therapy and research

this is part 1 of my musings on the connection between therapy and research.

at its most basic, research is the act of

  • systematically investigating a thing or process,
  • systematically and carefully recording that process,
  • and drawing conclusions.

the system or method, the investigation itself, the recording and the drawing of conclusions are always tied into some earlier research.

interestingly enough, it almost always ends up being research of a process. even when scientists ask “what does this virus look like?” this question is just in preparation of “where does this virus live? what does it do? who are its enemies and what happens when it encounters them?” (i know nothing of higher mathematics but even there i presume that most of the research is about process, about how numbers and functions relate to each other.)

and thus we have the first similarity between research and therapy. of course the question of “who am i?” is very important in therapy – but even then it is about who you are in relationship to others, how you express your being on a daily basis, and, if you’re religious, who you are in relation to the source of your spirituality.

by the way, when i talk about therapy here, i talk about “talk therapy” in its widest sense – therapy that is based on some sort of verbal exchange between client and therapist.

secondly, as in research, the beginning of therapy is almost always a problem or a question: “i have so many resentments against my father” or “will i ever recover from anorexia?” thus, therapy, like research, is an investigation, an enquiry.

in fact, the majority of the more frequently occurring problems we find in therapy have also been looked at in psychological research. in the arena of psychology and social work, research and practice inform each other – the third connection between the two.

what about systematic recording? who records what in therapy? for one, the therapist almost always takes session notes. i am probably one of the few who don’t, unless it’s explicitly part of the process. (i’ll write about my reasons for that in a future post.) sometimes, client or therapist make a video or audio record. also, many clients journal about their experience in therapy. none of these recordings tend to be thoroughly systematic.

in addition, the most important “record” is in the the client’s memory. if clients didn’t remember what happened during talk therapy, much of it (though not all of it) would be pointless. while this might be the most important record of all, it would not be accepted in research.

and of course, in both processes, conclusions are drawn. is it better to use this medication or that for the treatment of back pain? should i stay in the marriage or leave it? in both situations, the investigator, client or therapist starts with such a question in the hopes of finding a definitive answer. at first glance, it appears that research can come up with a much clearer answer than therapy. but that’s not necessarily the case.

(stay tuned for the second instalment on this tomorrow).

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