At university, my undergraduate tutor told me I’d be good at research and should consider it for a career. I promptly completely ignored her advice, because I didn’t understand what she meant. At the time, my experience of research was as a purely academic exercise – as far as I was concerned, the point of research was to establish facts for lecture slides, or as a way to teach you ANOVAs. I continued on my path towards becoming a clinical psychologist and it was really only during my research assistant role that I realised clinically-applicable research is an entirely different thing. It’s a potent way to make a meaningful difference and really improve people’s lives.
What I’ve learnt is that research is another way of helping people that’s every bit as valuable as working purely clinically. You might think that it takes you away from patients and care teams – but this is not my experience at all. Being involved in research opportunities that are patient-focused, collaborating with lived experience advisory panels, in a research team led by therapists, means you’re constantly thinking about or communicating with mental health staff and service users. For me, working in contexts where the research theory and clinical practice link together and inform each other is so important. I really believe in that, and I think it’s meaningful to patients too. During my PhD, when I told patients that I’m researching the experiences they had just described, they were overwhelmingly positive. In every research study, I was encouraged by participants to keep going because they believed the research would help. It’s extremely motivating to know that you’re working on something people really want and that has the potential to make lives better in the future.
“That idea: that research can result in a real and meaningful clinical benefit. That idea drives me.”
My research is about understanding dissociation – particularly within the context of psychosis. It’s a very complex construct with a turbulent history, which makes for a somewhat difficult environment to establish yourself as an early career researcher taking new approaches. In this particular field, it feels like there needs to be a concerted methodical effort to make sense of a mass of conflicting information before the benefits of that can be accessible to the people who need it most – and that’s where I see research playing a crucial role.