Computer-aided vs. tutor-delivered teaching of exposure therapy for phobia/panic: randomized controlled trial with pre-registration nursing students

L Gega, I J Norman, I M Marks
International Journal of Nursing Studies 2007, 44 (3): 397-405

BACKGROUND: Exposure therapy is effective for phobic anxiety disorders (specific phobias, agoraphobia, social phobia) and panic disorder. Despite their high prevalence in the community, sufferers often get no treatment or if they do, it is usually after a long delay. This is largely due to the scarcity of healthcare professionals trained in exposure therapy, which is due, in part, to the high cost of training. Traditional teaching methods employed are labour intensive, being based mainly on role-play in small groups with feedback and coaching from experienced trainers. In an attempt to increase knowledge and skills in exposure therapy, there is now some interest in providing relevant teaching as part of pre-registration nurse education. Computers have been developed to teach terminology and simulate clinical scenarios for health professionals, and offer a potentially cost effective alternative to traditional teaching methods.

OBJECTIVE: To test whether student nurses would learn about exposure therapy for phobia/panic as well by computer-aided self-instruction as by face-to-face teaching, and to compare the individual and combined effects of two educational methods, traditional face-to-face teaching comprising a presentation with discussion and questions/answers by a specialist cognitive behaviour nurse therapist, and a computer-aided self-instructional programme based on a self-help programme for patients with phobia/panic called FearFighter, on students' knowledge, skills and satisfaction.

DESIGN: Randomised controlled trial, with a crossover, completed in 2 consecutive days over a period of 4h per day.

PARTICIPANTS: Ninety-two mental health pre-registration nursing students, of mixed gender, age and ethnic origin, with no previous training in cognitive behaviour therapy studying at one UK university.

RESULTS: The two teaching methods led to similar improvements in knowledge and skills, and to similar satisfaction, when used alone. Using them in tandem conferred no added benefit. Computer-aided self-instruction was more efficient as it saved teacher preparation and delivery time, and needed no specialist tutor.

CONCLUSION: Computer-aided self-instruction saved almost all preparation time and delivery effort for the expert teacher. When added to past results in medical students, the present results in nurses justify the use of computer-aided self-instruction for learning about exposure therapy and phobia/panic and of research into its value for other areas of health education.

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