The authors argue that considering the test-retest reliability of a perception or attention task is crucial if researchers wish to use the task to assess the impact of individual differences (e.g., traits, experience) on performance. The issue is rooted in the historical development of vision science tasks, which were often designed to minimise differences between participants in order to understand a cognitive mechanism more generally. With an increased interest in looking at the influence of individual differences on perception and attention, researchers are now using the same tasks, but these tasks may not have a sufficient spread in participant variability to tell us anything meaningful about individual differences.
Test-retest reliability is the degree to which a participant’s performance is similar from one time completing a task to another. When there are little differences between individuals on a task, test-retest reliability tends to be low; i.e., if participants’ measures of accuracy or response time are all quite similar to each other, the degree to which one individual’s performance predicts their performance on a second test is going to be small. Therefore, a task with low test-retest reliability is not going to produce a consistent index of performance for any given individual (i.e., where they fall on a spectrum from “poor” to “excellent”) and cannot be used to assess individual differences in performance.
To assess test-retest reliability, Dr Clark and her team tested 160 undergraduate psychology participants on four commonly used tasks in vision science. The tasks measured a range of perceptual and attentional faculties such as sustained attention, motion perception, and peripheral processing, and each participant was tested twice, 1-3 weeks apart. The results demonstrate a range of reliabilities (as measured by the intraclass correlation coefficient, or ICC), indicating that some tasks (and some measures within these tasks) are more suitable for the exploration of individual differences than others. As expected, higher ICCs were associated with higher between-participant variability. The authors also reviewed a wide range of vision science tasks with known reliabilities and summarise these statistics in a useful reference table for future researchers. Finally, they provide detailed guidelines and recommendations for how to appropriately assess test-retest reliability.
Dr Lindsay Woodford published her doctoral thesis with her supervisor Dr Lauren Bussey from Teesside University. Their research explored the perceived impact of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures on athlete wellbeing.
Fourteen elite athletes who were unable to train or compete due to government-imposed lockdown measures in April 2020 were recruited to participate in this qualitative study. Utilizing the photo elicitation method, participants were asked to take a series of photographs that represented their experiences as athletes living in lockdown. These photographs were used to guide discussions in follow up unstructured interviews.
Three main themes captured the athletes’ experience of the lockdown measures and the implications for their wellbeing:
(1) threats to wellbeing
(2) adapting routines and maintaining motivation
(3) reflecting on participation in competitive elite sport.
The initial sudden loss of sport in the athlete’s lives posed a threat to their wellbeing, but over the duration of the lockdown period the athletes developed numerous strategies to protect their wellbeing. Furthermore, their time away from sport encouraged them to reflect on their athletic identity and to make life changes that would protect their wellbeing during the rest of the lockdown period and when they returned to sport.
A number of immediate practical recommendations were offered for athlete support personnel working with athletes during the crisis, these included developing self-care strategies and social networks, adapting routines, setting new goals and encouraging the pursuit of dual-careers. Future research is encouraged to investigate how practitioners can deliver effective psychological support through tele-consulting, and to consider whether their support is best focused on therapeutic counselling or mental skills training if further lockdowns are enforced.
Having received a First-class BSc (Hons) in Psychology from the University of the West of England, I then completed my PhD at Cardiff University. My PhD explored the potential applications of learning theory, and other engineering frameworks, to improve human identification of previous unfamiliar faces.
Following the completion of my PhD, I held postdoctoral positions within the Brain and Cognition group at Anglia Ruskin University and within the Visual Experience Laboratory at the University of Birmingham. During these roles, I have been trained to use a variety of techniques including; eye tracking, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and EEG. My position at Birmingham was funded by the International Banknote Designers Association. This role involved collaborating with the central banks (e.g., the Bank of England, US Federal Reserve) and other stakeholders to design perception studies. The main focus of these studies was to investigate how individuals navigate and use the security features on banknotes.
More recently, I have held the positions of Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer at Bath Spa University teaching and leading on a range of modules including: Introduction to Cognitive and Comparative Neuroscience and Advanced Biological and Cognitive Psychology.
Broadly, my research interests focus on visual perception/attention and how our interpretation of the world can be influenced by prior experience, what we are viewing, and current internal state. I am interested in the basic mechanisms and associated brain areas that underpin learning through simple exposure (i.e., perceptual learning). In addition to applying this knowledge to investigate how we learn to identify previously unfamiliar faces and other frequently encountered objects.
Broadly, my research interests focus is on two strands of investigation (i) information elicitation and lie-detection, and (ii) mental health and offending behaviour.
