Furthering the Cause
‘anything is possible, let’s make it happen’
Michelle Briggs MSc UKCP, April 2021
A Masters Research Study: Dissemination of Psychotherapy Masters Research
One day, early on in my training when discussing potential research projects, I said “What’s the point?!”. Psychotherapy students complete challenging projects, but the results don’t seem to see the light of day.
Carl Rogers was a pioneer in progressing and promoting person-centred psychotherapy to the masses, based on his research, so it really feels like a missed opportunity if our masters-level research projects are only a hurdle for accreditation, forever locked in the dissertation cabinet.
To that end, my masters-award action research study aimed to identify ideas that may be implemented to improve the dissemination of masters-level research created by psychotherapy students. This article is based on my dissertation (Briggs, 2018), with some minor updates.
My focus was on psychotherapy research carried out by masters students, with my perspective as a person-centred student of the Sherwood Psychotherapy Training Institute (‘Sherwood’) although the ideas generated read across modalities and training organisations.
Ideas were generated through a combination of facilitated workshop, review of authoritative literature from other related professions, academics and institutions, and an email survey to graduates of Sherwood, all subsequently assimilated through thematic analysis. Research participants were drawn from multiple psychotherapy modalities and included a former NHS commissioning manager.
Unfortunately, Sherwood declined to participate so no ideas have been developed or piloted, but this report does provide a springboard for future change validation and implementation.
A summary list of ideas is available on request (Briggs, 2021 (2)), although the following summarises the key themes: Making Connections, Celebrate and Inspire, and Training Re-think.
Many of the ideas stray into the sphere of student motivation for research, as a fundamental requirement to facilitate dissemination, so are included in the analysis.
Developing networks and building relationships is vital for dissemination, to engage and inspire potential audiences, including between training organisations and external audiences.
Between Training Organisations
This project demonstrated how engagement with different modalities and similar professions enables connections and good-practice sharing. Surprisingly, I have not observed extensive strong external, local network connections or even between training organisations. There is a clear opportunity for training institutions, small independents and large institutions, to support each other and share best practice.
Networks outside the profession e.g. with local councils and other public bodies, universities, businesses, are all opportunities to expand the reach of our profession and research, particularly when it comes to celebrating success. They may provide routes for funding / sponsorship. We have to go to them, not sit and wait to be heard.
Celebrate and Inspire
This section includes inspirational speakers, research celebrations, dedicated virtual space for articles, a glossy publication, and meta-analysis projects. They are all mechanisms to celebrate and inspire projects. Leveraging appropriate networks and creative payments options where there are financial challenges can help make it happen. Research commissioning e.g. from placement providers would mirror approaches in other professions.
Well-crafted, targeted marketing plans, building on developed networks would provide focus on potential audiences. Let’s celebrate great achievements and inspire others!
Inspirational speakers, be they leaders in research, psychotherapy or related subjects, or former students sharing their work, all have the opportunity to motivate and encourage research as well as dissemination of findings.
Of all ideas discussed, participants felt most strongly about the Sherwood Research Showcase. So I appeal to leadership of training organisations to make such events free entry, open to all, inviting local council representatives, mental health charities and appropriate NHS staff.
Cranfield University hosts free ‘Project Exhibition Days’, celebrating masters projects with a wide range of stakeholders (Cranfield University, 2018), providing a model that could be adapted for psychotherapy training organisations.
Appropriate sponsorship, or loan of resources e.g. council-run public spaces, could help fund events if cost is an issue. The ‘pay what you can’ model is also an increasingly popular option.
Dedicated Virtual Space
Dedicated research space on training organisations’ and UKCP’s websites, and special research publications are also celebrations of work done and provide easy-access resource for students and other interested parties to explore completed research projects.
There is also the opportunity for a meta-analysis project to pull together the plethora of work done by students, particularly the case study element, which can then be shared and represent an amazing celebration of masters-student work.
There were ideas for additional training content e.g. media training or presentation skills, and re-shaping the training to pull forward some of the academic content to balance out against e.g. clinical demands.
Mearns (1997) explored the extent and scope of training but there is a void of research or writing since then to further the discussion for the person-centred modality. Adding further ingredients to the list should not be done without broader examination of training requirements.
In 2015, the Autumn edition of The Psychotherapist (UKCP, 2015) was dedicated to the training debate, although there was no mention of research.
The role of psychotherapy training organisations in my view is to facilitate students as they develop their psychotherapist identity, which will contain unique, individual proportions of three ingredients: practitioner, researcher and person. This can be achieved through training frameworks providing options rather than prescriptive curricula, but it is a complex topic.
In a parallel article (Briggs, 2021 (1)), I have written an opinion piece encouraging UKCP to engage with the university sector, as their strategy, resources and mindset promote a research culture.
This project provides potential to inspire a much larger opportunity for the psychotherapy community, alongside its professional bodies and training partners, to achieve some quick wins, as well as to create a long-term programme of action research projects looking at the themes tentatively presented here.
It was an exciting project, generating a wealth of ideas. It would be devastating if they suffered the same fate as masters projects before them. It has taken nearly 3 years since submission to feel I can re-open the files and I am saddened that Sherwood has made no approach to further understand the ideas in that time. However, a forward-thinking, continuous improvement environment appears to be emerging from the UKCP, so there is reason for optimism.
I therefore extend an open invitation to anyone who would like to engage in a conversation over the ideas expressed, whether simply to understand them further or with an intent to progress and develop the potential improvements.
Many of the ideas have fundamental ethical challenges but as the participants observed:
‘that could all be worked out if there’s a real will’ .
‘We can really get into the negative mind-set. But then we can so easily get into this positive mind-set of: “anything is possible let’s make it happen” ’
(Briggs, et al., 2017)
Briggs, M., 2018. Furthering the Cause. In: Process and the Relationship & Furthering the Cause. Nottingham: s.n.
Briggs, M., 2021 (1). Rethinking UKCP accreditation: A reflection on my training. West Bridgford: Counselling West Bridgford.
Briggs, M., 2021 (2). Furthering the Cause: Ideas List. West Bridgford: Counselling West Bridgford.
Briggs, M. et al., 2017. Furthering the Cause Workshop. Nottingham: private workshop.
Cranfield University, 2018. Events. [Online] Available at: https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/events
[Accessed 21st April 2018].
Mearns, D., 1997. Person-Centred Counselling Training. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
UKCP, 2015. The Psychotherapist. London: UKCP.