Abstract: Mental health counseling is an enterprise with profound societal importance where conversations play a primary role. In order to acquire the conversational skills needed to face a challenging range of situations, mental health counselors must rely on training and on continued experience with actual clients. However, in the absence of large scale longitudinal studies, the nature and significance of this developmental process remain unclear. For example, prior literature suggests that experience might not translate into consequential changes in counselor behavior. This has led some to even argue that counseling is a profession without expertise. In this work, we develop a computational framework to quantify the extent to which individuals change their linguistic behavior with experience and to study the nature of this evolution. We use our framework to conduct a large longitudinal study of mental health counseling conversations, tracking over 3,400 counselors across their tenure. We reveal that overall, counselors do indeed change their conversational behavior to become more diverse across interactions, developing an individual voice that distinguishes them from other counselors. Furthermore, a finer-grained investigation shows that the rate and nature of this diversification vary across functionally different conversational components.
Authors: Justine Zhang, Robert Filbin, Christine Morrison, Jaclyn Weiser, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil (Cornell University, Crisis Text Line)