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Revolutionizing Training Methods in Human Services and Beyond
Revolutionizing Training Methods in Human Services and Beyond


In keeping with their mission to promote the use and increase the impact of University innovations, the office of Innovation & Intellectual Property (IIP) would like to introduce an exciting new technology: the Video Coding Program (VCP). The VCP was conceived and developed in partnership with the Regional Research Institute for Human Services at PSU (RRI), a research group under the direction of Dr. Laurie Powers. This innovative, new program provides a platform for uploading, reviewing, and coding digital video for research, training, and clinical supervision uses in human service fields from any location.

According to Dr. Janet Walker, Director of the Research and Training Center on Pathways to Positive Futures at the RRI, there’s a revolution happening in human service fields. Traditional human services tend to operate from a “deficit-based” perspective, which focuses on what is wrong and negative in service users’ lives. With this perspective, service providers are seen as experts who diagnose and fix what is wrong. Thus, it is the providers who are responsible for defining and addressing problems. This traditional approach often leads to low levels of commitment and participation in treatment, as well as demoralization for consumers. As an alternative, increasing numbers of service users, providers, and researchers have begun using and showing the benefits of positive, holistic, and empowering approaches, wherein service users are considered the experts regarding their own needs, and are encouraged to take charge of their treatment and change their lives for the better.

Reflecting this trend in the broader human services, there is increasing consensus among experts that this sort of positive developmental approach is most likely to be effective for youth and young adults with serious mental health conditions and related needs, who are the segment of the population that is least likely to participate in traditional mental health services. But how long will it take for these new approaches to reach mental health and other service providers who work with youths?

While the question is difficult to answer, Powers and Walker have developed a new technology that could help spur the change: the Video Coding Program (VCP).

“We started this project hoping to help youth learn how to be active participants in their mental health treatment,” Dr. Powers said, “hoping to help them take charge of their treatment plans.”

“To encourage and then bolster their confidence in themselves,” Dr. Walker added.

“In order to do that, we needed new technology. We needed the Video Coding Program.”

Using the VCP, human service professionals, researchers, and trainers can record interactions, securely transmit the video to a server, and then examine the video with an eye toward a customizable set of assigned code parameters. The VCP also has a search function that enables users to identify specific video segments and easily retrieve them for later examination.

“I think the main innovation here is that we now can create a record of interactions between human service care providers and the people they’re helping and then use that record to study, hone, and develop the care provider’s capacities,” Dr. Walker said. 

Drs. Walker and Powers are currently developing the framework for how they plan to promote new approaches to providing care in human services using the VCP. Working with an IIP Development Fund grant, the VCP will soon be available in Drupal and JavaScript, which will make the program less expensive and easier to use. Will Garrick and Markus Weltin from the office of Information Technology are working with Powers and Walker to add video-streaming capabilities that will allow viewers or coders to access videos without having to download them. Along with these program upgrades, Walker and Powers envision a VCP licensing structure wherein various levels of technical support and training would be offered in conjunction with a VCP subscription.

“Using VCP, a counselor in a rural mental health program could videotape and upload treatment sessions, and then receive training from a local or national expert who views the tapes. Likewise, researchers could collect and code videotape examples of services to identify the essential ingredients in effective approaches,” Dr. Powers noted. “The mental health and other human services fields are changing very quickly. By using the tools provided by the Video Coding Program, we have the capacity to create the potential for any mental health organization that wants to encourage the growth of their staffs’ skills to do so.”

“The way training is done today doesn’t offer a sustainable approach to developing staff skills and that needs to change,” Dr. Walker added. “There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way we train care providers that matches the shift we’ve seen in human services. We need to create a research, training, coaching feedback loop, and this is the tool to do it.”

Authored by Shaun McGillis
Posted June 20, 2012