Bridging the Research-Practice Gap in Psychotherapy Training: Qualitative Analysis of Master's Students' Experiences in a Student-Led Research and Practice Team

Article excerpt

Despite the importance of research in clinical work, a gap between research and practice occurs in psychology, counseling, and marriage and family therapy (MFT) training programs. Many therapists, particularly at the master's level, display ambivalent attitudes toward incorporating research into their practices and do not produce research (Brems, Johnson, & Gallucci, 1996). Johnson, Sandberg, and Miller (1999) found that although approximately 60% of a sample of MFT practitioners indicated a willingness to participate in a hypothetical research study, only about 40% indicated they empirically studied the outcomes of their clinical work, with most indicating the use of an exit satisfaction survey. Although Gelso (2006) proposed that graduate training is the most appropriate time to shape and develop counseling students' attitudes towards research, concern has been raised about the lack of research incorporation in all training models, including MFT and clinical psychology.

Due to the shared research-practice training gap problem across program types, integrating the current research from different fields is warranted. This article examines the literature on barriers and solutions to the problem of integrated research-practice training in the fields of MFT and counseling and clinical psychology, and presents a qualitative study exploring the proposed solution of a master's student-led research and practice team.

Students may not understand the value of research due to the lack of role models in the professional community. For example, consistent with previous studies, the modal number for lifetime publications was zero in a sample of 654 clinical psychologists (Norcross, Karpiak, & Santoro, 2005). Likewise challenging for the field of MFT, much of the research in this field is not done by MFTs but by others outside of the discipline (Crane, Wampler, Sprenkle, Sandberg, & Hovestadt, 2002). Betz (1997) suggested that mentoring by counseling psychologists is particularly effective when faculty advisors are actively involved in research projects because they serve as both role model and mentor. With heavy teaching and advising loads, faculty in master's programs may also have difficulty serving as research role models (Barraclough, 2006). Although counselor educators report that they believe research-specific mentoring is crucial to training counselors (Okech, Amstramovich, Johnson, Hoskins, & Rubel, 2006), "great divergence" has been found in the preparation of counselor educators in research and writing for publication (Kline & Farrell, 2005, p. 174).

Some MFT educators describe the research curriculum as lacking (Crane et al., 2002). The common standard for research exposure during master's training in counseling and marriage and family therapy is one or two research methods courses. Additionally, COAMFTE (2005) and CACREP (2009) do not state that programs must require a master's thesis. Out of 44 accredited master's MFT programs, theses are not required in 24, optional in 11, and required in 9 (Crane et al., 2002). Along with such quantity concerns, the quality of existing counselor educator research courses has been called into question (Kline & Farrell, 2005). A deficiency of relevant research activities and opportunities may leave students with inadequate preparation for integrating research with practice and for publishing.

Crane et al. (2002) argued that the current culture of MFT does not support the scientist-practitioner model of training. One aspect of culture is gender: the average MFT is a female with a master's degree and the average person publishing in the MFT field is a male with a doctoral degree (Crane et al.). Also, Crane et al. (2002), Gelso (2006) and Barraclough (2006) described that many MFT and counseling psychology students do not come into their master's and doctoral studies with a strong or specific interest in research. This finding may be due, in part, to admissions procedures. …