Benjamin Lok, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering

Emphasizing Empathy, Treatment and Support During Mental Health Awareness Month

In Carousel, Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering, News, Research Grants

A recent grant from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will allow Benjamin Lok, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering, to train healthcare students and practitioners on how to express empathy when interacting with patients who have suicidal ideation. The project is titled “Virtual Interaction Training in Emotional Self-Awareness for Working with Suicidal Patients.”

Dr. Lok is working with Igor Galynker, M.D., Ph.D., associate chairman for research in the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Beth Israel and the director of the Suicide Research and Prevention Laboratory at Mount Sinai. They and their team of researchers have created virtual patient simulations that allow users to interact with a virtual patient that is undergoing significant challenges in their life. The system provides both an opportunity to practice responding to high-stakes situations as well as automatic evaluation of empathy using machine learning techniques.

“How medical professionals respond to a patient that expresses suicidal comments has a significant impact on the patient’s actions, including attempting suicide,” Dr. Lok said. “Despite how important physician communications skills are in such situations, there are limited ways to practice and receive feedback about one’s skills.”

The researchers approach aims to revolutionize how healthcare personnel train to communicate and express empathy with patients that are contemplating suicide. At the end of the project, the team hopes to demonstrate the viability of training with virtual patients. The team plans to create a tangible training program that would scale to many institutions, and plans on pursuing future grants that focus on dissemination.

Whether you are experiencing test-related stress, anxiety related to your new surroundings, or any other concern, big or small, the university has resources to help you get through it. Services include short-term counseling, group, and couples’ therapy as well as consultation, crisis services, outreach, referrals, self-care, and more. The university is committed to ensuring that each student gets connected with the best-fitting campus or community resources to meet their existing needs.

For more information on the mental health resources available to students, visit https://www.eng.ufl.edu/wellness/.

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