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Therapists as Research Practitioners (TRP)

Chair: Dr Sofie Bager-Charleson

Research team: Dr Sofie Bager-Charleson. Professor Simon du Plock, Dr Marie Adams, Dr Alistair McBeath and Dr Alan Priest

 

Aims and objectives

The research group focuses on obstacles and opportunities for psychotherapists and counselling psychologists to develop into confident research practitioners.

 

Background

A problematic dynamic between psychotherapy practice and research has been addressed historically, suggesting that therapists rarely initiate research (Prochaska & Norcross, 1983), or that therapists do read research ‘but not as often as researchers do’ (Boisvert and Faust 2005; Beutler et al., 1995; Morrow-Bradley & Elliott, 1986) and when they do that their research often stems from a seemingly unstructured integration of knowledge gained from workshops, books, and theoretical articles (Beutler, Williams, & Wakefield, 1993, Prochaska & Norcross, 1983, Morrow-Bradley & Elliott, 1986, Darlington and Scott 2002, Safran et al 2011, Henton 2012, Taubner et al. 2016).

This resonates in turn with research into training. A report produced by the Higher Education Academy (HEA, 2012) and the BACP identified for instance a ’a great need to up-skill Counselling tutors to become competent and enthusiastic researchers who can inspire a future generation of students to take up research themselves’ (HEA 2012, p.3).

 

This TRP group has developed in response to this critique. It aims for a deeper understanding of some of the obstacles to improve the teaching and learning in the field.

 

Outcome and impact so far

Our findings cover so far areas like ‘Therapists’ experiences from doing research’ (Bager-Charleson, du Plock & McBeath 2018a, 2018b), Therapists and Academic Writing (McBeath, Bager-Charleson, Finlay 2020), Practice-based research theory (Priest 2013, Goss & Stevens 2015, du Plock 2015), Research reflexivity (Bager-Charleson 2014, 2015, 2017), Reflective practice and Personal Development with Research in mind (Bager-Charleson, du Plock, Van Rijn 2020 in press).

 

The most recent research has been conducted as a four staged project:

 

Project 1: “Therapists have a lot to add to the field of research, but many don’t make it there”. A narrative thematic inquiry into counsellors’ and psychotherapists’ engagement with research (Bager-Charleson, du Plock, McBeath 2018).

The study was based on doctoral dissertations (n = 50), interviews (n = 7) and research journals (n = 20) across 19 cohorts and years from one professional doctoral programme. The study identified three stages of therapists’ embodied engagement with research including “feeling overwhelmed,” “developing coping strategies” and “feeling illuminated, personally and professionally” through research. Focusing on the stages generally referred to as “data analysis” showed a high level of stress, often coupled with shame and confusion; “I underestimated the data- analysis,” said one therapist, ‘you’re desperately trying to find themes and codes and things but, actually, this is somebody’s life.” Most therapists aimed to keep a relational focus and to draw from their embodied and emotional responses as sources of knowledge, as in clinical practice. Many, however, expressed surprise over how little value this epistemic positioning appeared to have in the general discourse about “research,” for instance in regular research textbooks and journals.

 

Project 2: ‘The Relationship Between Psychotherapy Practice and Research: A Mixed-Method Exploration of Practitioners Views’ (Bager-Charleson, McBeath, du Plock 2019).

This study reflected an expansion of previous research to include participants across training institutes, modalities and countries. The survey presented here is a mixed- method study into both novice and senior therapists’ more general experiences from research, across different training programmes within and outside the UK. Some key questions were; How do therapists describe their relationship to research; What amount of formal research training do therapists have; what extent do therapists feel that their own research is valued; How do therapists perceive research—what sort of activity is it; To what extent does research inform therapists’ clinical practice? In summary, not feeling valued as a researcher was, regretfully, a recurring theme; our survey suggested that among the research active, only 2% answered that their research as valued “to a large extent” by colleagues. This offered a background to the critique of therapists’ comparative low involvement in research, suggested in the studies referred to in our literature review. With parallels to our earlier study (Bager- Charleson et al., 2018) research active therapists chose to keep their research interests to themselves; one therapist described being actively discouraged at work from making herself “overqualified” for her role as a counsellor. Another described how, “all my colleagues are scared of research.” The findings suggested that more systematic efforts are required to understand and foster psychotherapists’ engagement in research activities. Current projects:

 

Project 3: “Therapists in the Public Domain. A mixed-methods inquiry into counsellors’ and psychotherapists’ engagement in academic writing” by Bager-Charleson, S., McBeath, A. and Finlay, L.

Therapists are both expected to read and keep updated about ongoing research in their field, and to engage with findings from their own research-supported practice – but they are seriously under-represented in academic, peer- reviewed publications. This has been a collaborative project with the European Association for Integrative Therapists exploring obstacles and/or benefits for therapists' knowledge to be communicated in academic publications. How does therapists access and keep up with recent research? What's it like for the therapist to research active; and what's the outcome - what happens to the research? How can it be communicated – and received, today and in the future? These are some of the questions explored in the study.

 

Project 4: A Mixed-method study into Research Supervision, Bager-Charleson, Adams, McBeath, and Du Plock.

This study approaches research supervisors and doctoral students and graduates (present and past supervisees) within and outside of the UK, aiming for a deeper understanding about the supervision experience on psychotherapy and counselling psychology doctoral studies . What is helpful? What is less, or not helpful? What might supervisors learn from supervisees’ experiences of supervision, and vice versa? Our survey will be distributed nationally and internationally, with potentials to compare both across programmes and countries.

Background: Within areas like education, nursing and medicine references to how ’little is known to date of the teaching lenses adopted by supervisors as they go about their supervision’ (Bruce and Stoodley 2013) is being made; Armstrong (2004) describes research supervision as ‘an aspect of teaching and learning that has been seriously overlooked’ and attribute ‘high failure rates’ for research dissertations in the social sciences partly due to student dissatisfaction with supervision and poor student-supervisor relationships. Research supervision tends often to, as Lee (2008) suggests, be conceptualised as something ’naturally built on the supervisor’s own experience’. Petersen (2007) echoes with this, arguing for a ’more explicit theorising of postgraduate supervision’. This study pursues these queries, building on our previous studies into ‘therapy and research’ in particular. The study is a Mixed-method study, aiming to develop the teaching and learning experience in the field of research.