Abstract: What Does It Take to Make Our Interactions Therapeutic: Can Interpersonal Skills be Measured and Learned? (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

653P What Does It Take to Make Our Interactions Therapeutic: Can Interpersonal Skills be Measured and Learned?

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Joshua Maserow, MA, Doctoral Student, The New School for Social Research, NY
Evan Henritze, MA, Doctoral Student, The New School for Social Research, NY
Hanni Flaherty, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Yeshiva University, NY
Jordan Bate, PhD, Assistant Professor & Clinical Psychologist, Yeshiva University, NY
Background: Hospital social workers are at the center of a matrix of relationships among doctors, nurses, patients, their families, and insurance companies, often in tense situations. Interpersonal skills are critical to the effectiveness of their services. While there are a wide range of trainings in “helping skills” for clinicians generally speaking, hospital social work is a field in need of ecologically valid skills assessments and trainings. Social workers need the capacity for empathy, including an awareness of difficult feelings emergent in the patient and themselves, and the ability to take an observing and open stance.

The Facilitative Interpersonal Skills task (FIS; Anderson et al., 2009; 2015) was originally developed to assess interpersonal skills relevant to psychotherapy. Participants watch short videos of simulated patients in challenging interpersonal scenarios and then are asked to respond as if they were working with the patient. Their responses are video recorded and rated for the presence and quality of eight interpersonal skills, including emotional expressiveness, warmth, acceptance and understanding, hope and positive expectations, and alliance bond capacity.

This presentation will first describe an adaptation of the FIS that uses new clips, featuring scenarios encountered in hospital social work, to enhance the study of social work interpersonal skills. Second, the presentation will report data from a study using the FIS to evaluate a new experiential training, Facilitative Interpersonal and Relational Skills Training (FIRST), which aims to improve social workers’ emotional awareness and internal regulation capacities to reduce burnout and improve patient care.

Methods: FIRST was delivered at Lenox Hill Hospital in two different formats to meet the needs of staff. To date, twenty hospital social work staff and interns have participated in FIRST and completed the FIS task and self-report measures of mindfulness, interpersonal reactivity, affect phobia, and burnout, before and after training.

Results: Preliminary results from the first cohort of FIRST with hospital social workers demonstrated significant increases in self-reported empathy (t(4) = -6.779, p= .002, d=2.994) from before to after training. Because this was a small sample, we calculated the reliable change index for the FIS for each participant, which found that 2 participants demonstrated significant improvement in their skills (RCI=6.446, p<.05; RCI=2.068, p<.05), while 1 participant remained the same, and 3 participants deteriorated (RCI=-5.108, p<.05; RCI=-3.649, p<.05; RCI=-2.797, p<.05). Coding and analyses of data from the second cohort are underway and will be reported.

Conclusions and Implications: The FIS adapted for hospital social work is a promising tool for assessing interpersonal skills in this area of the field. It is critical that we evaluate the effectiveness of trainings we provide to clinicians using ecologically valid measures that can be easily administered and reliably rated. Discussion of these findings will focus on questions about how interpersonal skills develop and whether they can be trained.