Referral letters are common and come in many forms. Some contain detailed information whilst others provide (after giving name, address and date of birth) a brief single line statement such as “I would be grateful if you could see this patient who is anxious and depressed”. Some counsellors do not read referral letters until after they have seen the client for an assessment session as they do not want to be unduly influenced by what they read.
Referral letters can sometimes be misleading as the impression the referrer has of the person may be quite different from the one the counsellor is left with at the end of the Assessment session. In some instances the information the counsellor gathers may place the contents of the referral letter in a different light. For example, a referrer goes to great lengths to discuss the aggressive yet withdrawn and unhelpful behaviour of an individual and you find the client open and pleasant in their dealings with you. Upon further exploration you discover the client was very angry with the referrer due to a non-negotiated breach in confidentiality.
However, a referral letter could contain important information and failure to read it might place the counsellor in danger or lead to the client feeling the counsellor has not taken reasonable steps to prepare for their meeting. For example, if a client had been convicted of various violent crimes against women it would be sensible to ensure adequate safety precautions are in place for the counsellor. Perhaps the most difficult task for the counsellor is to extract what is pertinent information (e.g safety issues) without pre-judging the client.