Computerized Clinical Training Simulations with Virtual Clients Abusing Alcohol: Initial Feasibility, Acceptability, and Effectiveness

Clin Soc Work J. 2021;49(2):184-196. doi: 10.1007/s10615-020-00779-4. Epub 2020 Nov 19.


Although masters-level social work students typically build clinical skills via role-playing with their peers or instructors, several innovative training simulations are emerging in the literature that may enhance existing skill-building methodologies. We evaluated the initial feasibility, acceptability, usability, and effectiveness of three computerized simulations (two cognitive behavioral therapy, one motivational interviewing) during an interpersonal practice course among 22 students in a Master of Social Work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Trainees repetitively practiced their clinical skills with virtual clients while receiving feedback via real-time nonverbal cues, transcript review, and performance assessment across pre-specified theoretical learning objectives. Across the three simulations, at least 86.4% of students completed the required protocol and completed M = 468.95 (SD = 178.27) minutes of simulated sessions. Students improved their scores (range 0 to 100) across all the simulations from M = 63.41 (SD = 11.13) to M = 93.64 (SD = 3.24). Students found the simulations to be acceptable with strong usability. Paired sample t-tests revealed students reported greater self-efficacy in general clinical skills, exploration skills, insight skills, and action skills between pre-test and post-test after completing the simulations (all p < 0.001). Students reported that the clinical skills learned from the simulations translated into successful interactions with real-world clients during their field placements. We discuss the results of this initial feasibility study within the context of simulation-based learning and the potential for broader implementation within MSW programs.

Keywords: Clinical training; Simulations; Social work education; Virtual clients.