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Why Bruce Wampold Co-founded Theravue

And How Psychotherapy Training Will Change in 10 Years

by Theravue on September 25, 2020

Dr. Bruce Wampold is one of the foremost counselling and psychotherapy researchers in the world and he predicts a big shake-up in the industry’s education. This is Why.

“It’s like giving feedback to a basketball player by saying, ‘You had a pretty good game,’ but that’s it. Nothing specific. That’s not the way you learn.” Dr. Bruce Wampold is speaking over the phone from his home in Madison, Wisconsin, about ineffective teaching styles. He’s using sports coaching as a metaphor but his primary interest is the training of psychotherapists and counselors, and he says the industry is woefully inefficient. However, there’s recent research and new tools that are set to change everything in the way psychotherapists are trained over the next 10 years.

It’s safe to say Dr. Wampold knows a lot about education. He has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, a M.Ed. in education psychology and a Ph.D. in counselling psychology. He is professor emeritus in Counseling Psychology at the University of Wisconsin as well as Senior Researcher at the Modum Bad Psychiatric Center in Vikersund, Norway. In his 40 years in the field, training therapists, and conducting research on psychotherapy, he’s come to realize things need to change in terms of the way psychotherapists are educated.

The Humble Beginnings Of A Respected Researcher

It might seem odd that a Seattle-born mathematics keener would go on to be a globally-respected psychotherapy researcher, but it all started at a small school in Port Angeles, Washington. Wampold had just graduated from the mathematics program at the University of Washington and decided to teach the subject for a few years beginning at a junior high in the rural town. He says it was one of the hardest jobs of his life because the students were so disengaged. “I lasted one year,” he says. “The guy who took my place lasted one month.”

We published a study where we looked at therapist outcomes over 18 years and we found that on average, therapists get less effective as they gain experience. Bruce Wampold

From there he moved to a very different school – a private institution in Honolulu, Hawaii, called Punahou School where future US president Barack Obama was a student at the time. (“We called him Barry,” Wampold says and laughs.) Experiencing those two school environments and their impacts on the students spurred his interest in counselling – one that he would follow all the way through to his doctorate from the University of California.

Wampold’s career began during the Vietnam War era when the merits of psychotherapy were being debated. Since then the practice has been proven effective, thanks in part to his research. However, there is room for improvement. The skill of the therapist is the critical factor leading to better outcomes for clients and in the present environment, therapists appear to be stagnating. “We published a study where we looked at therapist outcomes over 18 years and it was distressing to find that on average, therapists get less effective as they gain experience,” Wampold says. In other words, it’s time for a change.

What Current Training Looks Like For Psychotherapists And Why It’s Flawed

According to Dr. Wampold, most psychotherapists get into the field because they are empathic people with good interpersonal skills and are dedicated to helping people. They then build off this with training that typically looks like the following:

  1. Trainees take academic courses and learn theories about counseling and basic psychology.
  2. Trainees then take some courses on basic therapy skills—typically receiving a lecture and practicing in small groups.
  3. Often trainees will receive training in particular types of treatment.
  4. Trainees might see a video of a session or witness a live one.
  5. Then the trainee is thrust into a situation where they see patients.
  6. The trainee will receive some supervision, some feedback, and this will continue through practicum, internship and then, after graduation and licensure, the therapist is free to practice for the rest of their career in the United States without further sort of supervision or examination of their effectiveness.

The problem with this model, he says, is it’s missing supervised practice in controlled settings that concentrates on skill development. “Most of us in this field are empathic people but empathy is really difficult in a challenging situation when maybe the client is angry, angry at you, or withdrawn and uncooperative and you experience empathic failure.” Wampold goes on to say that you may recognize you failed at that moment. It is not sufficient to reflect on that failure, but it is necessary to practice the particular skill in the context in which it occurred, so that you are prepared to respond more effectively when you encounter the situation in the future, even if the situation might not occur again for several months. As a therapist, unless you’ve practiced your skills outside the actual sessions, you’re likely to repeat your failures.

Why Bruce Wampold co-founded Theravue

Through his years of research, Dr. Wampold came to realize that therapists are the critical ingredient in the success of psychotherapy but that the way they’re trained is “haphazard and inefficient,” he says. The best way he could think of to improve both individual therapists, and psychotherapy as a whole, was to inject deliberate practice into an ongoing training regime. “Then one day Kurt Shuster contacted me out of the blue and...eventually we developed a platform that allows for the training of psychotherapists in an effective way.” Wampold finally had the tool he wanted to generate positive change.

As a therapist, unless you’ve practiced your skills outside the actual sessions, you’re likely to repeat your failures. Bruce Wampold

That platform is called Theravue and its goal is to train therapists and other professionals who use interpersonal skills in an effective way that helps them achieve their goals.

Since its inception, Theravue has been integrated by various post-secondary schools and facilities including the Pepperdine University in the U.S., the Calgary Counselling Centre in Canada, and the Modum Bad Psychiatric Center in Vikersund, Norway. At the latter, Dr. Wampold integrated Theravue into a course with practicing psychologists and he remembers, “There was this one outspoken guy who said, ‘You know what Bruce, this is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But then’, he went on, ‘It’s also the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been a practicing psychologist for years and I’ve never really examined how I work and practiced to get better. This is damn hard but it’s really great.’ That’s the kind of feedback we’ve had.”

How Training For Psychotherapists Will Evolve In The Next Decade

The reason why Theravue is so effective is because people are encouraged to deliberately practice the skills that are known to characterize effective therapists, which results in continued improvement. “In 10 years I’d like to see the idea of deliberate practice be more integrated not only into the training of future counselors and therapists in a systematic way, but also for practicing therapists who will use deliberate practice to improve,” Wampold says.

As a platform, Theravue allows you to practice your skills by responding to various video simulations, on camera, and then evaluate your own performance. You also have the opportunity to send your response to instructors or supervisors to get specific feedback on your skills. “I believe Theravue and other systematic, deliberate practices will be integrated into training programs for psychotherapists but that’s the narrow view,” says Wampold. “I would love to see this in medical education, teacher education, anywhere that an endeavour involves interpersonal interactions. Even managers in business areas can benefit from this because 90 percent of the time your interpersonal skills might be good enough but when interpersonal situations are challenging, then you need a set of interpersonal skills that are effective in that situation. This takes practice.”

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