Active Learning Strategies In Supervision May Improve Effectiveness of Mental Health Treatment Protocols for Youth

Nov. 17, 2016

Photo of Sarah Kate Bearman
Sarah Kate Bearman

Sarah Kate Bearman, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin, recently co-authored a study highlighting the need for effective supervision practices for those who provide mental health services to youth.

Evidence shows treatments proven to be effective in research trials perform less well under routine conditions. Bearman and the research team wondered if one contributing factor could be the type of supportive supervision clinicians received. Although nearly all therapists receive supervision when they are learning a new practice, supervision as it is typically practiced  in mental health service systems consists largely of case discussion. Most youth who receive these services either get worse or stay the same, even though they are getting treatment.

To explore whether the type of supervision a therapist receives might make a different in how they practice therapy, Bearman compared the effect of supervision using active learning techniques versus “supervision as usual” on therapist delivery of a newly learned treatment. Her results suggest that one contributing factor in the effectiveness of treatment may be differences in supervision.

Bearman and her fellow researchers demonstrated that for clinicians to make use of new treatment strategies, it helps to follow a three-step process: observe how the strategies should be delivered, take part in a role play, and then receive corrective feedback based on review of actual sessions between the therapist and clients.

“It’s important that we know how to teach mental health service providers how to deliver effective services,” says Bearman. “Otherwise, strategies for improving the mental health of young people—strategies that we know are effective—will not work.”

Based on study results, Bearman has several recommendations for providing more effective treatment. “Training workshops should be followed by supportive supervision in order to increase therapist competency with new therapeutic strategies,” she says. “Although therapists are likely to feel satisfied by supervision meetings that are largely supportive and didactic, they may not show much improvement in clinical skill. In order to promote therapist competence, clinical supervision should entail opportunities for active learning, specifically modeling of new skills by the supervisor and role-play by the therapist.”