Friday, January 23, 2009

RDI Training the Trainers Project: Facilitating the Research Journey

Entry for 23 January 2009:

Faced with multiple threats and a complex political situation, counselling in the UK needs to pull itself up by its bootstraps in very short order and become increasingly research active. To do this, it must produce and publish meaningful, politically useful research in several genres on key topics such as outcome studies with particular client groups (to provide political support) and research on change processes (to improve our therapies). However, this requires more active counselling researchers with the appropriate skills, which in turn requires more and better research training, which in turn requires more people able to teach counselling research, which in turn….As I said, it’s a bootstrapping operation.

That’s where the Researcher Development Initiative (RDI) Training the Trainers project comes in. Supported by an ESRC grant that Sue Wheeler and Nancy Rowlands managed, by dogged persistence, to obtain, Sue, Nancy, John McLeod, Kaye Richards, Julia Meeks (our intrepid evaluator) and I (with support from a couple of other outside experts, like Steve Trevelyan, from Social Work) have been meeting over the past 18 months to develop and deliver a set of training events and resources. The last two of the one-day workshops are happening this month, in London and Manchester, and the evaluation data are beginning to roll in.

For this reason, I got up yesterday at 4am to catch the train to York, for a follow-up meeting on the project, to review our progress and to think about where to go with it next. We noted that the project got off to a slow start, and that we’d had to cancel a couple of the one-day workshops because of low numbers; however, the 5-day Summer School was a rousing success and we’ve already had more than 40 expressions of interest in our doing it again next summer, with the same cast and format, thus time supported entirely by BACP (who co-sponsored the current project).

Our main worry at this point is how to help John and I deliver the major remaining piece of the project by the end of March: a training manual consisting of a longish overview text and a set of exercises and resources for trainers to use with their students. After some discussion, we determined that the solution is going to be for Sue to come up to Scotland to stand over us until we produce the goods. Hmm… to borrow an expression from my kids, “Robert senses a trap….”

Then we were on to thinking about the future. What can we do to increase our capital of productive research leaders, especially given that most of us are within 10 years of retirement? The Training the Trainers work obviously needs to continue, but as originally conceived it was pitched mostly at improving the research education of diploma level counselling students and, to a lesser extent, masters students. However, it became very clear to us at the Summer School that there a huge need to support counselling trainers not only in teaching research methods to their students, but also in helping the trainers themselves to upgrade their research skills via their own MSc and PhD studies or first counselling research projects.

In other words, we also need something aimed at a higher level: producing PhD level researchers well-trained in a range of qualitative and quantitative methods and focused on topics of strategic importance for the counselling field. So what will do this? A mentoring and networking program for identifying and nuturing promising junior researchers? A program to support lecturer-level counselling faculty in pursuing PhD studies? Something like the Norwegian Double Competency program I lectured to 4 years ago near Bergen? (This is a nationwide program of advanced studies for postgraduate clinical psychologists, offering a combination of advanced professional and research training via networks and regular joint conferences.) A series of conferences to set and highlight national priorities for counselling research? Probably all of these…

Early in the day, a phrase came to me: The Research Journey. Somehow, we need in various ways to encourage and support people in joining and travelling on The Research Journey. The Research Journey starts with curiosity, inspiration, imagination, and more than a bit of chutzpah: Wondering about what we can learn by studying counselling carefully, being inspired, having the nerve and being able to imagine ourselves actually contributing knowledge. It continues, odyssey-like, through delays, doubts, and frustrations; broken dreams, disappointments, and surprises; left-turns, break-throughs and ah-hah moments. One thing leads to another, as The Research Journey continues: interests evolve and transmute, as we age, perhaps growing wiser in the process.

Over course of the day, The Research Journey came to seem figural to me: How do we help people undertake, survive and even thrive on this Journey? To Sue, Nancy, and Kaye, one answer seemed obvious: Through the telling of Research Journey Tales, that is, by asking various of us tell our stories. If you'll excuse the Terry Pratchett Latin: In narritas, veritas!

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