Coaching in the Modern Era: Examining the Training of Coaches Providing Digital Guided Self Help for Mental Health Concerns.

Reference: Fitzsimmons-Craft, E. E., Rojas, E., Topooco, N., Rackoff, G. N., Zainal, N. H., Eisenberg, D., … & Newman, M. G. (2023). Training, supervision, and experience of coaches offering digital guided self-help for mental health concerns. Frontiers in Psychology, 14.

Summarized by Ellen Parry Luff

About the Study:

Recent research has shown that approximately half of all college students have at least one mental health condition. However, despite this, very few actually receive mental health services. In the search for more accessible and less expensive mental health services, digitally guided self-help programs have emerged as a promising solution, showing efficacy across various conditions. To better understand and improve these programs it is important to investigate the role mental health coaches have in delivering these programs. In particular, information about the specificities of coach training for digital interventions, including the development competencies and addressing technical aspects, remains scarce and thus should be further explored. As such, using data from a randomized control trial, this paper aims to examine the recruitment, training, supervision processes, and experiences of coaches offering digital self-help for prevalent college mental health concerns. Of note, the coaches in this study were required to be in a Ph.D., Psy.D., or Masters mental health training program. Through this study, the authors aim to lay the groundwork for best practices in this field.

Key Findings:

  • The training program provided a training manual, including information about coaching, the study, and the platform used (SliverCloud). Additionally, there were training videos on CBT therapy. Coaches were expected to attend 3 live training sessions on Zoom. They also had ongoing supervision, which included meetings and online forms. Coaches also received feedback from the adherence team. Lastly, there was a support group available to coaches.
  • In general, the coaching experience was reported as positive. In particular, coaches noted that working with students, receiving supervision and feedback on their program adherence, learning more about and implementing CBT, and utilizing the SliverCloud platform (the platform where the program was housed) were some of the main positive aspects.
  • The most negative aspects of the program were the low student engagement and the related necessity of sending out numerous reminder messages.
  • Most of the coaches felt that all parts of the training were really helpful and helped them improve their confidence and preparedness. They also stated that it helped them develop professional skills. However, the support group aspect was an exception since only 15 out of 37 coaches made use of it.
  • Most coaches noted that they felt this experience made them more competitive in their field and believed that there should be a course on digital mental health training practice within their training programs. Additionally, most felt that this, and related experiences, should be counted towards their clinical training hours.

Implications for Mentoring:

The positive feedback from coaches regarding the robust training involved demonstrates the importance of rigorous training and ongoing supervision in ensuring positive outcomes. Importantly, while acceptance of telehealth has greatly increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors argue that there is still a need for further recognition and training in other digital forms of mental health support. This is a stance that is supported by the findings in this study. Additionally, they point to “blended” therapy models (a mix of newer digital support programs and traditional therapy practices either in person or via telehealth) as an important area for future research. With this, and based on the reports of the coaches in this study, the authors urge organizations, such as the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers, to create policies that will support training on digital mental health approaches and make sure that the hours spent providing said interventions count. Overall, this study not only serves as a model to inform future training programs but also supports the growing push to focus more on digital mental health interventions.

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