Psychotherapy Bulletin

Psychotherapy Bulletin

Doing Psychotherapy Research

Advice and Opportunities Available Through the Division of Psychotherapy

I began my three-year term as the new Science and Scholarship Domain Representative for the Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy on January 1, 2014. One of my key goals in this capacity is to support students and Early Career Psychologists (ECPs) who are interested in psychotherapy research. Students and ECPs often wonder how to build a successful research career, what it is like to do research and have a job in academia, whether it is helpful to belong to professional organizations (like the Division of Psychotherapy) and—especially if their own mentors did not have federal research funding—whether it is possible to get research money to fund psychotherapy research. I would like to lay out here some ways in which students and ECPs can build their careers as researchers and make good use of their membership in the Division of Psychotherapy to help them along the way.

Students: Exploring a Career in Research and Being Mentored

Gelso’s (2006) theory on the research training environment suggests that graduate students often begin training in professional psychology programs feeling some ambivalence about research: interested, but unsure about their own ability to do research. Getting involved in research is the best way for graduate students to clarify their interests, begin to chart their specific career direction, develop their research skills, and gain self-efficacy. Nevertheless, students often feel intimidated by the idea of beginning research in graduate school or worry that it will be a lonely enterprise. Doing research, however, can be a lot of fun and a rewarding social experience.

A wonderful way to begin getting research experience is to join one (or more) research teams. An obvious place to begin would be to find out about the research being done by the faculty in your program. Sometimes more advanced students are doing projects that would be interesting to you, and those can be wonderful opportunities. There may be other researchers doing work that is closely tied to your interests elsewhere in your department or university. For example, when I was in graduate school I had the opportunity do research with my advisor (Dr. Charlie Gelso) in counseling psychology, but also with another well-known attachment researcher (Dr. Jude Cassidy) in developmental psychology. I ended up working for several years as a research assistant in this lab outside my program. That experience taught me about the practical skills it takes to run a federally funded project—and later led to a research postdoc that allowed me to merge my interests in psychotherapy and developmental research to study the process of psychotherapy in parenting interventions.

Funding student research on psychotherapy

Students who are interested in psychotherapy research often wonder whether it is possible to obtain funding for this kind of research or whether it is possible to do psychotherapy research without any funding. The answer to both questions is yes. First of all, there are many ways to do psychotherapy research without much funding at all. If your institution has a research clinic or a research-active counseling center, you may not need any funding at all. When I designed my first psychotherapy study involving psychotherapists and clients in the community, the only money I needed was postage for mailing questionnaires to participants and providing return postage. These days the main cost for such a questionnaire-based study might the cost of online data collection (if your university does not already have a license or subscription for such services).

If you do need funding for your research, questions to ask might be whether your college or department offers any funding that would be helpful in doing your project? Does your topic area fit funding available to students through the Division of Psychotherapy or any other division of APA? For example, the Division of Psychotherapy established the Diversity Research Grant for pre-doctoral candidates to foster the promotion of diversity within Division 29 and within the profession of psychotherapy. This annual award provides for a $2,000 Diversity Research Grant to a pre-doctoral candidate (enrolled in a clinical or counseling psychology doctoral program) who is currently conducting dissertation research that promotes diversity.

There may even be federal funding available for your dissertation, particularly if you advisor has federal funding already and can serve as your pre-doctoral sponsor. For example, NIH has funding available for students. The key to obtaining such funding (besides having a great idea) is having a really good mentor with federal funding who can work closely with you. You can get more information about the Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Individual Fellowship Funding Opportunities at http://grants.nih.gov/training/f_files_nrsa.htm, including information about podcasts offered by NIH on grantwriting for new investigators, writing a fellowship application, and graduate students considering a research postdoc experience.

Another idea that can save students money and make psychotherapy research possible is to integrate other students, both graduate and undergraduate, into your research team. Asking other graduate students to join you in your project makes the work more interesting and fun, if you have good colleagues with whom to work. When I was a graduate student, I also included undergraduate students on my research team (for example, doing coding or data collection tasks), and their work helped make the projects possible.

Building a research community and finding mentoring

Some students fear that getting involved in research will lead to a lonely life of solitary work in the ivory tower. For better or for worse (if you happen to really like solitary work), in real life research tends to be a social experience that involves dealing with many different people. In my current research, I work closely with other faculty, research staff, and students—but also speak regularly with community agency staff, community leaders, and the public. Much of my own current research, which focuses on addressing mental health care disparities, is based in the community. So I meet every two months with a community advisory board to make sure that my research activities are a fit for community needs, that findings are disseminated to the community in a timely manner, and to build and maintain positive relationships with the community. My experience of research is that it is quite relational.

One of the things I loved about my graduate school experience was that my advisor had all his students meet regularly as a group to discuss our research, at whatever stage it was. We would all take turns presenting our research ideas to one another and providing feedback to one another. This experience was wonderful preparation for participating in research feedback groups later on, when I got my first academic position.

