Research Methods in Family Therapy

By Douglas H. Sprenkle; Fred P. Piercy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
Clinical Trials in Marriage
and Family Therapy Research

KEVIN P. LYNESS
STEPHANIE R. WALSH
DOUGLAS H. SPRENKLE

A properly planned and executed clinical trial is a powerful experimental technique
for assessing the effectiveness of an intervention.

—FRIEDMAN, FURBERG, AND DEMETS (1998, p. 2)


BACKGROUND

Introduction

Clinical trials are fast becoming the gold standard for clinical effectiveness research. As the field of marriage and family therapy (MFT) moves toward recognizing empirically supported treatments as the standard for treatment, clinical trials have become the sine qua non of empirical study (see Sprenkle, 2002). In order to show efficacy and effectiveness of a particular treatment, clinical trial methodology seems to be required. Researchers interested in establishing empirical support for their treatment model will need to meet the strict criteria for clinical trials discussed in this chapter. Of course, randomized clinical trials (RCTs) are based on the experimental design methodology (see Lyness & Sprenkle, 1996, for a detailed description of experimental design methods), and those research skills will serve the clinical trial researcher well.

Generally, in clinical trials, the researcher applies an intervention and observes the effect on an outcome (Cummings, Grady, & Hulley, 2001). Clinical trials can take many forms, including those without any comparison group (Meinert, 1986). More commonly, though, the methodological goal of a clinical trial is to compare an intervention group and a control group to determine differences in outcome; in the general form, clinical trials lack the rigorous controls needed to determine causality. RCTs are the most restrictive form of clinical trials, in that they involve the highest level of con-

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