Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

The Marriage and Family Therapy Practice Research Network (Mft-Prn): Creating a More Perfect Union between Practice and Research

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

The Marriage and Family Therapy Practice Research Network (Mft-Prn): Creating a More Perfect Union between Practice and Research

Article excerpt

The goal of this paper is to introduce the Marriage and Family Therapy Practice Research Network (MFT-PRN) and discuss the benefits this effort can have for both clinicians and researchers. The MFT-PRN has two parts: (a) a web-based assessment portal, and (b) a community of clinicians and researchers who access the portal in a joint effort to improve client care. Clinicians benefit from an easily accessible system that allows them to track client progress thereby improving client care. Researchers benefit from the data such systems can provide to answer clinically relevant questions to enhance our knowledge about the change process in systemic therapy. The MFT-PRN has the potential to bring practitioners and researchers together in their common goal of improving client care.

There have been a number of well-designed studies that show that MFT is a good intervention for a number of mental health disorders and couple and family relationship problems. However, much of the research has been done using smaller samples with limited diversity it terms of training level of therapist, clinical settings, and client demographics. Additionally, research has generally been organized from the point of the researcher, with limited or no influence from clinicians. To truly move our field forward, we need to have clinicians and researchers collaborating-we need to know what is happening in a wider variety of clinical settings to learn what therapists are doing and using that information to inform research. One of the main purposes of the MFT-PRN is to bring practitioners and researchers together to improve client care.

Indeed, a long-standing divide exists between practitioners and researchers, as evidenced by the numerous publications addressing the researcher-practitioner gap (e.g., Crane, Wampler, Sprenkle, Sandberg, & Hovestadt, 2002; Hodgson, Johnson, Ketring, Wampler, & Lamson, 2005; Kazdin, 2008; Oka & Whiting, 2013; Pinsof, Goldsmith, & Latta, 2012; Pinsof & Wynne, 2000; Sung Chan & Yuen Tsang, 2008). Explanations for the gap include differing needs and shortcomings of each party (Karam & Sprenkle, 2009), a lack of adequate research training for clinicians (Sprenkle, 2009), research findings not being useful or applicable in actual practice (Pinsof et al., 2012), and practitioner difficulty in understanding research findings (Crane et al., 2002). Yet, despite attention to the so-called gap, there continues to be a disconnect between research/researchers and practice/practitioners.

Maybe an emphasis on the gap inadvertently perpetuates the divide between these groups. The mentality of "bridging the gap" highlights the dissonance and differences between practitioner and researcher, presenting them as opposing parties that need to learn to tolerate one another (Albee, 1970). In reality, both practitioners and researchers are equally important and beneficial to each other and need not be considered as if they live in such dissonant professional worlds. Although there are seemingly separate needs for practitioners and researchers, we believe the similarities are most important. These similarities are summarized well by Kazdin (2008), who stated, "The unifying goals of clinical research and practice are to increase our understanding of therapy and to improve patient care" (pg. 151). Thus, while historically presented as disparate groups-clinicians versus researchers-we propose that it is time for a paradigm shift. A systemic mindset enables us to view each group's roles and contributions as complementary to one another, shifting our perspective away from bridging a gap and toward a more perfect union for the benefit of clients.

Use of Continuous Assessments

As scholars have searched for a way to unify practice and research, they have offered several good ideas, including using assessments that offer therapists direct feedback (Karam & Sprenkle, 2009), focusing on research that addresses the process of therapy (Kazdin, 2008; Pinsof & Wynne, 2000), and conducting research to empirically inform clinicians' work (Johnson, Sandberg, & Miller, 1999). …

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