Psychotherapy Bulletin

Psychotherapy Bulletin

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association’s Practice Research Network

History teaches us that some professions have not survived the test of time as well as the profession of psychology. One example of a failed discipline is the antique science of phrenology, the study of skull protuberances. Phrenology posited that skull characteristics reveal a person’s character and mental capacity. The reader may not be aware that only two hundred years ago there were departments of phrenology at some of the world’s major universities. However, practitioners of phrenology extended their practice too far beyond the available data, which resulted in phrenologists developing a well justified reputation as charlatans. Their profession eventually withered, and all the departments of phrenology vanished from those august centers of learning. Who knows, perhaps if phrenologists had based their work on better research, they would have developed neuropsychology a hundred years before psychologists did. But they didn’t and phrenology was eliminated as a science and as a profession, which proves that natural selection works in various venues! We in psychology must be careful not to repeat the phrenologist’s errors.

One way to do that is through what’s called a Practice Research Network (PRN). The Pennsylvania Psychological Association (PPA) once had an active PRN. The idea of developing a Practice Research Network originally grew out of discussions held at Board meetings of PPA in the early 1990s. The organization’s leadership was looking for a way to strengthen the bonds between academic researchers and practitioners.

Of course, on some level, psychologists recognize that science and practice must advance hand in hand for both to thrive. Clearly, psychology’s research heritage has provided a scientific foundation that allowed psychology to leap ahead of all other mental health professions over the past 50 years. However, psychology must continue to nurture the dynamic interaction between practice and research for our field to thrive as a viable science and profession.

Twenty-five years ago, with financial support from APA’s Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice and the Pennsylvania State University, the Pennsylvania Psychological Association established a unique network of practitioners and researchers who were interested in the application of outcome and other clinical research. The PRN’s initial efforts lasted for a decade and resulted in interesting findings published in a variety of publications in our professional journals, such as those listed below (Borkevec et al., 2001; Castonguay, Boswell, et al., 2010; Castonguay, Nelson, et al., 2010; Ruiz et al., 2004). Our science continues to grow as Psychotherapy Research publishes some Phase 3 research stemming from our original effort (Castonguay et al., 2023)!

Since PPA’s initial exploratory effort, a variety of psychological PRNs have popped up, some of which were encouraged, if not inspired, by our efforts in Pennsylvania. For example, a PRN in Canada is discussed at McGill University’s website (McGill, n.d.). This project currently receives financial support from the Canadian Psychological Association. Another is an active Marriage and Family Therapy PRN supported by Brigham Young University (Brigham Young University, n.d.). These are also representative of the knowledge currently being developed using the psychological PRN concept.

As we come out of the social isolation that accompanied COVID-19, maybe it will be time to emerge from our air-purified protected office environments and renew the idea of psychological PRNs. It’s important to remember what’s already been done as well as what could lie ahead for at least three important reasons. First, a PRN provides a channel for unification of psychology’s practice and research communities while energizing a newly defined scientist-practitioner model. Second, a PRN generates uniquely practical research results developed from entirely naturalistic settings. Third, the basic PRN model can be repeated anywhere in response to a wide variety of critical clinical questions. There is so much for us to learn! Imagine the data that would come from 100 such projects over 10 years or 20 years. Allow your imagination to consider a rebirth of practical psychological research and envision the potential significance of every psychological Practice-Research Network.

Stephen A. Ragusea, PsyD, ABPP is a family and forensic psychologist currently practicing in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, after working for 15 years in Key West, Florida. Previously he spent 25 years in group private practice in State College, Pennsylvania. Ragusea is Fellow and past president of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association and past Chair of PPA's Practice Research Network. He served on the Pennsylvania Board of Psychology. A member of the Florida Psychological Association, he served on the Board of Directors of FPA and as Chair of FPA's Ethics Committee. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association’s Divisions 31 and 55. He has published over 50 articles and book chapters, taught at Penn State and Harvard Medical School. He has served on the editorial board of Professional Psychology, Research and Practice and as Chair of APA's Council of Representative's State and Provincial Caucus. Ragusea is winner of various awards including APA’s Special Presidential Award for Outstanding Contributes to Psychology, APA's Heiser Award for Advocacy, PPA's Distinguished Service Award, FPA's Award for Ethical Contributions to Psychology, FPA's Distinguished Psychologist Award, and an Advocacy Award conferred by APA's Division 55.

Cite This Article

Ragusea, Stephen, A. (2023). The Pennsylvania Psychological Association’s Practice Research Network. Psychotherapy Bulletin, 58(4), 27-28.


Borkovec, T.D., Echemendia, R.J., Ragusea, S.A., & Ruiz, M. (2001). The Pennsylvania Practice Research Network and possibilities for clinically meaningful and scientifically rigorous psychotherapy effectiveness research. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, V8 N2, 155-167. 

Brigham Young University. (n.d.) Marriage and Family Therapy Practice Research Network. 

Castonguay, L.G., Boswell, J.F., Zack, S.E., Baker, S., Boutselis, M.A., Chiswick, N.R., Damer, D.D., Hemmelstein, N.A., Jackson, J.S., Morford, M., Ragusea, S.A., Roper, J.G., Spayd, C., Weiszer, T., Borkovec, T.D., & Grosse Holtforth, M. (2010b). Helpful and hindering events in psychotherapy: A practice research network study. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 47(3), 327–344.  

Castonguay, L.G., Nelson, D.L., Boutselis, M.A., Chiswick, N.R., Damer, D.D., Hemmelstein, N.A., Jackson, J.S., Morford, M., Ragusea, S.A., Roper, J.G., Spayd, C., Weiszer, T. & Borkovec, T.D. (2010a). Psychotherapists, researchers, or both? A qualitative analysis of psychotherapists’ experiences in a practice research network. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 47(3), 345–354. 

Castonguay, L. G., Youn, S. J., Boswell, J. F., Ryan Kilcullen, J., Xiao, H., McAleavey, A. A., Boutselis, M. A., Braver, M., Chiswick, N. R., Hemmelstein, N. A., Jackson, J. S., Lytle, R. A., Morford, M. E., Scott, H. S., Spayd, C. S., & O’Leary Wiley, M. (2023). Therapeutic techniques and session impact: A practice-research network study in private practice. Psychotherapy research : journal of the Society for Psychotherapy Research, 1–13. Advance online publication. 

McGill. (n.d.). Practice Research Networks. 

Ruiz, M., Borkovec, T.D., Pincus, A.L., Echemendia, R.J., Canstonguay, L.G., & Ragusea, S.A., (2004). Validity of the Inventory of Interpersonal Problems for predicting treatment outcome: An Investigation with The Pennsylvania Practice Research Network, Journal of Personality Assessment, 83(3), 213-222. 


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