SRI Research Assistant Professor Michael Tanana was recently awarded a $1.1 million grant to develop and evaluate technology-facilitated training for mental health counseling. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with mental health and substance use disorders, but less than half of those that need treatment, receive it. Conversational interventions like psychotherapy and other forms of counseling (e.g., Motivational Interviewing) are among the most effective treatment options available. Unfortunately, current methods for training psychotherapists involve relatively little practice and are extremely expensive. Because conversational interventions are unstructured and rely on in-the-moment coding, training methods for these interventions are often dominated by delayed and non-specific feedback. New therapists are mostly on their own with their clients – relying solely on their own unchecked moment-to-moment judgment about what to say to the client next. This isolation of the therapist heightens the potential for fatigue, bias, random error, and the unintentional practice and reinforcement of undesirable behaviors to disrupt the training process.
The goal of this grant is to address this training gap and create a platform to deliver performance-based feedback to therapists. The first form of feedback is more structured and involves Dr. Tanana’s previous research using natural language processing tools. These models can detect and deliver feedback on specific Motivational Interviewing (MI) skills at a fine-grained level without human intervention. In addition, the platform will allow for crowd-based feedback from other therapists. This provides an environment of collaboration to improve skills and facilitate real-time, specific feedback to therapists that is based on the interventions they are using. The platform will also act as a teaching environment where educators can observe and gather data about how novice therapists learn over time, and what kinds of utterances are best suited in certain situations.