Since the 1960’s, over 10,000 how-to books on psychotherapy/counseling have been published—everything from nude marathon group therapy to the most recent “energy-based treatments.” Clinicians have at their disposal literally hundreds of methods to apply to an ever growing list of diagnoses as codified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (soon available in its 5th and expanded edition).
Conspicuously absent from the psychological cornucopia of diagnoses and treatments is the “F” word: FAILURE. A quick search of Amazon.com led to 32,670 results for the term, “psychotherapy,” 1,393 hits for “psychotherapy and depression,” and a mere 85 citations for “psychotherapy and failure.” Of the latter 85, less than 20 dealt with the topic of failure directly. There are some notable exceptions. The work of psychologist Jeffrey Kottler, for example. The dearth of information and frank discussion points to a glaring fact: behavioral health has a problem with failure.
The research literature is clear on the subject: we fail. Dropout rates have remained embarrassingly high over the last two and a half decades—hovering around 47%. At the same time, 10% of those who stay in services deteriorate while in care. Also troubling, despite the expansion of treatment modalities and diagnoses, the outcome of treatment (while generally good) has not improved appreciably over the last 30 or so years. Finally, as reviewed recently on this blog, available evidence indicates that clinicians, despite what many believe, do not improve with experience.
In short, behavioral health is failing when it comes to failure. As a group, we do rarely address the topic. Even when we directly addressed, we find it hard to learn from our mistakes.
Our study of top performing clinicians and agencies documents that the best have an entirely different attitude toward failure than the rest. They work at failing. Everyday, quickly, and in small ways. In the lead article of upcoming Psychotherapy Networker, “The Path to Mastery” we review our findings and provide step-by-step, evidence-based directions for using failure to improve the quality and outcome of behavioral health. As we say in the article, “more than a dozen clinical trials, involving thousands of clients and numerous therapists, have established that excellence isn’t reserved for a select few. Far from it: it’s within the reach of all.” Getting there, however, requires that we embrace failure like never before.
At this year’s “Training of Trainers” (TOT) conference, building “mindful infrastructures” capable of identifying and using failure at the individual practitioner, supervisor, and agency level will be front and center. Please note: this is not an “advanced workshop” on client-directed, feedback-informed clinical work (CDOI/FIT). No lectures or powerpoint presentations. Participants get hands on experience learning to provide training, consultation, and supervision to therapists, agencies, and healthcare systems.
But, don’t take our word for it. Listen to what attendees from the 2010 TOT said. Be sure and register soon as space is limited.