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What is Deliberate Practice?

Updated: Jul 3

First, the bad news:

Now, the good news:

There might be a way out of this mess, and it is called Deliberate Practice!

So, how does it work?

Imagine you wanted to get better at tennis (or any other sport). Which of these two methods would work better?

1) You play point after point, without keeping score. Every couple of weeks, you meet with your coach and tell them how you think you are doing. Your coach listens carefully and gives you some suggestions of things to try in the future. You also read some books and go to some talks about how to play tennis.

2) Your coach watches you play, and video-records you playing so that you can watch yourself. Together, you identify exactly which aspects of your game can be adjusted to give the biggest improvements. You engage in exercises designed to train those specific skills. You record the scores in the matches you play, to see whether your training is working and to help identify the weak points in your game.

Yes, that’s right, it’s number 2), aka Deliberate Practice. This is how all top sportspeople train. In fact, experts in any field will be using the same principles to help themselves improve. Whereas, if you do 1), your skills will improve for a bit but then plateau.

Which is just what happens to therapists. We hope to improve by doing endless therapy sessions, forming an impression of how we’re doing, discussing that impression with a supervisor who never actually sees us do therapy, and reading books and attending seminars about therapy. It doesn’t work, as is demonstrated in the research.

So, what does Deliberate Practice look like for therapists? It looks like recording ourselves in action, tracking our outcomes, analysing our performance with the help of a coach who gives us detailed feedback on what we need to improve, and then practising those skills with carefully-designed exercises. Then we go back to our outcome data to see if our training is working.

The initial evidence is that it works; that therapists really can improve their outcomes with this method.

So, why wouldn’t you try Deliberate Practice?

To learn more, see the work of Scott Miller, who first brought Deliberate Practice into psychotherapy, and the International Deliberate Practice Society.

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