After gaining a BSc (Hons) in Psychology from Bangor University I became interested in the forensic aspects of Psychology. I then completed an MSc Forensic Psychology from the University of Portsmouth. During this time, I started working in the NHS with offenders who had complex mental health disorders. I worked primarily with adult males but spent considerable time on the female ward. I then transferred to Bluebird House – the highest level of security in the UK for adolescents. I worked here for a year and trained in DBT for frontline staff.
My PhD research focused on ethical methods for encouraging suspects and eyewitness to say more during investigative interviewing. Providing more information creates greater deception cues. From this I developed a new interviewing protocol called the Asymmetric Information Management (AIM) technique.
My academic career started in the Psychology department in Portsmouth part time while working in the NHS. I then left the NHS to work full time in the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies where I supported the development of embedding well-being within the curriculum. I have taught on various psychology and criminology modules and have led a range of undergraduate modules such as Understanding Criminology, Essential Skills for Criminologists, and an optional practice-based Forensic Psychology and Mental Health module. I have also been module coordinator of the Masters dissertation module.
Most recently, I held the post of Principal Lecture at the University of Portsmouth, where I was the Programme Area Leader managing all distance learning Masters courses. Some examples include MSc Criminal Psychology, MSc Victimology, MSc Crime Science, MSc Counter Fraud and Counter Corruption, MSc International Criminal Justice.
Covid-19 has presented challenges in the maintenance of good psychological health and well-being for all of us. As a consequence, the role of practitioner psychologists and therapeutic professionals in society has never been more vital. The Promoting Psychological Health theme of the Psychological Sciences Research Group here at UWE, Bristol includes Academic and Practitioner psychologists and those in training through our British Psychological society accredited Masters as well as our HCPC accredited Masters and Doctoral training programmes. This includes Health Psychology, Counselling Psychology and Music Therapy. Throughout the pandemic, we have mobilised our community of practice to respond directly to the challenges of Covid-19, applying our psychological knowledge and skills using psychologically informed approaches. Our insights have been applied across research, policy, consultancy and therapeutic practice.
Health Psychology and Covid-19
Our Health Psychology team led by Dr Liz Jenkinson are part of the Health Psychology Exchange project, a collaboration of UK Health Psychologists providing consultancy around COVID-19. The UWE team and Professional Doctoral students such as Natalie Garnett and Ella Guest have been pivotal in three rapid reviews exploring the effectiveness of public health messaging and interventions in driving health behaviours during pandemics, and in the development of guidance to local and national health organisations. Two of these reviews have already been developed into British Psychological Society guidance and are now informing Public Health efforts to communicate effectively with the public, particularly around vaccination. For example, our review examined existing research which measured public responses to health messages encouraging vaccination against infectious diseases in a pandemic or epidemic. We concluded that evidence suggests that in order to be effective messages need to be credible (from trusted official sources), use community-wide outreach and mixed methods, frame risk appropriately (rather than over or understating), be tailored to be personally relevant, short and highlighting the benefits of vaccination to society as a whole rather than to the individual. One key finding was that previous research and practice did not include the voice of those under-represented groups who are often least likely to uptake a vaccine. The review recommends co-production with communities in the design and dissemination of messaging to ensure they are acceptable and accessible. We are pleased to see that recent efforts have been addressing this, and that our work has been reaching a wide audience through initiatives such as Evidence Aid.
Many of our health psychology trainees are also working on the frontline of the pandemic. From delivering vaccinations, to helping clients stay healthy during lockdown through to working in our local hospitals with clients with health conditions such as diabetes, pain and long term conditions, and now ‘Long Covid’, we are very proud to continue to supervise and support our trainees as they deliver this vital work at this difficult time.
Ageing Well in Older Adulthood
The pandemic has impacted disproportionately on older people with dementia – especially those living in residential care. PSRG members have contributed to building evidence in how best to support this vulnerable group during Covid-19. Prof. Rik Cheston and Emily Dodd carried out a survey of NHS staff to look at how the pandemic had impacted on their ability to deliver the LivDem intervention. This showed that none of the NHS trusts had established plans to reintroduce the course, and that there was widespread interest in developing an online intervention instead. Consequently, they hosted a webinar attended by a dozen clinicians in the UK and Ireland to identify best practice. In January, Emily and Rik hosted two online ‘taster’ sessions for LivDem which were attended by 60 clinicians based in the UK or Ireland. The team plan further introduction sessions for Clinical Psychologists in Yorkshire and Humberside, with intensive LivDem training to be rolled out through 2021 facilitated by Higher Education Innovation funding. Rik also contributed to an ARC West rapid review of the evidence base to identify effective primary preventative and secondary reactive approaches for staff to use when caring for people who walk with intent but are unable to leave residential care.
