As a researcher who also works clinically, I feel passionate about undertaking research that can inform therapeutic practice to support better mental health outcomes for clients. However, I'm also aware that the relationship between research and clinical practice is not one that's devoid of certain tensions. For counsellors and psychotherapists in the trenches of clinical practice, whether working in busy NHS services, schools, in private practice or any other setting, the findings of research may feel removed from their complex day-to-day work with their clients.
Indeed, as a practitioner I often wonder, "Does research really matter with how I practise with my individual clients?” Through my own experience of working in research I reply: "Mental health research has much to contribute to clinical practice, not by dictating practice or replacing clinical intuition, but by stimulating curiosity around clinical issues, opening up new ways of thinking about clinical dilemmas and generating new knowledge that challenges basic assumptions."
Process-outcome research investigating how psychotherapy works, as well as qualitative research aiming to explore clients’ perceptions and views of their therapy, has provided valuable insights about some of the treatment factors that are likely to contribute to meaningful therapeutic outcomes for clients. As part of my work at BACP, I collaborate with expert clinicians and colleagues to use these insights in the development of counselling and psychotherapy competency frameworks and practice guides, which outline the knowledge and skills required to work effectively with particular client groups. Through these resources, a wealth of knowledge gained from research is put into action by offering practitioners valuable reflective tools that can support them to assess their knowledge and skills, identify areas for further development and reflect on how they practise with their clients.
Beyond applied psychotherapy research, basic mental health research also has the potential to support practitioners by providing valuable information about factors and dynamics associated with the kinds of mental health difficulties they are likely to encounter in the consulting room. For the past seven years I've been involved in research that explores psychological and interpersonal factors that can increase the risk for the development of psychosis in adolescence and young adulthood. The aim of this work is to identify meaningful treatment targets and inform the development of early prevention and intervention psychotherapeutic approaches that can support positive mental health outcomes for young people faced with emerging psychosis. My motivation when working in research always comes from the belief that any findings generated will matter (sometimes more and sometimes less) to clinical practice.
But clinical practice also matters for research. It's through clinical practice that we identify areas for further research. The clinical issues and dilemmas encountered in the consulting room are the ones that open up the questions that good mental health research seeks to explore. I strongly believe that both mental health research and clinical practice have much to gain when they're in close dialogue with one another. Indeed, research and clinical practice do matter for each other.
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