Hawaii School of Medicine.</p><p>0890-8567/04/430709132004 by the American Academy of Childand Adolescent Psychiatry.</p><p>DOI: 10.1097/01.chi.0000125090.35109.57</p><p>J. AM. ACAD. CHILD ADOLESC. PSYCHIATRY, 43:7, JULY 2004 913</p></li><li><p>now. What initial problems, attempted solutions, andfurther dysfunction necessitated facing a child psychi-atric evaluation and treatment?The biopsychosocial approach to formulation iden-</p><p>tifies three domains to be considered in every evalua-tion: the biological, the psychological, and the social.George Engel, the father of the biopsychosocial ap-proach, believed strongly that this broad approach wasessential to avoid premature closure of our efforts tounderstand the patients needs, tunnel vision, or anoverly narrow approach to treatment: While thebench scientist can with relative impunity single outand isolate for sequential study components of an or-ganized whole, the physician does so at the risk ofneglect of, if not injury to, the object of study, thepatient (Engel, 1980, p. 536). Engel conceptualizedthat a biopsychosocial formulation was an essential linkbetween evaluation and treatment planning.In this Clinical Perspective, we highlight the critical</p><p>importance of a comprehensive and balanced formula-tion and offer an approach to integrate the three in-fluences, biological, psychological, and social, into aclinically meaningful framework for treatment planning.</p><p>Limits of the DSM Symptom-Oriented Approachto Diagnosis</p><p>Patients come to us with symptoms that are causingpersonal suffering and dysfunction in daily life andlimiting their optimal development. However, thesesymptoms are much like words in a dictionary whosemeanings change with the context. Consider the meta-phor in which the meanings of words in our psychi-atric dictionary (the DSM-IV) parallel words orsymptoms found in Websters (1991, OttenheimerPubs, Inc). For example, Websters defines the nounpipe as a tube for making musical sounds; a longtube to convey water or gas. However, a pipe, just likea symptom, has a number of possible meanings de-pending on its context. A pipe can bring us water towash in the morning or cook our food. It melts into thebackground of our lives until it breaks. Then the samepipe can cause disaster in our home, indeed in thewhole neighborhood.The word pipe can have very different meanings in</p><p>different contexts. It can serve as a weapon in some-ones hand or be part of a celebration when played as abagpipe, or, metaphorically, it can be part of a pipedream or a description of intensity, as in piping hot.</p><p>Likewise, the presence of a symptom is only a startingpoint, not sufficient by itself for us to understand thecontext, feeling, or behavior behind it. Is a childs op-positional behavior in school an attempt to cover up alearning disability? Or to re-engage the interest of adivorced father who is starting a new family? Or amaneuver to gain entry as a junior member of a school-based clique or even local gang? Or might it be relatedto an older siblings impending delinquency hearing? Isthat childs punching a peer related to bullying, hyper-activity, or physical abuse at home? Is the child fulfill-ing the family myth of physical dominance,compensating for being viewed as a sissy, or wrestlingwith emerging homosexual feelings? Of course thesesymptoms may reflect a biological vulnerability to frus-tration or anxiety, prodromal to affective disorders, andthus much less related to psychosocial environmentalchallenges. All the variables must be considered to-gether to weigh their influence.There are even more judgments concerning severity</p><p>or impairment that the clinician must make in design-ing a treatment plan. How violent was the childs op-positional behavior? Provoked or unprovoked? Howfrequent? How typical for the particular classroomisthis a problem with the teacher? Or the schooldoes thisreflect a breakdown in the school as a safe place? Or thecommunityare street gangs common or unheard of?Many children come to mind when a comprehensive</p><p>biopsychosocial rather than unidimensional formula-tion was critical to their treatment. One sixth-grade girlbecame quite oppositional and withdrawn at home andat school. Her parents, both mid-life university profes-sors, had very high academic expectations. This girl hadan undiagnosed learning disability (inability to orga-nize thoughts into paragraphs or produce a coherentessay) whose symptoms included feeling dysphoric, in-adequate, and hopelessly trapped. She could not meetthe expectations of sixth grade and was described by allher teachers (except her math and music teachers) as lazy,disobedient, distracted, and withdrawn. The school calledin the parents and wondered whether she should beadmitted to the junior high school. Symptoms quicklyresolved with tutoring, helping parents set reasonableexpectations, and the school seeing her as a hard workerrising to this challenge rather than predelinquent.Another child was a 14-year-old boy who presented</p><p>with symptoms of depression, suicidal ideation, poorschoolwork, and avoidance of his friends, whose par-</p><p>JELLINEK AND McDERMOTT</p><p>J. AM. ACAD. CHILD ADOLESC. PSYCHIATRY, 43:7, JULY 2004914</p></li><li><p>ents were in the midst of a difficult divorce. The treat-ment plan included antidepressant medication,supportive therapy, tutoring to catch up in school, andappointing a court-ordered guardian ad litem to medi-ate the unending parental discord. His depressivesymptoms gradually improved, and he began to func-tion better, first with peers and then in school. Whichaspect of the treatment plan was most essential? Didthe interventions work in synergy? We do not know.