How can we train and support mentors to encourage youth to practice evidence-based mental health skills between therapy sessions?

Are you one of our mentors? Please visit our MentorWISE Guide for Mentors

The demand for child and adolescent mental health services provided by licensed clinicians continues to vastly exceed the available supply, particularly in under-resourced communities impacted by disparities in mental health treatment access and outcomes.  This trend continues to grow, necessitating substantial innovation in how mental health services are provided and scaled. One promising innovative strategies is the deployment of volunteer to enhance the reach and effectiveness of mental health services delivered in school settings.

The youth mentoring program with which we partner will dispatch volunteer mentors to the school-based programs where teams are delivering mental health care. This model has potential to increase engagement and retention of youths in mental health care, and to provide scaffolding for youths to more frequently practice emotional and behavioral strategies that they learn in the course of clinical treatment.

This project integrates two existing lines of research:

1) Dr. John Weisz at the Lab for Youth Mental Health at Harvard University has been a leader in clarifying what are the most essential elements of effective psychotherapy for children and adolescents with common mental health concerns, and in designing elegant and effective interventions that are easy for clinicians in the “real world” practice to learn and use. His FIRST model of psychotherapy has been demonstrated to be an extremely effective and scalable method to bring high-quality mental health care to underserved populations.

2) Dr. Jean Rhodes at the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring at University of Massachusetts Boston is a leader in youth mentoring research. Her work focuses on improving outcomes of the youth and mentor relationship by examining innovative mentoring programs, such as therapeutic mentoring and modes of supportive accountability.

These two teams are partnering with the WISE Center at MedStar Georgetown to examine the feasibility and acceptability of a novel youth intervention model that combines FIRST with formal youth mentoring. Youth participating in this study will receive FIRST from their school clinician and will be partnered with a big (mentor) from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area (BBBSNCA). In weekly meetings, mentors will practice the intervention skills learned during the youth’s weekly therapy session. This innovative model allows youth to not only learn skills during their weekly hour-long therapy session, but also reinforces using therapeutic skills between sessions with the goal of improving treatment outcomes. The mentoring relationship will provide a setting for supervised practice for therapy skills.