Keck Grant Enables Mental Health Training Using AI and Actors at CSUN
Although simulation training in medical and nursing education — using a combination of computer-based artificial intelligence (AI) program and highly trained professional actors to role play “treating” a patient — is increasingly common, its use hasn’t been widely adopted in mental health education.
CSUN students who want to go into social work and marriage and family therapy are about to have that advantage, thanks to a $300,000 grant from the Keck Foundation to help create and support the Simulated Mental Health Training Project. The project will use the SIMPACT Immersive Learning program, an initiative housed within the Center for Teaching and Learning, part of CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education.
The training project creates a partnership between CSUN and 30 community-based mental health agencies in Los Angeles to develop and assess a virtual simulation curriculum for mental health clinicians. The grant from the Keck Foundation supports the one-time costs for project coordination, content expertise and additional actors to perform new scenarios.
“This grant from the Keck Foundation will provide immeasurable opportunities for unique hands-on education in mental health training at CSUN,” said CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison. “When our students leave campus, they will be even better prepared to support and work effectively with patients and the community, thanks to our SIMPACT Immersive Learning program, which was recently recognized by the Valley Economic Alliance with its Innovation in Education award.”
SIMPACT Immersive Learning is a mixed reality simulation system that uses a combination of AI and trained professional actors to provide a highly realistic virtual platform for practice in social work, counseling, teaching, conflict resolution and other interpersonal interactions. Students learn about counseling techniques in their courses, then practice those skills through SIMPACT before working with actual students or clients.
“Thanks to the Keck Foundation, we can grow the program quickly, allowing our students to start their practices sooner to help the community,” says Wendy Murawski, executive director and Eisner Endowed Chair for CSUN’s Center for Teaching and Learning. “Expanding the SIMPACT program to support therapists going into the field is a wonderful way to build on the work begun by Sally Spencer, the program’s founder.”
For the project, subject matter experts in marriage and family therapy, social work and multiculturalism will work with community partners to create 50 therapeutic AI scenarios to build students’ skills, making their first months in the field as clinicians more productive for their clients. The 50 new scenarios will be piloted and revised in CSUN courses starting in fall 2019, and then implemented at CSUN’s partner agencies.
The goals for the project also include hiring a project coordinator and two new interactors, and conducting research on the effectiveness of the new training, which will be presented at conferences and in academic journals.
“We are grateful for the Keck Foundation’s interest in funding innovative programming at CSUN that helps our students and the community,” said Robert Gunsalus, vice president for University Advancement and president of the CSUN Foundation. “Their investment in this innovative model for preparing mental health professionals will have long-term benefits for Southern California. It is also indicative of the broad scope of interest that CSUN is attracting from major philanthropists in the region.”
Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The Foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research and science and engineering. The Foundation also maintains a Southern California Grant Program that provides support for the Los Angeles community, with a special emphasis on children and youth. For more information, please visit www.wmkeck.org.