What Is a DAP Note?

DAP notes are short notes that are typically used by professionals in the field of healthcare and behavioral sciences. DAP stands for data, assessment, and plan. 

According to an online article published by GoodTherapy, DAP is only one approach used by clinicians and psychologists. The DAP and SOAP formats are commonly used as templates for progress notes in the field of psychotherapy. Similar to DAP notes, SOAP means subjective statement, objective data, assessment, and plan.     

Definition of Acronyms

D– The D stands for data. This is a narration of what transpired during a meeting. And it includes everything that is observable. What can be initially observed from the client as soon as they walk through the door or sit down? It can be their appearance, words they uttered, feelings they shared, and even body language. Essentially, your data is anything that was said and done during the meeting or session.

A– The A stands for assessment. The professional taking down the notes then proceeds to assess the data he or she has gathered from the patient. This entails listing down hypotheses and other professional interpretations. For instance, a therapist deduces from his initial observations that a patient is preoccupied or anxious because she is constantly checking her phone or the wall clock. The assessment is basically a tool for you to judge how you understand the situation, why the patient may be feeling or acting this way, etc.  

P– The P stands for plan. After the professional assessment, conclude the notes by creating a follow up plan. It usually involves scheduling the next session and determining the topics to be covered next. As a response to the assessment, a professional may prescribe treatment, refer the patient to another agency, choose to continue or discontinue any medication, continue with the sessions, or make modifications to the program. 

Areas Where DAP Notes are Commonly Used 

DAP notes are normally used in the field of behavioral science. The following fields are some examples: 

Medicine: For psychiatrists, a DAP note may be used when dealing with patients. Whether in one-on-one therapy, family sessions, or group therapy, a DAP note is a standard approach to help the medical professional address a particular situation. Counseling and Mental Health: For clinical and licensed psychologists, DAP notes can be useful in their counseling sessions. A mental health professional who attends to patients with substance abuse problems or clinical depression and anxiety, can handle the situation by gathering data, assessing it, and providing an action plan for it. Social Work: For social workers and child welfare specialists, the DAP note strategy can be applied when handling different cases. Professionals in this field typically have to handle multiple cases each time, and each child or person is a unique case study. Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapists can employ the DAP note approach when diagnosing new patients or attending to them in regular sessions. Each DAP note in every session will help the professional track the progress of the patient.

Skills Needed in Taking Down DAP Notes 

Listening Skills: Being observant is not enough. Taking down DAP notes demands the use of all senses. Your data is based on everything you see and hear. A psychologist needs to be able to listen to the patient in order to form a connection that allows the patient to open up. Listening is the first step in establishing a good working relationship. The patient needs to know that you, as a professional, are providing a safe space to air any grievance or concern. Effective Note Taking: DAP notes are not meant to be long and drawn out. Knowing how to take down notes in an effective manner is essential. You need to be able to discern which information is worth noting, and distinguish the essential data from the trivial. Include only the main points and key ideas from the meeting. If you are short on time, list down the important keywords or key phrases; but ensure you go over them and fill in any missing details. Planning and Organization: Effective planning is needed before heading into a meeting or session. Make sure to outline your agenda and plan before meeting the patient or client. You can prepare your questions ahead by using a questionnaire as a guide during sessions. You should not only be able to organize your internal thoughts well, but also organize your DAP notes in a coherent and comprehensible way.

Uses of DAP Notes

Field Work: DAP notes are useful when you are out in the field or working on the ground, and don’t necessarily have the time to sit down and open a computer to make a report. For social workers, this can be beneficial when doing site visits or evaluations. The professional may need to keep notes during interviews or when he or she is deployed in the field. It’s useful to keep a small notebook handy for any field notes that may need to be recorded. Clinical Evaluations and Assessments: Healthcare practitioners may find that a compilation of DAP notes helps in the overall assessment of a patient. The notes serve as a monitoring tool, and mental health professionals give better and more sound evaluations when a patient’s progress is well documented. Occupational therapists can also base their judgment and initial diagnoses of patients using DAP notes as a strategy. Regular Therapy Session Notes: For seasoned therapists and psychiatrists, it’s standard procedure to keep file of the patients’ progress and have on record a compilation of minutes of the meetings. DAP notes are short but effective; and are useful when the psychiatrist is required to sit down and engage with a patient without being too preoccupied with perfecting the notes.

Do’s in Writing DAP Notes

1.Keep it Brief: DAP notes are a way for you to take down essential information when it’s most convenient and whenever you feel the need to. It shouldn’t be as complicated as a research paper, nor should it be a long essay. The purpose of writing DAP notes is to break down the key parts of a session in an easy and convenient way. Keep your notes brief. If it helps to create bullet points, then do so. 2. Narrate the Data: When it comes to your data gathering, it’s best to narrate the events or the situation in a descriptive manner. Similar to an incident report, make sure your data contains clear facts. For example, write down your observations on the patient’s demeanor, gestures, or mannerisms that are peculiar to the session. Was he previously open and expressive during the last session, but currently seems a bit distant and closed off? It’s important to pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues. 3. Be Perceptive: A trained professional should be able to interpret a situation keenly and insightfully. When assessing the situation, you ought to consider the patient’s background and history when making your evaluation. Analyze the behavior and always ask why the patient might be acting the way he is or why the client may be unresponsive or aloof. 4. Be Action-oriented: In drawing up your follow up plan at the end of the session, specify concrete actions and use active voice as much as possible. Identify the goals and agenda for the next session. Plan your strategies based on your assessment and data. A psychiatrist can decide whether to continue or discontinue certain medications or treatment. Or a social worker can refer the client to other professionals. 5. Review Your Notes: Like any good notetaker, make sure to review the information you inputted. Refine your notes when you have the time or immediately after a session. Reviewing helps ensure that your notes are understandable, and can also help you improve the organization of your writing.

