The Contribution of Research to developing small, safe experiments

Some people have been in touch and questioned my seemingly sceptical attitude toward research.

This attitude of mine is part-intended and I can accept, as with most scepticism, that I may over-state my case from time to time. So, let me say more on this topic. I do so as research can tease out useful, practical ideas that can be woven into the design of small, safe experiments.  This web site does point to some of this material.

Research can contribute to the advancement of good practice in the delivery of therapeutic services. It can test out what we do in an objective fashion. In this respect, it is the small, safe experiment ofStanding Back described right at the bottom if this hyper-linked page. Even so, that objectivity that may be an Achilles Heel as it is not easy to be passionate about the research exercise!

How come? Passion and commitment are two qualities that appear to distinguish effective practitioners from the middle-of-the-road practitioner. These are not easy qualities to reconcile with ‘objective’!

My main reservation is that the research process can vary from the helpful, to the irrelevant and, indeed, even to category errors I have mentioned elsewhere. On that hyper-linked page I make mention of Newnham and Page (2010) and their reference to the “potential to bridge the scientist-practitioner gap“. there is growing doubt about the notion of ‘evidence-based treatment’ and there is now more willingness to answer the question: what is valid evidence in research into therapy and the strategies it uses.

Also, there is more call for ‘client’ participation in these processes, say, in relation to the management of suicidal responses. This is where you come in. Throughout this website I encourage the use of records as everything you write could be valid evidence. It would be helpful to see this material better represented in some of the literature. Some would say it is there as there is a body of literature built around “The Client Speaks“. That book can be found at:

John Mayer and Noel Timms, (1970)  The Client Speaks, London, Routledge, 1970

There is a whole body of research built around this theme. A typical example would be: Barry L. Duncan and Scott D. Miller (2000) The Client’s Theory of Change: Consulting the Client in the Integrative Process in The Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2000.

Despite these significant advances, Norcross (1997) suggests that the integration field invites confusion and irrelevancy unless the immense differences are defined, and the ‘‘me and not me’’ are established (p. 87). This comment overlooks the further complication of ‘us’. It assumes that – for tidy research – there needs to be a separation of me and not me.  That is a design problem for researchers as ‘us’ is not the same as ‘you and me’, it is you-with-me. A rather unique entity in its own right.

What other problems arise when trying to translate research into small, safe experiments?

Randomness: research is big on the random allocation of individuals to research trials. The random controlled trial (RCT) is a gold standard ‘test’ pursued by researchers.  It removes the unintended consequences of unconscious bias that influence the actions of all human beings.  Unconscious biases are ‘bad’ things and it is not difficult to see how that is so. It makes it more difficult for the observer to see what he or she wants to see.  The ‘blind’ trial appears to the only way to ensure that unrelated factors are spread across study groups.  Any other insights can mean that differences between groups are systematically biased. The ‘results’ are – therefore – unreliable. The ‘truth’ requires no conscious or unconscious interpretation by the researchers.

Even so,  I want you to interpret your outcomes, and to do so robustly and unashamedly. I ask you to be ‘random’ for a different reason –  so you do not get into a rut with your own small, safe experiments. I am big on random actions for their own sake. I ask you to give up on being impartial. I do not want you to be impartial about your experiments. I want you to be passionate; passionate enough to discipline yourself to see the larger picture, not be cowed by it and to know what to do with it.  Also, I ask that you cast a critical eye on that word ‘control’. We all possess a drive to control. Instead,  I ask that you see the full range of results – the small victories, the small defeats and all the inconvenient untidiness in between – and learn what you can do with a wide range of outcomes (but not all, and every).

In short, you and I are meaning-making entities. Use that inevitability to your advantage. I see no value in wanting to legislate it out of existence lest the meaning you make is contrived and unable to say more about the meaning-maker!