Psychotherapy students are often taught theory developed back in the 50s and 60s with no reference to recent findings, and as therapists we can a get stuck in fixed theoretical positions that do not evolve and that are stagnating. Research, both quantitative and qualitative, can be a means of supporting us in getting unstuck, the problem is there is little funding available for mental health research.
Miranda Wolpert, professor of evidence-based practice and research at University College London says ”therapy research is too much focused on competing modalities and what goes on in the counselling room, instead of looking at external factors in clients’ lives and the resources that contribute towards client behaviour change, then therapy can build in the counselling relationship”. We also need to explore clients ability to manage their mental health issues when not in therapy, what works for them in and out of therapy and how to tailor those findings to specific needs of others .In Person-Centered therapy listening to the client tracking what is going on, looking at what is being communicated is research in itself. Counselling is exploring human distress and its meaning while supporting the clients to find their own answers..
With the need to have scientific evidence based evidence, we can lose the art form of therapy and being creative in the process, due to the pressure of winning contracts within the NHS. Evidence from numerous studies shows that across all populations and all types of presenting issues, different therapies achieve roughly the same outcome.
Mick Cooper, Professor of Counselling and Psychotherapy at Roehampton University says randomised controlled trials (RCT) give us an indication of the average effect and cost effectiveness of a particular intervention and allow comparison of when you do something and when you don’t and that is what commissioners want to generally know. We need studies showing what we do is effective so we do evolve moving forward.
Jacinta Bourke is a counsellor and psychotherapist operating in the Ealing W5 and surrounding areas. She is a member of BACP - the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.