Talkspace Therapists Weigh in on Data-Driven Therapy

Published on: 11 May 2017
hand smartphone data app

The verdict is in: Therapy is becoming more data-driven. Because of advancements in psychology metrics and the gradual spread of feedback-informed treatment [FIT], an increasing number of therapists are relying on data to improve their performance and clinical outcomes. There is already evidence that using data can decrease the number of clients who leave therapy or see a deterioration in their mental health.

But with some advances in a field comes resistance, criticism, anxiety, skepticism, division, and debate. The majority of in-person therapists do not use FIT or any formal system of data in their work. Some believe data has no place in something as artful, personal, and private as therapy. Every client and therapeutic relationship is different, so therapists are often not confident in the ability of data to account for this variance.

At Talkspace we are at the forefront of data-driven and online therapy. We frequently survey clients and use the confidential feedback to work with their therapists to improve the quality of treatment. Nonetheless, we understand the perspectives of therapists who are weary of big data’s role in therapy.

To start a positive and productive dialogue about the role of data in therapy, we sent our therapists this article about data-driven therapy. We asked them to read and respond with comments and constructive criticisms regarding the use of data and FIT in therapy.

Here are some points our therapists made:

Acknowledging the Benefits of Data-Driven Therapy and FIT

Many of our therapists already use data-driven therapy in their private practices and have seen great results. Others have not used it but said they would be willing to. There was a consensus that there are benefits to using data in therapy, including increased objectivity and catching red flags that are sometimes easy to miss.

Including Factors Outside Treatment

Data can fairly and accurately measure how a client is feeling, but it doesn’t necessarily determine how well a therapist is performing. If a client is struggling in therapy or suddenly reports deterioration, it might be because of something that happened outside of therapy.

There is a risk of people looking at data and assuming all of it hinged on the therapist’s performance. This is something the psychological community needs to be mindful of.

Concerns About Using Data to Punish Therapists

Some of our therapists raised the concern of data becoming “punitive.” Here is a hypothetical scenario that illustrates what this could mean.

Imagine an addiction treatment center where clients confidentially provide feedback on how well their therapist is performing. The people who manage the center look at this data and see which therapists are not performing as well. Rather than interviewing the therapists and looking at each case in a holistic manner, the management decides to reward or reprimand therapists based on data alone. The data that was supposed to be helping therapists improve treatment has now become a tool for terminating them.

Data as Part of a Potential Move Toward Robot Therapists

It’s highly unlikely that AI will replace human therapists. Nonetheless, we might eventually see a few competent robot therapists. Scientists have already used artificial intelligence programs to act as therapists, albeit on a very basic level. It’s possible that further integrating data into therapy could advance these programs.

Making Data Account for Cycles in Conditions

Regardless of how well a therapist is performing, some mental illnesses go through cycles where clients will report negative feelings. One example is bipolar disorder. Even when clients with bipolar disorder make progress in therapy, they go through depressive phases. During these phases, they could report data that — without considering their condition — would make it seem like the therapist is not performing as well.

Any use of data in therapy should account for the client’s condition. This approach will allow clinicians to look at each case more holistically.

The Big Takeaway: Data Is Great, But We Need to Use it Carefully

Data is a powerful tool for improving outcomes in therapy. Our therapists unanimously agreed there can be benefits to data-driven therapy.

Clinicians should not, however, become overly or solely reliant on it. If they only look at data and make purely data-driven decisions, they will neglect other relevant factors, including events outside treatment. Therapists and the people who manage their data need to take a holistic approach. By doing this, they can improve therapy while preserving the parts of it that work.

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Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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