Tag Archives: research

What gets in the way? Examining the breakdown between research and practice in counseling

By Samantha McMorrow March 22, 2017

It is frequently noted that counselor practitioners in the field do not contribute nearly enough to research and publications, despite calls for them to do so. It is believed that research should inform counseling practice and practice should inform counseling research, yet there appears to be a breakdown between the two.

The counseling literature has presented several common hypotheses regarding why counselors in practice typically choose not to participate in research and publication efforts. These reasons include a lack of time, a lack of reinforcement, a lack of interest and a lack of experience in research.

Lack of time certainly seems like a valid hypothesis. It is undoubtedly a factor with considerable influence, especially for those counselors who are working in agencies where they must secure a large number of billable hours each week. Still, it is not necessarily the prohibitive factor.

Arguments can definitely be made that there is also a lack of reinforcement or a lack of interest for counselor practitioners to conduct research or to publish. For instance, employers at agencies and schools do not have their systems set up to reinforce this work in the way that universities do. However, this in itself is not inhibitive either.

Inexperience in the area of conducting research also seems like a reasonable factor that could impede practitioners’ contributions to research and publications. However, as a practitioner myself, I contend that a looming factor exists that has not been brought to the forefront. Namely, it is just not very easy to be out in the field and have access to channels to conduct publishable research. There are systems in place that are meant to protect our subjects (and rightfully so), but these systems do not lend themselves well to counselors in the field conducting research.

Furthermore, the path for practitioners to follow to get started in research is not always clear. A counselor in the field has access to clients but not necessarily access to university faculty, and without that, the counselor is stopped before he or she even gets started. The counselor could certainly conduct action research in efforts to inform his or her own practice. However, peer-reviewed, scholarly publications will not accept traditional research for publication without Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, which comes from universities. Furthermore, universities will not grant IRB approval to research proposals without having a principal investigator (PI), and this PI must be a full-time faculty member of the university.

This is the first and most difficult hurdle to get over in practitioners conducting research. The counselor must find a full-time faculty member at a university that is willing to be the PI on the counselor’s research, which is no small commitment. Then the counselor must hope that the faculty member remains at that particular university throughout the course of the counselor conducting and writing up the research. Otherwise the counselor goes back to the beginning again to locate a new PI and submit an amendment to the IRB board to get approval for this change. The whole process can be confusing and intimidating for counselors in the field to navigate.

Subsequently, the process of getting IRB approval once the counselor practitioner has formed a partnership with a PI is detailed and somewhat lengthy, but not overly complex. Both researchers in this partnership will need to complete certain trainings to ensure that they understand issues surrounding protecting their subjects. They will also complete documents displaying the informed consent process that will be used in their research and submit the detailed and complete plan for the research, which may require cultivating further relationships with other departments if advanced statistical analysis is part of the research plan. This relationship can be the lifeline that keeps practitioners involved in the research effort once the analysis of the data becomes advanced and possibly intimidating for the average counselor in practice.

Furthermore, the university should have comprehensive instructions for how the counselor will submit the research proposal for IRB approval. This will be done once the counselor has a PI and a complete plan for how the research will be conducted. In addition, if counselors plan to conduct their research at their agencies or in their school districts, they will need to secure additional approvals from those specific sites.

This is the less understood and more complicated side of research for many practitioners, but it can be sorted through. Cultivating relationships with faculty members in counseling and other needed departments at universities can ease this process.

In a 2005 article, “Collaborative Action Research and School Counselors,” Lonnie Rowell looked at these collaborative relationships, noting that research-oriented facilities were being developed to bridge this gap between university faculty and practicing counselors. In addition, they serve as a model to link counselors-in-training with counselor practitioners for action-based research.

But despite attempts to build stronger connections between researchers and clinicians, another important factor often impedes counselors from engaging in research. A 2010 study by Darcy Haag Granello published in the Journal of Counseling & Development looked at cognitive complexity among practicing counselors over the course of their careers. The study found that counselors do grow and develop over their careers, especially with 10 or more years of experience. However, seasoned counselors may “forget” that they did not always know a particular technique or approach or did not possess their current conceptual understanding of issues or relationships when starting out in practice. This lack of reflection on their own growth could lead them to erroneously believe that they have nothing to research or write about that other counselors do not already know.

