BIRP Notes: A Complete Guide on The BIRP Note-Taking Format

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It’s an image we’re all too familiar with; the patient sits comfortably and details their entire life story while the therapist listens, and scribbles something down on a piece of paper. We’re so accustomed to this image, that movies and TV shows often poke fun at it.

But what and who are those notes for? Are they for the therapist, as a way for them to remember important details from the session? Are they for the patient?

The answer is both. Note-taking is an essential part of the mental health industry because it links to the overall treatment plan of the patient. Some clinicians choose other methods to capture a session, such as video and audio recordings, but note-taking during the session is the first step. After that, therapists write progress notes, commonly done using the BIRP notes format.

Why are Clinical Records Important?

Many practitioners agree clinical records are a critical piece of offering quality mental health solutions. As a general rule, documentation helps ensure the continuity of care and improves communication between different healthcare professionals.

BIRP notes are a model used by mental health professionals to track a patient’s progress. The acronym stands for “Behavior Intervention Response Plan.”

Routinely updated records provide much-needed information to all parties involved in the client’s care. This is especially true when multiple professionals must oversee the same case. Proper and timely documentation ensures that each person understands the current case.

In a standard medical setting, proper documentation is often lifesaving. For example, without the previous physician recording a patient’s allergy to a particular drug, the next doctor may make the mistake of administering that drug. The patient may forget or not be able to tell the doctor they are allergic, in which case their conditions can get worse. Proper documentation helps to reduce the likelihood of these incidents.

While therapists and other medical personnel usually read patient documentation, they’re not the only ones. Sometimes third parties uninvolved in the direct care of the patient also need access. For example, in a court proceeding. Other times, they are required as part of the therapy intake process.

For example, if a patient moves out of state and then works with another therapist, then the documentation from the previous one still is important to their course of treatment. The new therapist should know what the patient experienced before. Those notes should answer questions like what type of treatment plan the client had, what worked, and what didn’t. Routinely updated clinical records offer continuity of care, even if the therapist changes.

Because of scenarios like these, it’s important to have a standardized model through which clinicians can write progress notes about and for their patients.

Six Elements of Clinical Records

Overall, client records should include the following:[1]

  • Patient information (age, gender, education, and other background information),
  • Reason for seeking therapy (the mental health issue they are facing),
  • Diagnosis and impression (from the perspective of the therapist),
  • A clear treatment plan,
  • Treatment details including medications administered, and;
  • Progress reports.

Related: The Physical Therapy Software Making Documentation Easier For Practitioners

What Are BIRP Notes?

BIRP notes are a model used by mental health professionals to track a patient’s progress. The acronym stands for “Behavior Intervention Response Plan.”

Put into practice, BIRP notes should look something like this PDF below:

BIRP Notes Quenza
Quenza’s Custom Activity Builder can be used to create Behavior, Intervention, Response, and Plan sections quickly and efficiently for BIRP notes. (Click for the PDF)

Our BIRP Note, created using Quenza, shows the four different sections.

  1. Behavior (Presenting the Problem)
    In this section, we need observation of subjective and objective details. Subjective details refer to observations made directly by the client (their thoughts and/or opinions) Therapists often write these as direct quotes. Objective details refer to information about the client that the therapist notices (mood, appearance, etc.)This section can also contain details about the session itself, such as where it took place. This can be relevant if the therapist is making house calls, or using a blended care approach (combining a traditional therapy session with digital therapy sessions).Example: Met with client X in the office. The most recent assessment shows they are presenting symptoms of anxiety. Today they showed signs of exhaustion, lack of focus, and looked tired. They reported not being able to sleep in the past week and feeling overwhelmed by work.
  2. Interventions
    This section outlines the methods used to reach the goals and objectives of the therapy. It’s a concise summary of the conversation, focusing strongly on the therapist’s actions and the patient’s reactions.Example: Through client-centered techniques, this writer encouraged the patient to expand their thoughts about their work. Negative thoughts were identified and challenged. The patient was asked to see if there is a link between their insomnia and the stressful period at work. The connection was successfully made and normalized through discussion. The conversation then focused on the specific work-related triggers that may have lead to insomnia. A mild sleep aid was prescribed.
  3. Response
    In this section, the therapist should record the client’s response to the intervention, including what the client said and how they reacted. Example: The patient initially rejected the link between their insomnia and stress at work. When asked how work made them feel, the patient became silent, reduced eye contact, and disengaged from the conversation with the writer. After a few moments of thinking, the patient was able to describe their own feelings in relation to their work.
  4. Plan
    The plan outlines when the next session will take place, and its focus.Example: The next appointment scheduled for September 16, will assess the client’s response to the sleep aid and reassess their feelings about work.The Alameda County Behavioral Health organization offers a handy checklist outlining the questions therapists can use for each section of their BIRP notes.[2]Some institutions show a clear preference for using BIRP notes. For instance, Solano County MHP issued a documentation manual in which they recommend using the BIRP progress notes, saying it may “not be the best thing since sliced bread, but in the auditing world it comes pretty close.” Other organizations choose different progress reporting formats.