Counselling Psychology and online therapy
The challenges of the pandemic have presented unprecedented demand for therapeutic psychological support. Our counselling psychology staff and trainees had to swiftly pivot last year to providing some or all their clinical interventions online in line with government restrictions. This includes members of the teaching team working in private practice, and students working on placements, such as NHS departments and mental health charities such as Nilaari which provide culturally appropriate counselling for clients from the BAME community. This has created many unforeseen challenges – for example, how best to work with clients remotely. Video calling platforms may provide one solution but staff and students working with adults and young people have found that providing psychological therapy over the telephone can sometimes be more accessible than video calls over the internet, for example, as some clients struggle to access a safe and confidential space in their own home.
Senior Lecturer Christine Ramsey-Wade from the counselling psychology doctorate team has also been finding solutions to the challenges of delivering trauma-focused interventions remotely, such as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. These interventions are needed now more than ever, so some rapid research is being carried out into how best to translate these more physiological or experiential therapies online with Christine collaborating with EMDR UK on a new externally funded research bid to further investigate the effectiveness and client experience of different forms of EMDR when delivered online.
Music Therapy in education settings
Covid-19 has impacted the mental health and well-being of students at all stages of their journey through education. Adam Kishtainy, lecturer on the music therapy programme and lead for the music therapy clinic at UWE, is supporting two final year Masters students, Laura Wilson and Luke Howell, to run a music and wellbeing group at the UWE Centre for Music led by Kat Branch on the Frenchay campus. The music group makes use of active vocal and instrumental improvisation approaches, directly from music psychotherapy practice, as well as relaxation using music to encourage people to express themselves creatively and reflect on any mental health issues they are experiencing at the moment. Students from any programme can self-refer to this group. This team aim to provide a safe space to address immediate well-being issues through dynamic music making at this difficult time.
Adam is also running an outreach project, as part of the Glenside Clinic, in Bristol Metropolitan Academy and Briarwood Schools, taking in 6 of the Year 1 music therapy trainees on placement and delivering individual music therapy for their students. These schools have limited resources for psychological support and the opportunity to provide additional support for students at such a difficult time has been hugely appreciated.
PSRG psychologists and practitioners have risen to the challenge of Covid-19. We mobilised our community of practice to apply our psychological knowledge, skills and therapeutic approaches to promote good psychological health and well-being for our clients, through our research and through policy, consultancy and practice. Further challenges lie ahead, but the contribution of the psychological professions is clear. Psychology is front and centre in responding to the challenge of Covid-19.
Embarking on a PhD can be one of the most rewarding, frustrating, liberating, challenging and exciting adventures of your professional life. However, it isn’t for everyone and should not be undertaken lightly. If it works for you, it can be incredible. If it doesn’t, it can be painful.
Within PSRG at UWE Bristol we are helping to grow the next generation of researchers and academics. As a result, we often have conversations with our students, our graduates and graduates from other universities about the whys and wherefores of PhDs. To help shape these conversations, we’ve put together the following blog as a repository of frequently asked questions and links to other sources of information that might be helpful to those considering embarking on a PhD journey either with us or elsewhere.
So, if you’re thinking about studying for a PhD in the UK (my colleagues from the US tell me things are very different over there), read our blog below for some honest truths and links to even more information about topic areas you should be chewing over. Namely we will cover:
In terms of eligibility, on paper the answer is often “yes” for many people. At UWE for example, many PhD programmes only require a 2:1 at undergraduate level or a Masters at merit level or higher (see UWE’s criteria here). If you have undertaken a Masters, this grade will often supersede the importance of your undergraduate degree result (see also here).
But, although you can go straight from your undergraduate degree to a PhD, the step up is a big one. This is why a Masters, or a Masters by Research (which focuses more on research and independent study; read more here) can be a sensible in-between step. There are multiple benefits from both including:
gaining more research skills
seeing if more independent learning with less structure is for you
learning more about building and managing working relationships with a supervisor(s)
While many institutions do not require you to already have a Masters, some funded PhDs include an entire Masters as part of your studies (e.g., the SWDTP). And at many institutions, like UWE, you will take Masters / higher level modules as part of your doctoral studies.
Importantly, if you are considering studying for a PhD without a Masters do carefully compare the differences between undergraduate and PhD study before you begin. Resources like the following can be useful when contemplating which route to take (1 and 2).