Don’ts of Writing DAP Notes 

1. Do All the Talking: Always choose to listen. Listen to what the patient is saying, and also to what he or she may not be saying. It takes practice, but a keen observer can read social cues within a room. Non-verbal indicators are just as important as verbal ones. 2. Be Too Vague: You should be able to describe your data and narrate events in a specific and concrete way. State the facts clearly, especially in the data aspect of your DAP note. If a patient shared a story during a session, don’t just note the fact that he told a story. Include what was said and how it was said. 3. Use Casual Language: It doesn’t hurt to be mindful of your audience; so keep your DAP notes professional. Trained professionals should use the appropriate terms and adhere to clinical standards when taking down notes. Avoid any casual or irrelevant words. 4. Use Abstract Concepts: This is particularly applicable to the plan phase in your DAP note. It is best to specify concrete action plans. Keep theoretical language to a minimum. 5. Be Afraid of Failure: Don’t be afraid to get it wrong. Even trained professionals are not immune to error. You can record your initial observations or first impressions during a session. First impressions may not always be correct, but learn to trust your intuition. Don’t dismiss your intuitive sense just because you’re afraid your hunch might be incorrect. DAP notes are meant to serve as a guide and be used as a basis for further analysis.

How to Write DAP Notes 

Keeping the above tips in mind, you can now begin writing your DAP notes. Follow these basic steps:  

Step 1: Basic Information

On the top most part of your page, include the patient or client’s name and age. Don’t forget to indicate the date. You can also note the time or length of the session. Recording basic information is needed to ease the documentation process.   

Step 2: Data Gathering 

Start your notes by writing down all the data you are able to gather from the patient or meeting. These can be both objective and subjective. Objective data are the hard facts that you notice about the situation. Subjective data are based on your initial assumptions and preconceptions about the patient’s mood, feelings, etc.   

Step 3: Assessment of Data   

What can you establish based on your understanding of the data? You can freely interpret, compare and contrast, and analyze the overall situation and circumstances. What can you deduce about the client’s behavior? What does it all mean and why may that be the case? In the case of trauma patients, a therapist may observe a shift in behavior and create a hypothesis as to why there was an apparent shift. Keep your evaluations concise and professional; while using the right keywords and assigning the appropriate clinical terms.  

Step 4: Plan of Action 

The last step is the planning stage. Draft a concrete plan and outline the goals for your subsequent meetings. You can include the next steps or agenda of the next session. You can also indicate if the client’s current program should be continued or would need sufficient changes and modification. In the case of a patient undergoing treatment, you can plan whether to maintain the same treatment, change strategies, or stop the treatment altogether. 


What does DAP stand for in counseling notes?

DAP stands for data, assessment, and plan. In the field of behavioral science, a psychiatrist or psychologist may use this method when counseling patients suffering from mental illnesses, addictions, trauma, etc. The notes are written in chronological order where data is first gathered, assessed, then acted upon in the plan phase.

How do you write progress notes faster?

One technique you can apply is to write down the keywords or main phrases. Try leaving out the unnecessary and trivial information. You need to be able to discern the main points if you want to write your notes faster and keep up with the patient or situation as it unfolds.

How do you write a good DAP note?

A good DAP note is brief, concise, and concrete. Make sure only the relevant details are included. The data should be accurately described and narrated. Your assessment should be clear, insightful, and in-depth. And lastly, your plan should be action-oriented, realistic, and concrete.

How long should a DAP note be?

A good DAP note is brief and straightforward. It should only contain the key ideas and main points; and shouldn’t be longer than a couple of pages. It’s important to organize your notes well so the main ideas are clearly presented and easily identifiable.

What is the difference between SOAP and DAP?

The SOAP and DAP formats are two commonly used templates for progress notes, as far as psychotherapy is concerned. The two approaches are basically the same as they both require data collection, a professional assessment, and a plan of action. The only difference is that the SOAP method breaks down the initial observations into two: subjective statement and objective data.

What does a DAP note look like?

A DAP note can come in any form. It would usually depend on the therapist or researcher who is writing it. It can be in a questionnaire format or a blank, single page document where the therapist just fills in the details.

The DAP method is beneficial in multiple fields. It’s an effective strategy when time is constrained. It helps the therapist or researcher focus on what matters; and gives them a structure to follow when they’re working in the field or talking to a patient. Check out the sample templates above and customize it to suit your needs!