SOAP and DAP Models

The BIRP note format is a common model for progress reporting in the mental health sector, but it’s not the only one. There is no federal or international rule establishing the use of one model over another. Mental health coaches and therapists are free to choose whichever format for progress reporting they prefer. There is a general idea that, at least at the institutional level, therapists should adopt and use the same model.

SOAP notes include four sections. They are,

  • Subjective – The therapist records information relevant to what the client shares during a session.
  • Objective – This section includes factual information, such as a diagnosis, or other observations made by the therapist.
  • Assessment – These are impressions and interpretations of the subjective and objective information made by the therapist. It’s like an analysis of the previous information, in which the professional may assess risk or the client’s progress toward their goals.
  • Plan – In the last section, the therapist outlines the next steps for the sessions and client.

If this approach appeals to you, check out Susan Cameron’s and Imani Turtle-Song’s paper titled, Learning to Write Case Notes Using the SOAP Format.[3] Even better, our Step-by-Step Guide to Writing SOAP Notes is full of examples and templates to help you get started.

The DAP model brings together the subjective and objective information under a section called data. The other two areas are assessment and plan. Sometimes using DAP notes is a simpler way for new therapists to capture the various components of a session.

What Do The Models Have in Common?

All these models account for the same type of information needed for progress reporting. As important psychology tools, they each help therapists achieve the same goals — structuring their notes efficiently. Long paragraphs may encourage therapists to write irrelevant information about the client and the sessions.

This can make adjusting an overall treatment plan more challenging. The short, structured nature of these models makes note-taking simple and quick.

BIRP note-taking, or other models, is a way to organize information about the patient so that the therapist can easily follow their progress.

APA Guidelines

The American Psychological Association (APA) released guidelines for overall record keeping. These guidelines help therapists and mental health professionals ensure the proper storage and security of therapy notes. Through its guidelines, the APA also emphasizes respecting ethics regulations.

The guidelines are,[4]

  1. Responsibility for Records: Therapists and psychologists are responsible for the maintenance and storage of the client’s records;
  2. Content of Records: Therapists must do whatever they can to ensure the records are accurate;
  3. Confidentiality of Records: The therapist must take reasonable measures to make sure all patient records are confidential;
  4. Disclosure of Record-Keeping Procedures: Therapists must inform the patient of the procedure in place for record-keeping, confidentiality guidance, and the limitations of confidentiality (meaning the instances where the therapist may need to disclose some information to third parties, such as law enforcement or insurance adjusters);
  5. Maintenance of Records: The therapist must organize and maintain records and ensure their accuracy;
  6. Security: The therapist must take reasonable measures to make sure all patient records are secure, and that unauthorized third parties cannot access them. Records also must be protected from damage;
  7. Retention of Records: The therapist must be aware of the relevant legislation pertaining to acquiring and storing patient information;
  8. Preserving the Context of Records: The therapist must always be aware of the situational context the records are created in;
  9. Electronic Records: Electronic records must meet the same legal and maintenance requirements as paper records;
  10. Record Keeping in Organizational Settings: Therapists working in hospitals, schools, or other institutions or organizations must keep the same model for recording agreed though the entire institution;
  11. Multiple Client Records: The therapist must offer special consideration to the recording process when designing mental health programs on a larger scale, or even simply in couples therapy, in order to respect the privacy and confidentiality of all parties involved;
  12. Financial Records: Therapists must ensure the accuracy of all financial records;
  13. Disposition of Records: If the patient changes therapists, the professional who initially created the patient record is responsible for transferring them to ensure the patient’s continuity of treatment.

BIRP Notes and Technology

These days, therapists have a more efficient and easy way to keep notes of their sessions, whether they choose the BIRP, SOAP, DAP, or any other model. The availability of a variety of specialized apps and therapy notes software facilitates this process, as we’ve shown below.

Quenza BIRP Note Example
Quenza’s drag-and-drop features can speed up BIRP notes by helping therapists create sections and customizable text fields on a HIPAA-compliant system.

The benefits of using specialized therapy documentation software like Quenza (above) to take BIRP notes include:

  • Improved care – Many apps and programs include customization features. This helps the therapists adjust the app to meet their needs and the client’s goals. This way, BIRP notes can provide even more insights to therapists, who can then offer better care for their patients,
  • A better overview of patients – When the records are digital, it’s also a lot easier to spot any mistakes or unnecessary repetitions. Many medical software solutions can generate detailed reports based on the introduced data, which a therapist can quickly review; and,
  • Faster note-taking – Many programs can streamline the entire note-taking process through pre-defined templates. A common feature of both private practice and e-clinic software, templates come with structured sections, ultimately save the therapist time. Therapists can choose the sections that apply to their client, instead of writing them from scratch.

Challenges and Solutions in BIRP Note-Taking

While BIRP notes offer a structured and systematic approach to clinical documentation, therapists often encounter challenges in their implementation. One common issue is the time required to fill out detailed notes after each session. Therapists may find themselves overwhelmed with administrative tasks, leading to a potential backlog in documentation. Additionally, ensuring the accuracy and completeness of the notes can be challenging, especially in high-volume practices.

