Working in a clinical settings provides a strong foundation for working in research though the transition can feel like a move into the unknown!
“People might think you need to know everything before you start in research – that’s just not the case. You definitely learn on the job. ”
After qualifying as a clinical psychologist I worked for two years in a psychological therapy service for adults with complex mental health needs. It seems obvious to say, but everyone is different and each patient has a different constellation of difficulties, strengths and goals. The approach you take as a clinician is not that different from that of a researcher. You start by getting an understanding of the problem. How it works? What keeps it going? You make some hypotheses about what intervention is likely to be helpful and, together with the patient, you try it and assess the impact. Has it been helpful? What worked what didn’t? Based on this you revise your understanding and approach. This is the same process to doing clinical research but it is just on a larger scale. One of the first steps to doing truly meaningful research is identifying a problem or clinical need. Like most clinicians, I would sometimes be working with someone where there was not a lot of research relating to the difficulties they were experiencing and the treatment options were limited. Clinicians, probably more than anyone else, will be aware of the areas where treatment is not where we need it to be. Research is a hopeful endeavour. Just because we don’t know how to treat something now, it doesn’t mean we won’t in the future. Nothing is untreatable.
“It’s easy to underestimate how valuable you are if you are a clinician who’s engaged with research.”
Clinical practice can spark so many ideas and so the next stage is to reach out and talk to people. I think if you are interested in research then the most helpful thing to do is reach out to researchers. I mapped out what research was going on in my Trust by speaking to my NHS Trust’s Research and Development team and asking what was happening in the trust or if there were opportunities to help out. I also got in touch with people at local universities doing research in adult mental health. There can be lots of opportunities to get involved in smaller scale projects or if you have your own ideas to just have some advice and guidance. At the time, I remember thinking that researchers were doing me a favour to meet. I never considered that my experience and clinical role would be useful – but it is! Now I’m a full-time researcher, I appreciate how valuable it is to have clinical partners for research. They have valuable insights about how services are working, how to best reach out to particular patient groups and can support with recruitment into studies.
“Research may seem nebulous and unclear from a clinician’s perspective, but clinical services can seem nebulous to researchers. In my experience academics are usually very happy to talk to, and make links with, clinicians interested in research because it is mutually beneficial.”
“Psychology is a field where clinical training and research are closely aligned, happily. In my clinical training course at the University of Bath, we would be taught about cutting edge treatments and approaches by the people developing them. I think that’s what first inspired me.”