</p><p>The Diagnostic Process</p><p>Current reimbursement and practice demands maywell require us to arrive at a diagnosis, formulation, andtreatment plan within 2 hoursa challenge for eventhe most experienced clinicians. Some framework isnecessary to gather the biological, psychological, andsocial data critical to the formulation. The followingsuggested path (and typical time spent) is a compro-mise that combines the essential features of the DSM-IV symptom-focused assessment with an understandingof their meaning:1. Semistructured interview including a description of</p><p>symptoms, stability of symptoms in different set-tings of the childs daily life, and brief symptomsurvey (15 minutes)</p><p>2. Biological history with an emphasis on family psy-chiatric history substance use (including intrauter-ine exposure), medical illness, head trauma, etc. (15minutes)</p><p>3. Psychological interview with an emphasis on qualityof relating, reaction to loss, management of affectincluding anger, self-esteem, and functioning inmajor areas of daily life (40 minutes)</p><p>4. Social context of childs life including school (ide-ally the teachers perspective), empathic parenting,family traditions, culture, and religion (20 minutes)</p><p>5. Severity assessment, including the burden of suffer-ing on the child and family, number and intensityof risk factors, resiliency, and strengths that may behelpful in treatment planning (e.g., enhancing astrength in favor of attempts at remediation of whatmay not be remediable) (10 minutes)This path is not a rigid outline but one that we have</p><p>found helpful. The times are average and vary, as doesthe balance of time spent between child, parents, andfamily. This schedule leaves about 20 minutes of a2-hour evaluation to discuss treatment planning withthe child and family.</p><p>Biopsychosocial Linkages in the Diagnostic Process</p><p>How do these five components produce the neces-sary data for a biopsychosocial formulation, and whatare the data to be gathered along these lines? Let usconsider this data gathering on the three biopsychoso-cial levels and then integrate them into a formulation.The biological component includes family/genetic</p><p>history, the childs inborn temperament, develop-ment (realities of height, weight, physical abilities, age,and stage of maturity), and intelligence. We know ofbiological linkages such as the risk of depression in theoffspring of parents with depression, the likelihood ofresponse to particular medications that may parallel inparent and child, the connection between a father withalcoholism and a sons history of early adolescentdrinking, or the likely comorbidities (e.g., depressionand anxiety). The linkages of the biological aspects ofsymptoms are essential sources of any formulation.The psychological component includes the childs</p><p>and familys emotional development, personality styles,primary defenses and weakness, and the childs sense ofself-esteem. (Assessing self-esteem is a deceptivelyeasy taskwhat may be a more superficial reactionto the psychiatric disorder presenting for evaluationversus a long-standing, profound sense of low self-worth. For example, profound low self-esteem makesfailure an expected outcome and limits a childs moti-vation to achieve in school, to adhere to medication,and to make or use choices that could enhance personaldevelopment.)The social component is an acknowledgment that</p><p>the child functions within a social unit (the family) aswell as an assessment of a broader context that includescommunity, race, economic status, and spiritual andcultural traditions. For example, information thatsymptoms manifest in only one setting, i.e., home, butnot at school, may be critical to the formulation. Inaddition, poverty is a substantial social factor that addsstress to the individual and family as well as limitingoptions across the spectrum of psychiatric disorders.The final step before arriving at a formulation is the</p><p>assessment of severity. The Diagnostic and StatisticalManual for Primary Care, developed by the AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics (1996), in collaboration withboth the American Psychiatric Association and theAmerican Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychia-try, suggests that assessing severity may assist in theprocess of formulation. In addition to the usual de-</p><p>CLINICAL PERSPECTIVES</p><p>J. AM. ACAD. CHILD ADOLESC. PSYCHIATRY, 43:7, JULY 2004 915</p></li><li><p>scription of symptoms in their developmental context,assessing severity includes emphasis on functioning inmajor areas of daily life (friends, family, school, activi-ties, and sense of well-being or mood), burden ofpersonal suffering, which allows for a clinicians judg-ment of distress, and both risk and resiliency factors.For example, poverty, frequent changes in address,chronic disease, and divorce are all risk factors but maybe reflected in different dimensions of the biopsycho-social approach; alternatively, higher intelligence andplanning skills (biological), financial resources (social),and special talents that support self-esteem (psychologi-cal) all enhance resilience.</p><p>A Biopsychosocial Formulation for Clinical Practice</p><p>We believe that the data from the five lines of ques-tioning outlined above give us the building blocks fora scientific clinical formulation. (The art t...</p></li></ul>