What is Deliberate Practice?
Deliberate Practice (DP) is arguably the most evidence-based method we know of to improve performance in an effective and reliable manner.
Its five core principles, listed in the image to the right, systematically target an experiential or procedural type of learning that defines top performers. In fact, decades of research have demonstrated that lengthy engagement in DP is associated with expert performance across a variety of professions.
What sets DP apart from other training methods is a rigorous sequence of ongoing performance assessment, tailored goal-setting, and systematic skill-building informed by expert feedback.
For a book on DP for the general public, click here.
For an academic book with research on DP, click here.
Psychotherapy Deliberate Practice
Psychotherapy expertise has traditionally been judged by length of experience and reputation of the therapist. And yet, over 50 years of outcome research have found that the therapist’s years of experience is not a good predictor of clinical outcomes. [1, 2]
This means that we need to rethink our ideas about what constitutes a psychotherapy expert. To quote Goodyear et al., I believe that ‘psychotherapy expertise should mean superior outcomes and demonstrable improvement over time’. I also believe that the most promising means to achieve this is probably through ongoing psychotherapy deliberate practice. Importantly, recent research supports that DP is an effective way to improve clinical skills and therapy outcomes. [1, 2, 3]
Tailored to your current capacity
Deliberate practice works best when training targets each trainee’s personal skill thresholds or current ability.
If a deliberate practice exercise is either too easy or too hard, the trainee is unlikely to benefit from it!
To maximize training productivity, elite performers follow a “challenging but not overwhelming” training principle. This means that DP requires ongoing assessment of the trainee’s current skill and tailoring the difficulty of exercises to consistently target a “good enough” challenge. This assessment, tailoring and feedback-giving are some of the main tasks of a deliberate practice coach.
Where does DP fit in your development as a therapist?
Let’s be clear: Deliberate Practice is not a substitute for high-quality psychotherapy training, supervision, workshops and other professional investments such as the therapist’s own therapy or a commitment to self-care.
DP is best seen as complementary to all of these. It is, in my opinion, a necessary complement.
While more traditional training and supervision methods help us to effectively learn models and theory, the principles of DP help us consolidate key learnings from declarative knowledge to a more experiential or procedural level.
This is important because a lot of counselling and psychotherapy training today helps trainees to reliably talk or write better about therapy, but not to actually perform it better. And when there is a performance component (e.g. use of roleplays), it is usually unstructured and not tailored to the trainee’s current capacity.
Integrating DP into your personal and professional development, with the help of a coach, is a hard but rewarding way to systematically improve key clinical skills.
Schedule DP consultation
Contact me for a Deliberate Practice consultation or click here for more information.