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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Northwestern Virtual Training Program Helps Vets with PTSD, Mentally Ill Find Jobs

Finding a job is difficult for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and individuals with severe mental illness, who have high unemployment rates even though many want to work.

The job interview — especially hard for those with mental illness — can be a major hurdle.

A training program with a virtual human — based on software originally used to train FBI agents — helped vets with PTSD and individuals with severe mental illness build their job interview skills and snag significantly more job offers, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Participants in the training practiced repeatedly with the virtual character, a human resources staff member named Molly Porter. They spoke their responses to Molly’s questions using voice recognition software. A job coach in the program gave them immediate on-screen feedback as to whether their responses helped or hurt their rapport with Molly. The interviews got tougher as they progressed.

Vets with PTSD and individuals with severe mental illness who took the training were nine times more likely than non-trainees to get job offers in a six-month follow-up after training. The more training interviews participants completed, the greater the likelihood of receiving a job offer and in a shorter amount of time.

“Veterans with PTSD and people with mental illness such as bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia are prone to anxiety, which can escalate during stressful social encounters such as the job interview,” said Dr. Matthew J. Smith, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “The training was a big confidence builder for them.”

The study was published July 1 in the journal Psychiatric Services. Other Northwestern authors on the study include Dr. Michael Fleming and Dr. Neil Jordan, Director of the Health Sciences Integrated Program at the Institute for Public Health and Medicine – Center for Education in Public Health.

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