The iPad plus Note Taker HD for Counseling

Posted by on Jan 25, 2011 in Featured Content, Technology

The transparency of the content and immediacy with which carbonless counseling session notes can be shared with the client have strong appeal. This approach to note taking is more recently explained in Judith Beck’s (1995) book on cognitive therapy. I was first introduced to this idea by Dawn McBride from the University of Lethbridge, AB, Canada and was so taken by what she shared that I came back to Japan, designed a set based on her model, and ordered them online from a supplier in the US for less than $100 dollars.

The supplier and I had some communication issues regarding shipping and handling charges and the order was delayed. This was just long enough for me to delve deep into Beck’s work with this format. As I read her book the tech side of me started to sort out an electronic version using the iPad. I canceled the paper order to give this new approach a try. Not only have I have saved the better part of a $100 dollars, but I have greatly streamlined my counseling session documentation process as a result.

The program is called Note Taker HD (YouTube About it) and unlike other note taking programs this one allows the user to annotate pdf templates, mail them as email attachments to both the client and (dated and timestamped) into a secure but searchable data storage system like Evernote. The image to the right (click for larger view) is an example of the edit view using Dawn’s template modified slightly for my site. There is also a check-list of topics to discuss during the next session at the bottom of the form that are not visible in the image here. I will undoubtedly modify it further with experience to make it my own but for now I am happy with how it works.

To make it neater and more professional, I bought an inexpensive stylus for the iPad. While it certainly wouldn’t make sense to buy an iPad for this purpose, if you already have one, for less than $10 you can buy this app and manage the “carbonless form” with the same immediacy and transparency along with automatic filing for the counselor. – AC

Adam Clark is a school counselor at Yokohama International School in Yokohama, Japan. Find out more at

Beck, J. S. (1995). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. New York: The Guilford Press.


  1. Tweets that mention The iPad plus Note Taker HD for Counseling Documentation | Technology | Who Is Adam Clark --
    January 26, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adam Clark, andreajburston. andreajburston said: RT @AdamClark71: an easy handwritten electronic #counseling session note solution for the #iPad […]

  2. Adam
    May 4, 2011

    This came in on a twitter thread…

    Billie Jo
    April 26, 2011 at 2:05 pm (Edit)

    I’m researching ways to integrate an iPad into my school counseling program and ran across your blog. I’d be interested to hear more about what apps are “must haves” for use on the job.


  3. Adam
    May 4, 2011

    April 26, 2011 at 8:20 pm (Edit)

    Hi Billie Jo,

    Thanks for your reply here. I’ll get some other rec’s together and post something more comprehensive up soon. In the meantime, I just recommended iThoughtsHD (easy mindmapping) today for a student who has an iPad but is greatly helped by a visual portrait of concepts. Lots of great stuff out there. As you discover other gems please let me know.

  4. Adam
    May 4, 2011

    This came in on a different thread as well…

    Hi Adam,

    I accidentally ‘found’ you this morning as I was looking for information to write a proposal for getting an ipad to use in my role as a school counselor at the Singapore American School. My name is Carmine Filice and I am working in the Intermediate Division (Grades 3 to 5). Could you possibly talk some more about how you use the ipad as a tool in your role either for note-taking or other applications? Thanks a bunch!
    I also checked out the above comparison between Reality Therapy and SFBT – two modalities I am most intersted in – and I really liked what you have pointed out in terms of the common ground that they cover.
    Finally, since I am at…..I am in the midst of planning the construction of my own website and wondererd what tool you used to build yours. Please let me know if you get the chance.


    Carmine Filice

  5. Adam
    May 4, 2011

    Hi Carmine and Billie Jo,

    I really have nothing but positive comments to make about the iPad and school counseling. First, in addition to the “carbonless notes” application that I have blogged about here, I also find it really useful for sharing visuals/handouts with students during sessions. I can then email handouts right away after we’ve finished talking with follow-up tasks etc. The way I express it is that the iPad is for school counselors like a project is for the teacher.

    But unlike a projector it does an absolute ton more. I don’t like to do much on paper anymore since it isn’t searchable and requires extra-steps to file. I also find I don’t like to use a laptop during student observations. My laptop is too invasive and I feel looks like I am doing something else rather than paying close attention to the student. The iPad is much less invasive, appears more along the line of a pad of paper, and is silent if I’m typing. Evernote is the program I use to link and store the notes I take on any of my devices and find it incredibly efficient. Dropbox is also really good this way but it is hard to compete with Evernotes searchability and tags.

    I have also been experimenting with some of the drawing programs for more expressive/less talk based approaches to counseling but so far haven’t found anything I really like.

    Since the earthquake, tsunami, and radiation scare here I’ve been doing a lot on stress and coping, but hope to dive back into more general counseling topics soon. I have a trauma workshop this Friday in Tokyo that I hope will be newsworthy so hopefully I’ll get some work out there on that.

    Thanks again for your posts. – Adam

  6. Sharon Myrick
    July 26, 2011

    I am also in the process of gathering documentation for the purpose of applying to receive an iPad to use on the job as a school counselor. I have found your comments most helpful and I intend to look at the YouTube Video. I just wanted to comment before I leave your site because it has been so helpful. Thanks! I am going to recommend your site to my fellow counselors. We are in the process of revamping our website, so I did not leave that address. I may know two of your students from last year. Are you located on a military base?