Another challenge is maintaining consistency in documentation among different therapists within the same practice. Variations in how notes are taken can lead to discrepancies, making it difficult to track patient progress effectively. Moreover, the subjective nature of some sections, such as the Behavior and Response parts, can result in varied interpretations that affect the quality of the records.

To address these challenges, therapists can leverage technology and digital tools designed for clinical documentation. Software solutions like Quenza, mentioned in the original post, provide templates and automated features that streamline the note-taking process. These tools can significantly reduce the time spent on documentation and improve accuracy through standardized templates and prompts.

Training and regular workshops can also help therapists maintain consistency in their documentation practices. By establishing clear guidelines and conducting periodic reviews, clinics can ensure that all therapists adhere to the same standards. Additionally, peer reviews and collaborative discussions about case notes can enhance the quality and consistency of the documentation.

Implementing these solutions not only addresses the challenges but also enhances the overall efficiency and effectiveness of clinical practices, ultimately leading to better patient outcomes.

Best Practices for Implementing BIRP Notes in Clinical Settings

Successfully integrating BIRP notes into clinical practice requires a strategic approach that considers both the needs of the therapists and the requirements of the organization. One of the best practices is to start with a thorough training program for all staff members. This training should cover the fundamentals of BIRP notes, the importance of each section, and the specific details required in the documentation.

Creating a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for BIRP note-taking can provide a clear framework for therapists to follow. These SOPs should outline the expected frequency of note updates, the level of detail required, and the protocols for handling sensitive information. By having these guidelines in place, therapists can ensure their notes are comprehensive and meet the necessary standards.

Regular audits and feedback sessions are also crucial. Periodically reviewing the notes can help identify areas for improvement and ensure compliance with the established guidelines. Feedback sessions can be an opportunity for therapists to discuss challenges and share best practices, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

Incorporating technology, as highlighted earlier, can greatly enhance the implementation process. Digital platforms that offer customizable templates and real-time data entry can make the note-taking process more efficient. These tools often come with built-in compliance features, ensuring that the notes meet legal and ethical standards.

Lastly, it is essential to involve the patients in the process. Educating patients about the purpose and importance of BIRP notes can enhance their cooperation and engagement during sessions. When patients understand how their input is used in their care plan, they are more likely to participate actively, providing valuable insights that enrich the quality of the notes.

By following these best practices, clinical settings can effectively implement BIRP notes, ensuring that the documentation is thorough, consistent, and useful in delivering high-quality patient care.

Final Thoughts

Taking notes is an essential part of therapy. Whether you follow BIRP, SOAP, DAP, or some other model, choosing the best one for your public or private practice depends on two considerations,

  • What is the consensus in the institution or organization where you work (if applicable)?
  • What is your preference?

Regardless of the format preferred, it’s essential for any record-keeping to respect ethical guidelines, as established by the APA.

We hope you enjoyed our article. Don’t forget to try Quenza’s BIRP Notes tools out for yourself with your $1, 1-month trial.

If your goal is to improve your clients’ wellbeing and optimize their mental health, our software will give you all the practice documentation tools you need to streamline your admin, so you can spend more one-on-one time with patients for even better results.


  1. ^ Mathioudakis, A., Rousalova, I., Gagnat, A. A., Saad, N., & Hardavella, G. (2016). How to keep good clinical records. Breathe (Sheffield, England), 12(4), 369–373.
  2. ^ Alameda County Behavioral Health. (2018). B.I.R.P. Progress Note Checklist. Retrieved from
  3. ^ Cameron, K. & Turtle-Song, I. (2002). Learning to write case notes using the SOAP format. Journal of Counseling & Development, 80(3), 286-92.
  4. ^ American Psychological Association. (2007). Record Keeping Guidelines. Retrieved from

About the author

Kori D. Miller is an enthusiastic life-long learner pursuing a master’s degree in Educational Psychology from Ball State University. Her specializations are in neuropsychology and positive psychology and she has authored eight books.


  1. VJ Valrie Johnson

    Great tips and information.
    Thank you

    1. SP Seph Fontane Pennock

      Thank you Valrie! 🙂

  2. SD S. Driggins

    Great resource, thank you

    1. CM Catherine Moore

      Glad you found it valuable!

  3. MC Ms. Johanna Harris, LPC, CPCS

    Your information provides great detail and adequacy on the different models of notetaking for mental health professionals. I will continue to explore and utilize your information and resources to better my services provided to my clientele and students. Thank you

  4. NB nathan Berg

    Looking at SOAP notes for remedial therapy seems to suggest that subjective & plan is shared practitioner & patient information where as objective and assessment appear to me as more internal/office use information not necessarily divulged as in layman terms. Can you please clarify my perception of clinical notes and what information is shared to the client or not shared. Kind regards

  5. RS Ryedenna M Simon-McQueen

    Awesome resource. Thank you for providing this information.

  6. KB Kenny Brown

    This is really helpful information. Thank you for the tools and insight.

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