Mindfulness in Clinical Training: A Mixed Methods Study of Mindfulness Training with MSW Students
Method: In keeping with recent presentations at SSWR, we used a mixed methods design to begin to explore the potential effects of this novel training strategy. Students in two of seven sections of a first year interviewing skills class [n =39] received 15 minutes of mindfulness training per class, while the remaining five classes served as a cohort control group [n = 97]. Students completed pre, post, and follow-up surveys that used standardized scales to measure change in variables related to counseling skills acquisition, as well as responding to open-ended questions designed to explore their experience of the training. Data analysis included descriptive statistics, between group t-tests, regression analyses and thematic analysis.
Results: The mindfulness training group showed greater increases in helping skills, session management, and overall counseling self-efficacy at posttest and again after students had transitioned to working with clients in the field at 3-month follow-up. The results were statistically significant and represented a medium-sized effect overall (.58). Students who had experience in mindfulness practice at program entry had larger gains in counseling self-efficacy at follow-up. Qualitative findings matched and extended the quantitative findings with all 36 students who responded to the open-ended questions describing at least one benefit they received from the training. Students reported that the training helped them to manage anxiety and distractions, develop emotional self-awareness and contain negative reactions, and remain flexible and responsive to their clients in the field.
Implications: The results of this study indicate that mindfulness training may have some promise as a strategy for enhancing clinical social work education. The training appeared to facilitate the development of counseling self-efficacy in particular, which is a key early indicator of clinical skills acquisition. In addition, the effect appeared to be dose-dependent, as students with prior exposure made more significant gains.Qualitative findings provided new directions in identifying potential benefits of the training that can be measured in subsequent studies.