    My school is Shedeck Primary Center in Yukon, OK 73099. Thanks again for your help.

    Sharon Myrick

  7. iPad + School Counselor = ? | Confessions of a School Counselor
    August 1, 2011

    […] I came across a fellow blogger’s post about it (Adam Clarke’s full post can be found here). His post mostly dealt with using the iPad as a tool to help document, but I immediately felt like […]

  8. Ryan
    August 19, 2011

    Hi Adam,
    I have been doing a few hours of research on using technology for client note files when I came across this blog entry. I am a 3rd year counseling intern who is trying to streamline the way I take notes, while having good access for myself and two other students. I’m wondering what kind of thoughts you have on confidentiality, and security using Evernote in regards to staying within ACA and HIPPA guidelines.


    • Adam
      August 21, 2011

      Hi Ryan,

      Sorry to take a bit of time getting back to you. I was away for the summer holidays and didn’t have regular internet access. You raise a great point and it sounds like the work you are doing is very important for the field. A number of responses come to mind with, predictably, no easy answers. As consistent with all counseling ethical codes one of the factors we need to be acutely aware of is the security of our confidential notes. As you are aware, there is very much an ongoing debate about how secure electronic storage systems are versus paper files and I think valid arguments regarding the relative security and vulnerability exist for both. I appreciate the impossibility for anyone to “hack” into a filing cabinet. At the same time, I recognize that some office environments may lend themselves to breaches of paper file security particularly where shared filing cabinet keys are considered. It isn’t hard for me to imagine keys that find their way into the wrong hands or filing cabinets that are accidentally left unlocked. I see this as particularly challenging in school contexts in comparison to clinical settings because space is continuously shared.

      More importantly than any of the encryption/password security/cabinet debate is the actual content of the notes themselves. Reamer (2005) wrote a very useful article on this that emphasized the “balance between too much and too little information” (p. 328). A professor of mine once shared a story of extensive counseling documentation that was originally taken by a counselor working with a woman involved in a workplace harassment lawsuit. The original intent (red flag here) of the notes was to clearly document the mental stress and anxiety the employment situation had caused the woman, including the negative impact it had on her as a spouse/parent. Before the workplace harassment suit was resolved, however, her husband filed for divorce, had the counseling notes subpoenaed, used them to support his case in a custody dispute and won full custody of the children. Hearing this story I wonder what non-essential information was written down by the counselor to “help” but that was used against the woman in the custody battle.

      As I keep my notes, I make sure to include enough detail to ethically deliver services but take steps to avoid over-documenting or unnecessary use of names or other personal information. You may already have read Reamer’s article but, if not, I’d highly recommend it. In many ways his suggestions help guide us in the right direction when considering the kind of information we write down whether on paper or on a screen. – AC

      Reamer, F. (2005). Documentation in social work: evolving ethical and risk-management standards. Social Work, 50(4), 328-331.

      • Ryan
        August 24, 2011

        Hi Adam,

        Thanks for the response, I hope you are enjoying your holiday break!

        The point you bring up about the challenges within school contexts and shared spaces around paper file security is precisely the reason I decided to look into current online or paperless note taking policies (not to mention the ease of access from multiple locations). I did not feel comfortable with the space provided for documents. As you pointed out, there is no simple answer and I’m trying to keep the clients right for confidentiality at the forefront of my mind. I also admit that I feel somewhat comfortable personally with online security, and know just enough to know it can be dangerous out “there” in the cyberworld! I also realize others may not feel the same way. I believe it is important to go over the options and their related security risks with a client, so that they can make an informed decision on how I store their information.

        Thanks for bringing up note taking content practices. I read the Reamer, F. (2005) article, very interesting. The “balance” of what content should be included is something I am still learning. I feel like Its a mixture of art, science, and legal knowledge. A subject that I’m coming to believe my program has not covered in depth enough. This is something I will put more thought and supervision into as I gain experience throughout my career. Again, Thanks for your thought provoking response Adam!

        Ryan Cheney

  9. Sammylou
    April 23, 2012

    I am a therapist struggling with keeping up with the required documentation for the groups I lead. Do you have any follow up words of wisdom on organization and use of technology? I do not have an ipad, but am thinking this is sounding really awesome.

  10. jonathan spencer
    June 29, 2012

    Hi, I am a counsellor and hypnotherapistin the Uk and came on this thread… and have been looking for some time for a way to securely write notes and record information on clients using the iPad and my mac(s).

    So far I have sued Bento ( with suitable templates found free on the Bento site and tried out a couple of paid ones

    I have also used iSession which is also free (

    I will investigate more on note taker….there are so many very expensive online apps but no much else it seems to assist the counsellor

    • Adam
      July 1, 2012

      Hi Jonathan,

      Thank you for this reply. I’ll have to give iSession a try. I like the idea of linking the appointments with the session notes. It is one of the aspects of the system I use that is missing. I look forward to giving it a try and hearing what your experience has been like with it. One of the things I particularly enjoy about the Notetaker approach is that I can send the client the notes from the session right away to keep everything we discuss transparent and in the open between us. Maybe iSession allows for that, too.

      Take care and thanks again for posting. – Adam

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