It’s true. Adding to a growing literature showing that the person of the therapist is more important than theoretical orientation, years of experience, or discipline, a new study documents that clients are sensitive to the quality of their therapist’s life outside of treament. In short, they can tell when you are happy or not. Despite our best efforts to conceal it, they see it in how we interact with them in therapy. By contrast, therapists’ judgements regarding the quality of the therapy are biased by their own sense of personal well-being. The solution? Short of being happy, it means we need to check in with our clients on a regular basis regarding the quality of the therapeutic relationship. Multiple randomized clinical trials show that formally soliciting feedback regarding progress and the alliance improves outcome and continued engagement in treatment. One approach, “Feedback-Informed Treatment” is now listed on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices. Step-by-step instructions and videos for getting started are available on a new website: www.pcomsinternational.com. Seeking feedback from clients not only helps to identify and correct potential problems in therapy, but is also the first step in pushing one’s effectiveness to the next level. In case you didn’t see it, I review the research and steps for improving performance as a therapist in an article/interview on the Psychotherapy.net website. It’s sure to make you happy!
“Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.”
Leonard Cohen, Anthem
Making mistakes. We all do it, in both our personal and professional lives. “To err is human…,” the old saying goes. And most of us say, if asked, that we agree whole heartedly with the adage–especially when it refers to someone else! When the principle becomes personal, however, its is much more difficult to be so broad-minded.
Think about it for a minute: can you name five things you are wrong about? Three? How about the last mistake you made in your clinical work? What was it? Did you share it with the person you were working with? With your colleagues?
Research shows there are surprising benefits to being wrong, especially when the maker views such errors differently. As author Alina Tugend points out in her fabulous book, Better by Mistake, custom wrongly defines a mistake as ” the failure of a planned sequence of mental or physical activities to achieve its intended outcome.” When you forget a client’s name during a session or push a door instead of pull, that counts as slip or lapse. A mistake, by contrast, is when “the plan itself is inadequate to achieve it’s objectives” (p. 11). Knowing the difference, she continues, “can be very helpful in avoiding mistakes in the future” because it leads exploration away from assigning blame to the exploring systems, processes, and conditions that either cause mistakes or thwart their detection.
Last week, I was working with a talented and energetic group of helping professionals in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The topic was, “Achieving Excellence: Pushing One’s Clinical Performance to the Next Level of Effectiveness.” As part of my presentation, I talked about becoming more, “error-centric” in our work; specifically, using ongoing measurement of the alliance to identify opportunities for improving our connection with consumers of behavioral health services. As an example of the benefits of making mistakes the focus of professional development efforts, I showed a brief video of Rachel Hsu and Roger Chen, two talented musicians who performed at the last Achieving Clinical Excellence (ACE) conference. Rachel plays a piece by Liszt, Roger one by Mozart. Both compositions are extremely challenging to play. You tell me how they did (by the way, Rachel is 8 years old, Roger. 9):
Following her performance, I asked Rachel if she’d made any mistakes during her performance. She laughed, and then said, “Yes, a lot!” When I asked her what she did about that, she replied, “Well, its impossible to learn from my mistakes while I’m playing. So I note them and then later practice those small bits, over and over, slow at first, then speeding up, until I get them right.”
After showing the video in New Bedford, a member of the audience raised his hand, “I get it but that whole idea makes me a bit nervous.” I knew exactly what he was thinking. Highlighting one’s mistakes in public is risky business. Studies documenting that the most effective clinicians experience more self-doubt and are more willing to admit making mistakes is simply not convincing when one’s professional self-esteem or job may be on the line. Neither is research showing that health care professionals who admit making mistakes and apologize to consumers are significantly less likely to be sued. Becoming error centric, requires a change in culture, one that not only invites discloure but connects it with the kind of support and structure that leads to superior results.
Creating a “whoops-friendly” culture will be a focus of the next Achieving Clinical Excellence conference, scheduled for May 16-18th, 2013 in Amsterdam, Holland. Researchers and clinicians from around the world will gather to share their data and experience at this unique event. I promise you don’t want to miss it. Here’s a short clip of highlights from the last one:
My colleague, Susanne Bargmann and I will also be teaching the latest research and evidence based methods for transforming mistakes into improved clinical performance at the upcoming FIT Advanced Intensive training in Chicago, Illinois. I look forward to meeting you at one of these upcoming events. In the meantime, here’s a fun, brief but informative video from the TED talks series on mistakes:
By the way, the house pictured above is real. My family and I visited it while vacationing in Niagara Falls, Canada in October. It’s a tourist attraction actually. Mistakes, it seems, can be profitable.
When it rains, it pours! So much news to relay regarding recent research on Feedback Informed Treatment (FIT). Just received news this week from ICCE Associate Stephen Michaels that research using the ORS and SRS in smoking cessation treatment is in print! A few days prior to that, Kelley Quirk sent a copy of our long-awaited article on the validity and reliability of the Group Session Rating Scale. On that very same day, the editors from the journal Psychotherapy sent proofs of an article written by me, Mark Hubble, Daryl Chow, and Jason Seidel for the 50th anniversary issue of the publication.
Let’s start with the validity and reliability study. Many clinicians have already downloaded and been using Group Session Rating Scale. The measure is part of the packet of FIT tools available in 20+ languages on both my personal and the International Center for Clinical Excellence websites. The article presents the first research on the validity and reliability of the measure. The data for the study was gathered at two sites I’ve worked with for many years. Thanks to Kelley Quirk and Jesse Owen for crunching the numbers and writing up the results! Since the alliance is one of the most robust predictors of outcome, the GSRS provides yet another method for helping therapists obtain feedback from consumers of behavior health services.
Moving on, if there were a Nobel Prize for patience and persistence, it would have to go to Stephen Michaels, the lead author of the study, Assessing Counsellor Effects on Quit Rates and Life Satisfactions Scores at a Tobacco Quitline” (Michael, Seltzer, Miller, and Wampold, 2012). Over the last four years, Stephen has trained Quitline staff in FIT, implemented the ORS and SRS in Quitline tobacco cessation services, gathered outcome and alliance data on nearly 3,000 Quitline users, completed an in-depth review of the available smoking cessation literature, and finally, organized, analyzed, and written up the results.
What did he find? Statistically significant differences in quit rates attributable to counselor effects. In other words, as I’ve been saying for some time, some helpers are more helpful than others–even when the treatment provided is highly manualized and structured. In short, it’s not the method that matters (including the use of the ORS and SRS), it’s the therapist.
What is responsible for the difference in effectiveness among therapists? The answer to that question is the subject of the article, “The Outcome of Psychotherapy: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” slated to appear in the 50th anniversary issue of Psychotherapy. In it, we review controversies surround the question, “What makes therapy work?” and tip findings from another, soon-to-be-published empirical analysis of top performing clinicians. Stay tuned.