Assessing Therapist Competence: Development of a Performance-Based Measure and Its Comparison With a Web-Based Measure

Zafra Cooper, Helen Doll, Suzanne Bailey-Straebler, Kristin Bohn, Dian de Vries, Rebecca Murphy, Marianne E O'Connor, Christopher G Fairburn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Recent research interest in how best to train therapists to deliver psychological treatments has highlighted the need for rigorous, but scalable, means of measuring therapist competence. There are at least two components involved in assessing therapist competence: the assessment of their knowledge of the treatment concerned, including how and when to use its strategies and procedures, and an evaluation of their ability to apply such knowledge skillfully in practice. While the assessment of therapists' knowledge has the potential to be completed efficiently on the Web, the assessment of skill has generally involved a labor-intensive process carried out by clinicians, and as such, may not be suitable for assessing training outcome in certain circumstances.

OBJECTIVES: The aims of this study were to develop and evaluate a role-play-based measure of skill suitable for assessing training outcome and to compare its performance with a highly scalable Web-based measure of applied knowledge.

METHODS: Using enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-E) for eating disorders as an exemplar, clinical scenarios for role-play assessment were developed and piloted together with a rating scheme for assessing trainee therapists' performance. These scenarios were evaluated by examining the performance of 93 therapists from different professional backgrounds and at different levels of training in implementing CBT-E. These therapists also completed a previously developed Web-based measure of applied knowledge, and the ability of the Web-based measure to efficiently predict competence on the role-play measure was investigated.

RESULTS: The role-play measure assessed performance at implementing a range of CBT-E procedures. The majority of the therapists rated their performance as moderately or closely resembling their usual clinical performance. Trained raters were able to achieve good-to-excellent reliability for averaged competence, with intraclass correlation coefficients ranging from .653 to 909. The measure was also sensitive to change, with scores being significantly higher after training than before as might be expected (mean difference 0.758, P<.001) even when taking account of repeated data (mean difference 0.667, P<.001). The major shortcoming of the role-play measure was that it required considerable time and resources. This shortcoming is inherent in the method. Given this, of most interest for assessing training outcome, scores on the Web-based measure efficiently predicted therapist competence, as judged by the role-play measure (with the Web-based measure having a positive predictive value of 77% and specificity of 78%).

CONCLUSIONS: The results of this study suggest that while it was feasible and acceptable to assess performance using the newly developed role-play measure, the highly scalable Web-based measure could be used in certain circumstances as a substitute for the more labor-intensive, and hence, more costly role-play method.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere51
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • therapist competence
  • Web-based knowledge assessment
  • skill assessment
  • therapist training outcome
  • scalable assessment
  • eatingdisorders
  • cognitive-behavioral treatment


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