Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Development of Practice Guidelines in the Social and Human Sciences

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Development of Practice Guidelines in the Social and Human Sciences

Article excerpt

Evidence-based practice (EBP) were first developed in medicine in the 1990s (e.g., Sackett, Rosenberg, Gray, Haynes, & Richardson, 1996), in large part as a result of a need for medical practitioners to have access to synthesized and evidence-based recommendations to inform their practice (Gray, Plath, & Webb, 2009; Hollon et al., 2014; Oxman, Lavis, Lewin, & Fretheim, 2009). This push for practitioners to ground their practice in scientific evidence also began decades ago in the social and human sciences and has increased in recent years (e.g., Dozois, 2013; Drapeau & Hunsley, 2014; Gambrill, 2003; Ionita & Fitzpatrick, 2014). For example, the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) recently released a statement that defines EBP as "the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of the best available research evidence to inform each stage of clinical decision-making and service delivery, [which] requires that psychologists apply their knowledge of the best available research in the context of specific client characteristics, cultural backgrounds, and treatment preferences" (Dozois et al., 2014, p. 155). Guidelines for clinical practice, which are also becoming more common in the social sciences, are one method commonly used to inform the services offered by professionals and to help them to implement a practice that is congruent with the CPA's definition.

There are good reasons for this, as the benefits of EBP guidelines in the social services are numerous. For example, practice guidelines focus on the concerns of the user and the potential benefits that can be expected or hoped for in a given context; as such, they can inform service users about what ought to be expected from an intervention and a practitioner and discourage exaggerated claims or expectations about the effects of an intervention. They also build a bridge between science and practice and inform practitioners about the conclusions of research in a useful way, which is of particular importance because many practitioners otherwise fail to consistently use the findings of research to inform their practice (e.g., Boisvert & Faust, 2006; Lilienfeld, Ritschel, Lynn, Cautin, & Latzman, 2013; Stewart & Chambless, 2007; Straus et al., 2009). Research also suggests that the use of guidelines has a positive effect on intervention outcomes in the social sciences (Burgers, Cluzeau, Hanna, Hunt, & Grol, 2003; Gordon & Cooper, 2010). According to Gambrill (2003), evidence-based guidelines can also serve to promote a culture of assessment and of the evaluation of practices and policies amongst practitioners and policymakers; help practitioners to pay attention to individual differences between service users, as well as develop a broader, population-focused perspective; and describe potential challenges and risks tied to a practice and propose means to minimise negative effects. Guidelines are hence an important means of putting knowledge into action (Graham et al., 2006), of providing a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to delivering effective, efficient and ethical services while facilitating a transparent collaboration between the practitioner and the service user.

However, because the development and use of guidelines is more recent in the social and human sciences than in medicine, these guidelines have not been researched as much as in the medical field where a plethora of studies have been conducted. Studies have examined, for example, the quality of the guidelines that are available to medical practitioners, the quality of their development and dissemination procedures, or the extent to which medical practitioners use them and adhere to them (e.g., Al-Ansary et al., 2013; Alarcon et al., 2013; Alonso-Coello et al., 2010; Fortin et al., 2011; Irani, Rashidian, Yousefi-Nooraie, & Soltani, 2011; Stamoulos et al., 2014). In the social sciences, including in psychology, there is a dearth of research into the methods that are used to develop guidelines. …

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