Empowering Peer Supporters

Scaling effective training for improved mental health

Colorful illustration of two people talking
Illustration: Eric Nyquist

Millions of people (nearly 1 in 5 American adults) are touched by mental illness. Mental illness can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life and have substantial economic consequences. Most of the people affected never receive treatment due to structural barriers such as high treatment costs and a lack of trained professionals. Peer support offers a promising remedy in today’s climate of undertreatment because of its anonymity, empowerment, and accessibility. 

Developing quality and scalable training for peer supporters is key to making peer support effective.  In this project, our goal is to enhance the quality, scalability, and efficacy of online peer-to-peer counseling.  By partnering with 7 Cups, an online peer-to-peer counseling platform that supports more than 1 million people a month, we will offer scalable training to peer supporters through machine learning algorithms. Specifically, we will conduct qualitative studies in collaboration with domain experts to understand the challenges volunteer listeners and peer supporters face when conducting online counseling. In addition to building innovative machine learning models to give feedback to new supporters, we will develop reinforcement learning approaches to help supporters quickly learn the most effective strategies.

By training peer counselors to provide mental health support to many people who lack access to traditional, in-person psychotherapy, our project could have a transformative impact on the growing mental health crisis by offering a volunteer listening program at scale. By collaborating with 7 Cups and working with real-world data, our solution could also be used to train other healthcare professionals (for example, counseling staff at university centers or nurses learning motivational interviewing for behavioral change). 

Emma Brunskill
Emma Brunskill

2023 Scholar in Service; Associate Professor, Computer Science

Glen Moriarty
Glen Moriarty

Founder and CEO , 7 Cups

Diyi Yang
Diyi Yang

Assistant Professor, Computer Science

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