Harnessing the Science of Supportive Accountability

Mobile apps hold the promise of delivering personalized, evidence-based care to mentees. Through seamless integration with scientifically-proven, third-party apps,MentorHub enables mentors and programs to easily track and encourage mentees’ use of scientifically-proven education, health, and wellness apps.

This is important, as the enormous potential of app-delivered interventions to bridge gaps in educational and mental health services has been hampered by low engagement, improper use, and high rates of non-completion. In fact, as many as three-quarters of users don’t complete the recommended number of sessions once they start.[3]  But…when blended with coaches and mentors who are trained to provide supportive accountability (e.g., regular check-ins, monitoring, encouraging, nudging, troubleshooting), however, apps can produce results that rival face-to-face interventions.

It works: Compared to self-guided apps, those that incorporate supportive accountability to help users remain actively engaged are far more effective and are twice as effective.[4] In a recent meta-analysis of sixty-six randomized control trials of MHapp interventions, researchers found that studies that offered guidance (e.g., regular supportive text messages, phone calls, and personalized feedback) and engagement reminders yielded effects that were more than double those of studies in which no such support was provided (e.g., 0.51 versus 0.21 for anxiety; 0.48 versus 0.23 for depression). Even simple reminders dramatically increased the effects of app-based interventions (0.15 versus 0.39 for anxiety; 0.18 versus 0.32 for depression).

Mentors can help: Importantly, this coaching and support need not be delivered by highly trained professionals. Previous studies have found no difference in technology-delivered engagement or outcomes when youth were supported by clinicians versus nonprofessionals.[i] Supportive accountability need not be delivered in person and requires relatively little time on the part of the coach or mentor. Clearly, there is a role for mentors in providing such reminders and guidance.

[i] N. Titov et al., “Internet Treatment for Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing Clinician vs. Technician Assistance,” PloS One 5, no. 6 (2010): e10939.

What is supportive accountability and why do we need it?

The enormous potential of app-delivered interventions to bridge gaps in educational and mental health services has been hampered by low engagement, improper use, and high rates of non-completion. In fact, as many as three-quarters of users don’t complete the recommended number of sessions once they start.[iii]   But…when blended with coaches and mentors who are trained to provide supportive accountability (e.g., regular check-ins, monitoring, encouraging, nudging, troubleshooting), however, apps can produce results that rival face-to-face interventions. Compared to self-guided apps, those that incorporate supportive accountability to help users remain actively engaged are far more effective and are twice as effective.[iv] 

Supportive accountability make apps much more effective: In a recent meta-analysis of sixty-six randomized control trials of MHapp interventions, researchers found that studies that offered guidance (e.g., regular supportive text messages, phone calls, and personalized feedback) and engagement reminders yielded effects that were more than double those of studies in which no such support was provided (e.g., 0.51 versus 0.21 for anxiety; 0.48 versus 0.23 for depression). Even simple reminders dramatically increased the effects of app-based interventions (0.15 versus 0.39 for anxiety; 0.18 versus 0.32 for depression).

Along with encouraging engagements, mentors can provide supportive accountability through the app throughout the week and then devote some portion of the in-person meetings to supervised practice to ensure that youth are using, integrating, and personalizing the new skills and concepts. Indeed, most effective cognitive and behavioral skills-training programs require multiple sessions, as well as opportunities for youth to practice, master, apply, and integrate each new skill.[1]  Although supervising youth as they practice new skills may seem like a trivial task, it can dramatically improve the effectiveness of programs [5] Compared to instruction-only skills modules, programs that provide young people with supervised opportunities to practice and to receive feedback on the skills and behaviors they are learning yield far stronger effects than those without the practice component. In one meta-analytic review of over one hundred universal prevention programs for young adults, for example, researchers found that those that included supervised practice in targeted, skills-based programs were significantly more effective than those that did not incorporate supervised practice.[6] The authors noted that “without supervised practice, it is highly unlikely that participants will be able to master new behaviors and apply them appropriately in the future.”[7]

Mentors are well-positioned to provide supportive accountability and to supervise their mentees as they learn, practice, and master important new skills. Rather than headline the mentoring show, mentors in these models play a supporting role, helping to ensure that the youth who participate in intervention programs remain fully engaged in the programs and able to incorporate their new skills into their daily lives. In doing so, mentors can play a well-defined, catalyzing role that boosts the effectiveness of targeted, evidence-based interventions.

[1] A. M. January, R. J. Casey, and D. Paulson, “A Meta-analysis of Classroom-Wide Interventions to Build Social Skills: Do They Work?,” School Psychology Review 40, no. 2 (2011): 242–256, https://doi.org/0279-601.

[2] January, Casey, and Paulson, “A Meta-analysis of Classroom-Wide Interventions to Build Social Skills.”

[3] C. S. Conley et al., “A Meta-analysis of Indicated Mental Health Prevention Programs for At-Risk Higher Education Students,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 64, no. 2 (2017): 121–140, https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000190.

[4] C. S. Conley et al., “A Meta-analysis of Indicated Mental Health Prevention Programs for At-Risk Higher Education Students.”

[5] D. C. Gottfredson et al., “Standards of Evidence for Efficacy, Effectiveness, and Scale-Up Research in Prevention Science: Next Generation,” Prevention Science 16, no. 7 (2015): 893–926.

[6] C. Conley, J. Durlak, and A. Kirsch, “A Meta-analysis of Universal Mental Health Prevention Programs for Higher Education Students,” Prevention Science 16, no. 4 (2015): 487–507, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-015-0543-1.

[7] Conley, Durlak, and Kirsch, “A Meta-analysis of Universal Mental Health Prevention Programs for Higher Education Students,” 489.

Mentors can help: Importantly, this coaching and support need not be delivered by highly trained professionals. Previous studies have found no difference in technology-delivered engagement or outcomes when youth were supported by clinicians versus nonprofessionals.[i] Supportive accountability need not be delivered in person and requires relatively little time on the part of the coach or mentor. Clearly, there is a role for mentors in providing such reminders and guidance.

[i] N. Titov et al., “Internet Treatment for Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing Clinician vs. Technician Assistance,” PloS One 5, no. 6 (2010): e10939.

Related Material