Academic journal article Counselor Education and Supervision

Solutions for Overconfidence: Evaluation of an Instructional Module for Counselor Trainees

Academic journal article Counselor Education and Supervision

Solutions for Overconfidence: Evaluation of an Instructional Module for Counselor Trainees

Article excerpt

Overconfidence in clinical judgment is a common problem among counselors that undermines the validity of the counselors' assessments and, by implication, the quality of client services. The authors evaluated an instructional module designed to reduce overconfidence among counselor

trainees who completed an assessment task that exposed them to some of the complexities and pitfalls of clinical judgment. Although all counselor trainees were generally overconfident at both pretest and posttest, the module led to reductions in overconfidence only for the trainees who were exposed to it. It is suggested that counseling programs need to teach trainees to reflect critically on their inferential processes to improve the quality of their assessments.

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Judgments based on incomplete and ambiguous information, such as those generated in counseling situations, are often expressed with unwarranted confidence. For decades, researchers have observed instances of overconfidence across a broad range of tasks wherein participants are asked to assess the likelihood that their judgments about others or themselves are correct (e.g., Brodt & Ross, 1998). Mental health professionals have similarly been shown to be overconfident; that confidence does not seem to be correlated with accuracy on clinical judgment tasks (Rabinowitz & Garelik-Wyler, 1999). Judgment overconfidence is hazardous because it can reduce the quality of mental health services that counselors provide. For example, when clinicians are certain of their judgments, they tend to make hasty assessments that lead to rigid and exclusionary intervention plans; they may also fail to take adequate steps to attenuate negative consequences of errors (Dunning, Griffin, Milojkovic, & Ross, 1990).

Clinical decision making is a highly probabilistic task, especially in comparison to the more deterministic systems found among the "hard" sciences, and counselors are more often than not required to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty (Dumont, 1991). Numerous factors contribute to this uncertainty, and a discussion of some of these follows. First, counselors are always working with incomplete information about their clients. There are many constraints on assessment processes that have a direct impact on how counselors perceive their clients, and it is clear that counselors can never know everything about clients that might be helpful diagnostically. Even if counselors had access to larger, more complete data sets, these would be of limited use, because people are acutely limited in the amount of information they can process and work with at one time (e.g., see Baddeley, 1997). Second, constructivists have made it clear that people do not passively receive information from the world around them. Rather, they are actively involved in creating their knowledge, using idiosyncratic "feed-forward" mechanisms that have the effect of constraining, even anticipating, future learning (Mahoney, 1991, pp. 100-104). Consequently, counselors commonly go beyond the information provided by clients, using many tacit, often idiosyncratic, schemas to formulate "coherent" case conceptualizations. Third, there are varied conceptual frameworks for understanding and describing clients and their problems (in addition to the innumerable preprofessional schemas that influence counselors' judgments), approximately 200 at last count, and about 400 associated clinical techniques and strategies (Hubble, Duncan, & Miller, 1999, p. 3). The diversity of methods for collecting and analyzing client information derived from these frameworks can lead to different and sometimes wholly incompatible interpretations of client data. Considered together, these factors should lead counselors to be very cautious about how they conceptualize client problems. We believe that there are only tenuous grounds for certainty in clinical assessment and that counselors should remain open to revising their clinical hypotheses. …

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