Sunday, May 11, 2008

BACP Research Conference -- Cardiff 2008

Entry for 10 May 2008:

This year’s BACP Research Conference was in Cardiff, Wales. It’s a nice little conference, only two days, making it manageable, intense, to the point…. and exhausting. I went down a day early, on Wednesday, for the editorial board meeting of Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, BACP’s research journal. I’m writing this on the train back toward Scotland, going up the Severn Bay/River, through the lush countryside, already looking mature and midsummer in its vegetation. It was dark when I passed this way the other direction on Wednesday, so there’s more to see on the way back. If I’m lucky, this train will get to Cheltenham Spa in time for me to connect with the Cross Country train service to Edinburgh, and I’ll make it home sometime after midnight…

1. Qualitative Research Workshop. John McLeod and I got ourselves roped into putting on an opening night function on Thursday night, dealing with problems with qualitative research and how to improve it. This was a fairly informal session, with short presentations by John and me and most of the time devoted to question-and-answer interaction with the audience. When we realized that David Rennie would be there, both of us were somewhat nervous, but fortunately, he didn’t ask us any difficult philosophical questions, and was quite supportive. Then Bill Stiles showed up, jet-lagged from having flown over from the US, making it quite an occasion, as kind of reunion of The Usual Suspects. Beyond David and Bill, there was a good turnout for the session, and many in the audience expressed an interest in an extended summer school on qualitative research, along the lines of a writer’s workshop. I will include the notes for my presentation in a later blog entry.

2. RCTs as cognitive dissonance-inducing strategy. It’s always fun getting together with John, David, and Bill, and we had excellent conversations at various times. Thursday night, after the qualitative research workshop, David, Bill and I sat talking at dinner for a long time, arguing the scientific and political merits of different kinds of research evidence, especially RCTs. I formulated the idea that the common CBT position is based on two seemingly unshakable beliefs: (1) CBT is the most effective therapy; and (2) RCTs are the One True Way to Truth. The only way to effectively challenge these two assumptions, I argued, is to bring them into contradiction with each other; that is, to do RCTs that support the efficacy of a nonCBT therapy! Such a strategy may not be good science, as Bill argued forcefully (a position with which Les Greenberg agreed in our discussions last week in Ireland). However, it does bring the two cherished beliefs of CBT into contradiction, and cognitive dissonance can be a potent force for attitude change.

3. Cardiff Bay. I loved Cardiff Bay, where the conference was located. After a 10-minute walk from the conference hotel, I came upon the Millennium Centre, the new Welsh opera house, nicknamed “the Armadillo” because of the scale-like metal covering its arched back. The first time I looked out my hotel window and saw this structure, a chill ran down my spine, as I recognized it from Torchwood as the place where Captain Jack sometimes stands alone, his long coat furling behind him in the wind off the bay. With a little help from the Wikipedia, I was able to locate the secret entrance to the Hub, the Torchwood team’s base under Roald Dahl Plass: a stone in front of the Watertower Fountain. Numerous photos were taken…

Large areas of formerly run-down waterfront have renovated with modern buildings and hotels, including the new Welsh Assembly building, the front part of which is referred to by locals as “the Flying Nun”, because of its large flat roof, which sports slightly upturned corners, this roof structure charmingly hovering over a large glass-walled ante-chamber to the less flamboyant red brick structure behind it. I was so taken by the wharf area that over the next three days I went back here repeatedly, finally giving Judy Moore a guided tour shortly we caught our taxi to the train station to go home.

4. Clients love weekly outcome assessment. An interesting theme emerged from multiple presentations: Contrary to therapist concerns, client commonly report finding filling out the CORE-Outcome Measure on a weekly basis to be very useful. Gisela Unsworth reported a qualitative study of clients’ experiences of the new on-line CORE-NET weekly outcome service: When asked to identify an animal, bird or flower that reminded them of the CORE-NET process, multiple therapists characterized it as an “elephant”, because of its intrusiveness. Clients, on the other hand, strongly and unanimously endorsed the use of the system to track their change process, several going so far as to say that they believed that all therapies should be monitored in this way. John McLeod reported essentially the same thing for clients seen in the Tayside Clinic in Dundee.

There were several other interesting highlights, some of which will be written up as separate blog entries, but it is worth mentioning for now that: (a) Mick’s keynote on “The Facts Are Friendly” was very nicely done, accessible, and well-received; (b) CPR’s new editor, Andrew Reeves was impressive with his passion and commitment to the BACP journal, as he manages the challenge of balancing this journal’s academic aspirations in the current politico-scientific context with its core value of staying close to practice and its methodological pluralism; and (c) Beth and I managed to produce another iteration of PCE meta-analysis, with ten more studies (and 30 left to go).

Postscript: I finally got home to Glasgow about 12.30 am; Kenneth and Diane were there waiting for me, and we visited until 2 in morning. It'll be really nice to have him with us for the next three months.

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