New “mega-analysis” points to valuable role for mentors: Practicing skills with mentees

Christensen, K. M., Assink, M., van Dam, L., Stams, G.-J., Poon, C. Y. S., Astesano, J., & Rhodes, J. E. (2023). Youth interventions with and without supervised practice: A second-order meta-analysis. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Many prevention interventions (e.g., psychotherapy and universal prevention programs) recently started transitioning from passive, non-specific approaches to active, research-supported ones that integrate skills training.
    • Evidence shows that targeted, research-supported therapeutic approaches are more effective than non-specific “usual care” ones.
  • Supervised practice allows individuals to practice new skills in the company of someone who can monitor their progress and provide supportive, constructive feedback.
  • Although evidence highlights the potential of supervised practices within prevention interventions, it is difficult for program administrators, teachers, therapists, etc., to find opportunities to implement supervised practices.
  • This second-order meta-analysis* methodically integrated findings from five meta-analyses to examine the effects supervised practices had on various youth interventions.
  • There was a significant positive effect of supervised practice compared to unsupervised practice.
  • Youth outcome type notably moderated the impact of supervised practice. Internalizing behavior produced the biggest effect.
  • Offering chances for supervised practices has the potential to improve the efficacy of various skill-based interventions.

* = Second-order meta-analysis is a stringent quantitative method used to accumulate the general effects from past meta-analyses (a statistical method for combining findings from various studies).

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Supervised practice pairs behavioral rehearsal (i.e., the practice of skills) with constructive and supportive feedback so that learners can enact new skills accurately and develop the motivation to consistently apply these skills. The current review study takes stock of the literature on supervised practice through second-order meta-analysis, a rigorous quantitative method used to aggregate overall effects from previous meta-analyses. Results from five meta-analyses revealed a significant overall effect of supervised practice compared to unsupervised practice (SMD = 0.22). Youth outcome type significantly moderated the effects of supervised practice, with internalizing behavior yielding the largest effect. Findings suggest that providing opportunities for supervised practice has the potential to significantly improve the effectiveness of a range of skills-based interventions. Implications for supervised practice are discussed, including as an adjunct to cognitive behavioral interventions and a valuable role for volunteers and other paraprofessionals in their delivery of research supported care.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

In recent years, there have been growing calls for preventive interventions to shift from nonspecific “usual care” models to models that incorporate research-supported skills training. Within this context, supervised practice has gained attention in the literature as a promising strategy to help facilitate the acquisition of critical skills intended to remediate a range of youth challenges and needs. Supervised practice combines the practice of learning new skills with encouraging and corrective feedback, so that participants can learn to enact new skills in relevant situations and remain motivated to master and apply these skills (Conley et al., 2015). Nonetheless, relatively limited research exists on the role of supervised practice and findings regarding the strength of its effect have been mixed. In addition, previous studies and meta-analyses have examined supervised practice in a manner that has been siloed by youth intervention type, rather than as a universal technique across interventions. As a result, the current study aimed to fill the gaps in the literature related to the effectiveness of supervised practice across a range of universal and indicated preventive interventions among primary, secondary, and post-secondary students to obtain an broad assessment of this intervention strategy.

Results from a second-order meta-analysis of five meta-analytic studies on supervised practice revealed a significant modest effect (SMD = 0.22) for supervised practice compared to interventions without supervised practice. It is possible that a lack of precision and consistency in the definition of supervised practice across settings and populations contributed to the modest effects. Improved operationalization of this feature in psychosocial youth interventions may give rise to new findings that further support or refute its utility as an intervention adjunct. Nonetheless, this modest yet significant positive overall effect is consistent with other studies of supervised practice (Conley et al., 2015, 2017; Durlak et al., 2010, 2011; January et al., 2011), as well as other youth psychosocial interventions in related fields of individual therapy, youth mentoring (e.g., Raposa et al., 2019), and youth after-school programs (e.g., Christensen et al., 2023). Additional research is needed to explore strategies that may bolster the effects of supervised practice, including those that provide opportunities for coaching and practice in the context of technology-delivered interventions (Werntz et al., 2023).

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