‘I’ve done my research,’ is a phrase that seems to be spoken more and more often. As information continues to become easier to produce and access, doing research is likely to become more relevant for everybody. In psychology, research plays an essential part in understanding human behaviour, and in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders.
As a science, the body of knowledge under the heading ‘psychology’ concerns our knowledge of human behaviour that has been acquired through scientific research. Behaviour can be researched through an array of techniques and study designs, which gives individual studies unique qualities that affect the conclusions that can be drawn from them. This means a single piece of research will rarely provide a comprehensive understanding of a particular problem, and that research needs to be ongoing.
In Australia, registration as a psychologist requires university study involving both training in research and conducting research itself. This enables psychologists to do their own research, and also to understand, critique and apply others’ research to reach their own conclusions. Conducting high-quality research requires critical thinking, rigour, logic, and objectivity, which can be applied to assessing the quality of studies they use to inform their practice.
A key area of application for research in psychology is in developing, administering and interpreting psychological assessments. To provide real world meaning of the results, development of psychological assessments requires research in actual populations. The research that is used to develop an assessment has a substantial effect on determining if it is appropriate to use, how the test should be administered, and how the results should be interpreted. Because of this, understanding the research behind an assessment is important in psychological practice. It enables psychologists to better explain what results ‘mean’.
Research is also conducted in psychology to develop treatments for psychological disorders, determine whether they are effective, and use them in clinical practice. As psychologists are required to follow evidence-based practice, treatments used by psychologists have been demonstrated under scientific conditions to produce results. Research into the efficacy of treatments enables psychologists to better understand the variables involved and ensures treatments are applied in the most effective way. As an example, a study conducted by PsychMed on rates of remission for methamphetamine addiction showing that people who gave up tobacco and methamphetamine had higher rates of remission than those who quit methamphetamine alone, has helped us to advise on issues around co-substance use.
Finally, research plays a role in measurement-based treatment/care. Measurement-based treatment is a systematic approach to mental health care that involves using standardised assessments to track a patient’s progress and adjust their treatment plan as needed. This approach is based on the idea that regular monitoring and assessment can help identify changes in a patient’s symptoms or functioning, and allow for timely adjustments to their treatment plan to address any changes that may be occurring in different aspects of a patient’s mental health, including their symptoms, functioning, and overall well-being.
One of the main advantages of measurement-based treatment is that it provides a systematic and objective way to monitor a patient’s progress over time. This can be particularly helpful for patients with chronic mental health conditions, as it can allow for more precise tracking of their symptoms and functioning and can help ensure that their treatment plan is appropriate and effective. In addition to tracking a patient’s progress, measurement-based treatment may also involve setting specific treatment goals and working with the patient to develop strategies to achieve those goals.
In summary, research is crucial in understanding human behaviour, as well as in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of psychological disorders. Psychological assessments and interventions are developed through rigorous research, and psychologists being trained in research enables them to understand, critique, and apply this research in their own practice. Measurement-based treatment, which involves using standardised assessments to track a patient’s progress and adjust their treatment plan as needed, can be seen as research on the smallest, but also most relevant scale. Understanding the research behind these tools and approaches is vital for psychologists to provide the most effective care for their patients.