Besides official credentials and accreditation, what assurance is there that a psychotherapist is truly competent? This is the question that has dogged the psychotherapy profession for years and has haunted both psychotherapy professionals and the clients who seek their help. Therapy is a treatment method that is relationship and conversation based. How do you measure competence in that setting?
A HOPELESS SITUATION
Attorneys, are deemed competent when they get most of their clients “off” or secure big settlements for them.
When a surgeon completes most operations successfully, he is considered “renowned” and gets more business than he can handle.
But psychotherapists are deemed competent only one grateful client at a time. It’s the testimony of a happy client passed onto a friend that certifies a psychotherapist as competent. This, of course, is a non-scientific, slow and painstaking process since therapeutic patients are usually reluctant to brag about their healing or admit that they went to a therapist in the first place. Even when they recommend their therapist, it is usually with the caveat, “he/she helped me, but I don’t know if he/she can help you.” This backhanded endorsement does not go very far in establishing a psychotherapist’s competence.
This lack of effective evaluation mechanisms has a significant impact on the training and feedback that therapists receive.
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
In this month’s Social Work Today, Susan Knight reports on a new software program being developed at The University of Washington School of Medicine that can evaluate a therapist’s effectiveness.
Ms. Knight reports that a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the medical school began with this approach:
“the most effective therapists are the ones that are best at making their clients feel understood, the ones that are best at inspiring hope…
Interpersonal qualities distinguish good therapists from those who struggle more…
Currently, however, there is no mechanism for measuring such skills among practicing therapists.”
The research group set out to invent such a mechanism. Using data collected from more than 1,000 psychotherapy sessions, they created a software that they essentially “taught” to recognize speech patterns that are deemed to be empathetic in nature. The result is a computational model of empathy which can be used for evaluation purposes to assess whether a particular exchange exhibits language qualities that are reflective of empathetic speech patterns. In addition, through the use of computational algorithms that process all of the data, the software is able to shed further light on the composition of effective therapeutic communications.
A member of the research team, Zac Imel, PhD, an assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University of Utah, says:
“If you feed the computers enough data, be it text data or audio data, they can learn patterns. Based on those patterns, they can end up making predictions that are accurate.”
Another team member, Dr. Shrikanth S. Narayanan, a professor of electrical engineering, computer science, linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, and pediatrics with the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering, adds this:
“Mental health differs from other medical conditions in that it is often pervasive and dynamic. This research and these new technologies can help to connect the dots, fill in the gaps, provide new insights, and offer ways to support the work of clinicians and care providers within the (health care) ecosystem.”
Although psychotherapy will always be an art, these new developments are nudging this medical practice closer to a measurable science.
This is truly a breakthrough!
As a point of reference, because of FAMCare's flexibility and our ability to tailor and incorporate some of the latest technologies, code or other programs into the FAMCare platform - any data collection instrument can be included with measurement. The elements needed to score and evaluate a program's effectiveness are only a few hours of a developer's time, away.