Going to conferences is an obvious place to begin to build a research community. Sometimes students wait to go to conferences until they have something to present—but it is a good idea to just start going from the beginning, even if at first you are just listening and learning. It is a great way to get oriented to your field and begin to meet people. The Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR) is a natural for students interested in psychotherapy research because it is typically such a welcoming, inviting, and student-friendly conference. Going to APA is another natural conference to attend for students interested in psychotherapy research. One benefit of APA is that there are many student-oriented events that help to build community and relationships between researchers.

Students who attend APA should be sure not to miss the Lunch with the Masters event that is held each year by the Division of Psychotherapy. This event is a great way to make connections with senior people in the field because you get to enjoy a (free) lunch sitting at a table with a senior person in the field of psychotherapy. It is a wonderful opportunity for informal conversation and mentoring. Senior people also donate books that are raffled off during the Lunch.

There are also many sessions held at APA that provide important information for students about how to navigate career-related issues—including research. For example, this year a student named Christy Denckla and I will be co-chairing a session entitled Research in Graduate School—Why and How Should I Get Involved? This session will have a number of speakers who will have information relevant to for students interested in research on psychotherapy and how to effectively get involved in research (Thursday 8/7/2014 1:00 - 2:50 pm in Convention Center Room 204C).

Students: Building Your CV Through Presenting, Writing, and Awards

For students considering including research in their future careers, a key goal (besides having fun asking questions about things that really matter to you) will ultimately be to build your CV through presenting, writing, and awards. Posters are a great way to begin presenting because they allow you to get practice talking about your research with other people who are also interested in your topic. The key to successful presentation of papers is to practice, practice, practice. You will want to make sure that you practice and get feedback from a group of people who are willing to give you constructive feedback and help you make sure you use the time allotted to you (and no more!) wisely.

Writing is an issue with which many students struggle on some level (e.g., procrastination), but a solid writing practice is absolutely essential for success in research. Not only is it important to build habits that will lead to tenure in the future, it is also important, after all, to be able to share the knowledge you build with other people by publishing your research findings. One book that I recommend to all my graduate students is Boice’s (1990) Professors as Writers. I urge my students not to be intimidated by the title referring to professors—the time to read this book and start using it is in graduate school. This book, which has an empirical basis, by the way, offers some excellent ideas and exercises to help students learn how to write regularly and well.

Awards are another way to build your CV—and at the same time can sometimes help to reimburse you for some of the expenses you may have laid out to do your student research. The Division of Psychotherapy has a number of student paper awards that students should be aware of and apply for. Most of these have application due dates of April 1 each year, so now would be a good time to start thinking about what you might like to submit next year. The Donald K. Freedheim Student Development Paper Award is for the best paper on psychotherapy research, theory, or practice. The Mathilda B. Canter Education and Training Paper Award is for the best student paper on education, supervision, or training of psychotherapists. The Student Diversity Paper Award is for the best paper on issues of diversity in psychotherapy. Finally, the Jeffrey E. Barnett Psychotherapy Research Paper Award is for the best paper that addresses psychotherapist factors that may impact treatment effectiveness or outcome. Check out abstracts from this year’s winning papers in this issue of the Bulletin, and visit the Division of Psychotherapy website for more information on all of these award opportunities for students.

Mentoring for Early Career Psychologists (ECPs) Doing Psychotherapy Research

Many of the same issues that apply to students also apply to ECPs who do psychotherapy research, but at new level. ECPs in a research postdoc or in their first academic position are working on building a sustainable and meaningful research program, building a research community, getting funding for their research, managing research teams, and building their CVs through presentations, publications, and awards. In addition, ECPs are also seeking out meaningful ways to gain experience in national service. Membership in the Division of Psychotherapy can be helpful with all of these goals, and the Division is eager to provide helpful support to ECPs.

Mentoring for ECPs

One new program the Division of Psychotherapy offers is an Early Career Psychologists Mentoring Program. This is a free, one-year mentoring program that provides mentoring for ECPs (i.e., those with a doctoral degree who are within 10 years of having completed the Ph.D. or Psy.D.). Mentoring is given by two senior, experienced mentors to a group of up to 3 or 4 mentees who have shared professional interests. Mentoring groups meet via videoconferencing with the two mentors for an hour every two months, for a total of six meetings over the course of the year. One of the mentoring groups focuses on psychotherapy research. The research mentors provide mentoring about a variety of ECP concerns related to research. For example, mentees may want to talk about setting a research program, developing successful grant applications, engaging diverse communities in psychotherapy research, or the tenure process. Information about applying for the ECP mentoring program is available on the Division website (http://www.divisionofpsychotherapy.org/).

