Greg Neimeyer, Ph.D., is causing quite a stir in continuing education circles. What has he done? In several scholarly publications, he’s reviewed the existing empirical literature and found that continuing professional education in heavioral health is not particularly, well, …educational. Indeed, in a soon-to-be published piece in the APA journal, Professional Psychology, he notes, “While the majority of studies report high levels of participants’ satisfaction with their CE experiences, little attention has been paid to assessing actual levels of learning, the translation of learning into practice, or the impact of CE on actual professional service delivery outcomes.” Neimeyer then goes on to cite a scholarly review published in 2002 by Daniels and Walter which pointed out that “a search [of the research literature] revealed no controlled studies of the impact of continuing education in the…behavioral health disciplines” (p. 368). Said another way, the near ubiguitous mandate that clinicians attend so many hours per year of approved “CE” events in order to further their knowledge and skill base has no empirical support.
Personally, my guess is that any study that might be done on CE in Behavioral Health would show little or no impact on performance anyway. Why? Studies in other fields (i.e., medicine, flight training) have long documented that traditional CE activities (i.e., attending conferences, lectures, reading articles) have no demonstrable effect. So, what does work? The same research that calls the efficacy of current CE activities into questions provide clear guidance: namely, brief, circumscribed, skill-based training, followed by observed practice, real-time feedback, and performance measurement. Such characteristics are, in fact, part and parcel of expert performance in any field. And yet, it is virutally non-existent in behavioral health.
Let me give you an example of a CE offering that arrived in my box just this week. The oversized, multi-color, tri-fold brochure boldly asserts a workshop on CBT featuring the “top evidence-based techniques.” Momentarily setting aside the absolute lack of evidence in support of such trainings, consider the promised content–and I’m not kidding: clinical applications of cognitive behavior therapy, motivational interviewing, cognitive therapy, mindfulness and acceptance based therapies, and behavior therapy. As if that were not enough, the outline for the training indicates that participants will learn 52 other bulleted points, including but not limited to: why CBT, integration of skills intro practice, identifying brain-based CBT strategies, the latest research on CBT, the stages of change, open-ended and reflective listening, behavioral activiation, acceptance and commitment, emotional regulation and distrss tolerance skills, the ABC technique to promote rational beliefs, homework assignments that test core beliefs, rescripting techniques for disturbing memories and images…and so on…AND ALL IN A SINGLE 6 HOUR DAY! You say you have no money? Your agency has suffered budget cuts? No worries, the ad states in giant print, as the same content is available via CD, web and podcast.
Such an agenda defies not only the evidence but strains credulity to the breaking point. Could anyone accomplish so much in so little time? Clinicians deserve and should demand more from the CE events they register for and, in many instances, are mandated to attend in order to maintain licensure and certification. The International Center for Clinical Excellence web platform will soon be launched. The mission of the site, as indicated in my blog post of August 25th, is to “support clinical excellence through creating virtual clinical networks, groups and clinical communities where clinicians can be supported in the key behavior changes required for developing clinical excellence.” Members of the site will use a variety of social networking and collaborative tools to learn skills, obtain real-time feedback, and measure their performance. Anyway, kudos to Dr. Greg Neimeyer for confronting the ugly truth about CE in behavioral health and saying it out loud!