In his ground-breaking 2007 paper called “The Making of an Expert,” Anders Ericsson wrote, “The development of expertise requires coaches who are capable of giving constructive, even painful, feedback. Real experts are extremely motivated students who seek out such feedback.” The Swedish-born cognitive psychologist is regarded as the expert on experts and before his passing in 2020 at the age of 73, he amassed a library of research about deliberate practice and how feedback is a critical element to develop expertise in an area.

In that same 2007 report, which was published in the Harvard Business Review, Ericsson wrote, “There is an emerging market in elaborate simulations that can give professionals...a safe way to deliberately practice with appropriate feedback.” He offers examples in the aviation and physical medical fields, but in this article we expand those findings to include the mental health field and share reasons why individual feedback is critical for psychotherapy students.

Individual Feedback For Psychotherapy Students Is Essential For Deliberate Practice

We’ve written about the importance of deliberate practice in other articles on this website. In fact, Bruce Wampold, co-founder of Skillsetter, believes it’s one of the most important things psychotherapists can do, whether they are practicing professionals or students. Deliberate practice is also the building block for becoming an expert in any field according to Anders Ericsson. He writes, “to achieve expertise, you will need to invest [your] time wisely by engaging in ‘deliberate’ practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort.” And that’s where feedback comes in: it’s not enough to simply practice something over and over. Instead, we need individual feedback from coaches and mentors to tailor our practice so it concentrates on our weaknesses.

In the classroom, psychotherapy instructors take the roles of coaches and mentors and are charged with providing individual feedback for their students. Like parents preparing their children to leave the nest, good instructors give their students the tools to help them continue to engage in deliberate practice as they move into their own practices. These tools include:

  • Desire to continue learning
  • Motivation to continually improve
  • Wherewithal to know when to question the status quo
  • Knowledge of where to find effective resources
  • Capacity to take constructive criticism and grow from it

Individual Feedback For Psychotherapy Students Is Critical For The Industry As A Whole

In our article What Can Therapists Learn From Concert Pianists?, we share reports about how the psychotherapy industry has stagnated in terms of improvement. For example, Dr. Scott Miller writes in “The Secrets of Supershrinks: Pathways to Clinical Excellence,” that studies conducted over the last three decades prove that psychotherapy works but also “no measurable improvement in the effectiveness of psychotherapy has occurred in the last 30 years.” This is concerning but it’s also an opportunity to look at ways we can do better. The first step is to do a better job training our students and individual feedback is key to doing so. By teaching students the importance of continual, deliberate practice through constructive feedback, we raise the future bar of our industry. We also see the following benefits through individual feedback:

  • Students gain more insight into their personal biases (See What Is Cultural Humility)
  • Feedback becomes a normal and expected part of the process, and a welcome opportunity to improve
  • Students learn to seek and invite feedback
  • Outcomes of future psychotherapy sessions improve
  • Students are motivated to improve even more
  • Feedback becomes an essential tool for continued learning

Individual Feedback For Psychotherapy Students Is Challenging; But A Solution Does Exist

It’s no secret instructors of psychotherapy are faced with a myriad of logistical challenges. Especially this year when so many courses had to move to online platforms in the interest of public health. Some of the challenges psychotherapy instructors face include:

  • Limited opportunities for students to practice in-session skills
  • Limited ways to evaluate students who are delivering psychotherapy
  • Limited options for identifying if a student needs help in particular areas

Thankfully there is one solution for the above challenges and that’s Skillsetter. Skillsetter offers online, video-centric training modules in an easy-to-use structure that allows instructors to provide feedback in real-time, as well as post-session.

This is how it works: students sit in front of a computer and camera. They are shown various training videos in accordance to the particular module or skill set they are learning. They have the opportunity to respond to the training videos as if it were a real therapy session. Their responses and body language are recorded. Instructors then analyze the responses with the student immediately afterwards or at a time of their choosing, and provide individual feedback about where the student could improve.

Here are other ways Skillsetter helps remove the logistical challenges faced by psychotherapy instructors:

  • Classroom and in-person sessions are not required as Skillsetter is an online platform.
  • Students can practice skills independently without the requirement of real-time supervision from instructors or the participation of student partners.
  • Instructors can evaluate students and provide feedback in bulk, after the students complete the online modules.
  • Instructors gain better insights for which areas individual students either excel in or need additional assistance with.

For more about how Skillsetter can help with individual feedback for psychotherapy students, contact us to set up a demo.