If you are an ECP who would like in-depth mentoring about securing funding for your psychotherapy research, it may be helpful to talk with funding agencies. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, holds an annual NIH Regional Seminar. When I was an ECP I requested funding from my institution to attend this seminar, as well as to visit a number of funding agencies in Washington, DC. Being able to talk with program officers at different funding agencies helped me figure out which agencies would be most interested in funding the work that I do, and led to my ultimately being able to secure a $2.4 million NICHD grant that is focused on identifying the most important targets for parent-infant intervention to improve psychotherapy interventions for low-income parents.

Once I identified NIH as the most relevant funding agency for my work, I attended the NIH Regional Seminar in order to learn about the grant application process and the kinds of funding available. I learned so much from that weekend (and you can learn more about the NIH Regional Seminar NIH Regional Seminar happening in June 2014 at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/regionalseminars/2014/index.html). This seminar demystifies that application and grant review process and provides information about particular areas of interest to the funding agency. It also teaches you the skills you need to stay on top of upcoming grant opportunities in the future.

When I was an ECP, I found it tremendously helpful to become a part of an interdisciplinary behavioral science research group at my university. This group included both senior and junior researchers and met every other week to discuss a particular research idea. Each time we met one of us would present on a project we were working on (at whatever phase), and the group would provide feedback. The idea was to provide critique and support that would help each of us move forward in doing good science and getting the funding we needed. I think this group was the most helpful thing I could have done as an ECP.

Other than individual mentoring from your personal mentors who love you, there is nothing more useful than getting frank feedback and advice from a group of colleagues. One valuable piece of advice I got from this group is the key importance of gathering pilot data when you would like to get funding. The advice I would give is to use start-up funds or other internal funds you can compete for through your institution to do pilot work. I tried to set up my pilot work so that there would be some way to publish from the pilot data, even though the pilot samples were small.

The Division of Psychotherapy also has grants for which ECPs can compete (with application due dates of April 1 each year). These grants could be useful to ECPs establishing a research agenda or collecting pilot data. Three Charles J. Gelso Psychotherapy Research Grants are offered annually to doctoral-level researchers, with two of three grants reserved for ECPs. Each Gelso grant provides $5,000 toward the advancement of research on psychotherapy process and/or psychotherapy outcome.

The Norine Johnson Psychotherapy Research Grant provides $10,000 toward the advancement of research on psychotherapist factors that may impact treatment effectiveness and outcomes (including type of training, amount of training, professional degree or discipline of the psychotherapist, and the role or impact of psychotherapists’ personal characteristics on psychotherapy treatment outcomes). Although this grant opportunity is not set aside for ECPs, to qualify one must only have a successful track record of publication. Thus, there should be ECPs who would qualify for such a grant, particularly later on in the ECP timeline. More information about these grant opportunities is available on the Division of Psychotherapy website (http://www.divisionofpsychotherapy.org/) and in the Bulletin.

In terms of building the ECP CV, the Division of Psychotherapy can also be helpful with opportunities for awards and national-level service/leadership. Check the Division website for information about the APF/Division 29 Early Career Award. The Early Career award recognizes ECP members of the Division of Psychotherapy who have demonstrated outstanding promise in the field of psychotherapy (in psychotherapy theory, practice, research, or training), and provides for a $2,500 monetary award as well.

One aspect of the tenure process that I was not aware of in my early ECP years was that my institution expected me to get national-level leadership experience as a part of demonstrating service to the field as a whole. I knew that it was important for tenure to publish, teach, provide service at my institution (at the program, departmental, college, and university levels), and get experience on editorial boards. I was not aware, however, that it was also important for me to become involved in national-level leadership until I got that feedback from the Dean in one of my early reviews. The Division of Psychotherapy has been a wonderful place for me to get that national leadership experience. I started out as the Chair of the Research Committee, later became the ECP Domain Representative, and most recently was elected as the Science and Scholarship Domain Representative. I think many people, both students and ECPs, do not realize that there are many opportunities to get involved in the Division and the profession of psychotherapy and psychotherapy research. For example, one can become involved as a committee member or committee chair. These experiences can be beneficial for tenure as a part of to a balanced portfolio of research, teaching, and service. I have found the Division of Psychotherapy to be a wonderful place to develop professional relationships and receive mentoring, and I would be happy to talk with ECPs (or students) who are interested in finding out more about how getting involved in the Division of Psychotherapy might be a useful way of building your CV.

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Cite This Article

Woodhouse, S. (2014). Doing psychotherapy research: Advice and opportunities available through the Division of Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy Bulletin, 49(2), 37-42.

References

Boice, R. (1990). Professors as writers. New Forums Press: Stillwater, OK.

Gelso, C. J. (2006). On the making of a scientist–practitioner: A theory of research in professional psychology. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 5(1), 3-16. doi: 10.1037/1931-3918.S.1.3

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