Taking some of our own advice as counselors in this situation could prove to be the solution. If counselors are mindful about their practices and really reflect on what they are doing, how they are doing it and why they are doing it, plenty of ideas will follow. Alyson Pompeo and Dana Heller Levitt proposed in their 2014 article, “A Path of Counselor Self-Awareness,” that practicing counselors have an ethical responsibility to self-reflect on their practices. Being a curious observer of your own work as a counselor can lead not only to professional growth but also inspiration regarding needed research and possible publications.

The literature has identified several factors to explain the existing disconnect between counselor practitioners and research efforts. If we are to truly use research to guide practice and use practice to inform research, then a bridge needs to be built that will bring counselor practitioners into the world of research. If we acknowledge the need for developing connections between university faculty and counselor practitioners, plus the need for increased self-reflection in the field, perhaps the gap that must be bridged will end up being not quite so large.

 

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Samantha McMorrow is a practicing school counselor with K-12 endorsement and a licensed professional counselor. She is also a national certified counselor and is certified as a chemical dependency counselor in Alaska. McMorrow currently serves as an adjunct instructor for the University of Alaska Fairbanks in its Counseling Department. Contact her at sgmcmorrow@alaska.edu.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Research in counseling

By Cirecie West-Olatunji November 25, 2013

CericieAs we move the discipline of counseling into a season of stability, increased professionalism and sustainability, we must place greater emphasis on research in counseling.

There are four primary reasons for this impetus. First, by prioritizing counseling research, we move forward as a discipline to our next developmental step — from the conceptual to the empirical. Second, there is a need for more empirical articles that reflect our pedagogical perspective. Third, as many counseling students have lamented, our discipline still lacks a sufficient number of research studies to provide a foundation for research projects. Finally, counseling research gives voice to our lived experiences as counselors and serves as a buffer against marginalization within the mental health research community.

During the past four decades, counselor educators have articulated the need for humanism and multicultural competence, among other ideals. Appropriately, many of the articles published in ACA journals have been conceptual in nature to explicate new constructs, approaches and paradigms. For example, most beginning counselors today have a clear understanding and appreciation for the complex issues presented when working with diverse clients. Moreover, the majority of our training programs have emphasized the relationship between counselor bias and clinical efficacy. Yet, it is time for us to provide evidence not only that the difference exists, but where and how it exists within the therapeutic relationship. More important, we need to know what interventions have been proved to effectively resolve or diminish obstacles to well-being. We should substantially increase the number of research articles in counseling journals to further our development as a profession and to ensure our place within mental health research.

In addition to increasing the number of empirical articles in counseling journals, we can become more intentional about founding our studies in the basic tenets of our profession. Research that reflects humanistic values such as empowerment, resilience, prevention and holism are sorely needed. Far too often, clinical research is deficit-oriented, marginalizing, hegemonic and limited by an emphasis on the intrapsychic experience. We need to serve as advocates for our clients by fostering more mindful research that reflects our unique disciplinary perspective.

In addition to being more intentional about how we frame our research, we need to increase the volume of research in counseling. I, for one, am tired of receiving papers from students (regardless of the given clinical area or topic) that cite every discipline except counseling. When I ask students why they failed to sufficiently cite counseling journals, they often reply there were few if any counseling citations for the chosen (or assigned) topic. Leaders in the counseling profession need to develop initiatives that encourage researchers to conduct and disseminate more research that informs those within and outside of our community about the value and utility of counseling.

Lastly, counselors must believe that by increasing research in counseling, we self-advocate and take social action against marginalization. Although there are those outside of our discipline who believe that counselors are not capable of girding the profession with sufficient analytical prowess and rigor, I disagree. With sufficient, sustained and concerted effort, we can collectively sponsor a campaign to improve and enhance the quality and quantity of counseling research.

As an organization, ACA is committed to this goal, as evidenced by the establishment of the Center for Counseling Practice, Policy and Research, under the direction of Will Stroble. The purpose of the center is to advance ACA’s strategic initiative focused on increasing counseling research and making it more accessible to practitioners. As Will continues to unfold the center’s projects, he will be soliciting input, assistance and support from the ACA membership. Please take time to reflect on how you can contribute to the campaign to increase research in counseling, dialogue with others about the possibilities and then take one concrete step. It matters.