Perhaps even more important than thinking about your “eligibility” to study for a PhD, is the question of “suitability.” In short, it is important to ask yourself if you can be self-directed, independent, and focused enough to study one thing for at least 3 years, possibly longer. Do you have the passion and commitment to work on one subject area for that length of time?
A PhD is a big commitment, it can take over large swathes of your life for the duration of study. It will also, inevitably involve some downs as well as ups (see here for more on the “turbulent nature of doctoral research.” So, it is important that you are studying something that you feel committed to and will see through.
It is highly likely that prospective PhD students anywhere will only be accepted onto PhD programmes if they can show that they are: i. likely to complete their PhD and ii. will do so within the time limits of the institution. Further questions to ask yourself can be found here.
Getting funding for your tuition fees and even a stipend to live on is both a very appealing and a very competitive process. In this section, we discuss funding and how being funded or not can influence the focus of your PhD topic.
Tuition fees for standard postgraduate research programmes in the UK are set by “UK Research and Innovation.” They are often lower than taught undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes, although fees for International students will be higher. More information about PhDs fees at UWE can be found here.
But remember, tuition fees are not your sole expense. Accommodation and other living costs will often end up being much more than the cost of tuition fees alone. As a result, some self-funded students combine working in another job with their PhD studies and complete some or all their PhD on a part-time basis.
If you secure a funded post that has been advertised, it is likely that you will work on a programme of study that has been somewhat pre-determined by your supervisor. And of course, many students are very happy to do this due to the security of the funding and getting a PhD.
If you self-fund, or get a doctoral loan (see below), you should take the opportunity to “shop around” to find a supervisor who is interested in exactly the research topic you wish to study. After all, you are paying to study yourself – so your topic of study should reflect more of your passion.
And, of course, it is also possible that you approach a supervisor – work up a funding proposal together, and then both apply for funding. In terms of this pathway, UWE is part of the South West Doctoral Training Partnership, where exactly this process happens. But again, remember, securing any form of funding is a competitive and demanding process.
Listed below are some of the funding routes available to prospective PhD students:
National Research Councils
Funding for PhDs can be awarded by the different research councils in the UK, each covering a specific academic sector. Research councils post research opportunities on their websites so keep an eye out for research topics and calls that interest you.
Funding from universities
Universities can offer scholarships, studentships and other PhD funding opportunities which can cover tuition fees and stipends. See for example here.
There are pros and cons to self-funding, even now it is easier to get a doctoral loan (below). Some interesting perspectives from self-funding PhD students can be found here and here.
These loans are provided by the UK Government and can be used to cover both fees and living costs. The amount you get is divided equally across each year of study, and you will not have to start paying it back until your income is over a threshold amount. Eligibility for this loan depends on a number of factors, a list of which can be found here.
Funding for International students
There are several funding options specifically for International students. These can be important as tuition fees for International students are considerably higher than for home students. More information can be found here.
When deciding on studying a PhD you will likely have strong ideas on what you want to study and even where you want to study – but make sure you also feel very secure with who you are going to be studying with/under. Your supervisor or supervisors (see below) will be among the most significant people in your life during your PhD. They will guide and support you throughout the process, so it is vital that you find people who meet your needs.
Obviously, the process will differ between funded versus a self-funded PhD, but for both, before you commit, try and work out how you will differentiate between:
a supervisor that will really help you get your PhD
a supervisor who may end up hindering your progress
You need to be as sure as you can be that you are a good working match with each other. So do some research around their research passions, check they align with yours. Make sure, before you commit, that you ask some probing questions. You may wish to ask about the amount of contact time you will get or about students they have supervised before and their success rate as a supervisor. You may want to try and speak to their current or past students. If, when you are asking any of these questions, you are not happy with the answers you get, or you feel you already know more about a topic area than your supervisor: that could be a red flag and a sign for you to investigate other options.
Unfortunately, the supervisor-student relationship is not always cohesive and effective and can lead to issues. Unanswered emails, unannounced absences and unsuitable replacement supervisors are just a few examples of how it can go wrong and leave the student feeling confused, losing confidence in their abilities and their research. The following articles delve further into these issues (1 and 2).
The bottom line is simple, your relationship with your PhD supervisor really matters. Make sure you choose someone that will meet your needs both in terms of taking you on and when your studies get into difficulty.
One further thing. As hinted at earlier, generally speaking you will have more than one supervisor. A director of studies (lead / principal supervisor [n.b. different unis use different terms) and a secondary supervisor. The role and structure of secondary supervision can vary from PhD to PhD and place to place. Often secondary supervisors can bring complementary expertise or provide different viewpoints. Read more about their possible roles here. So just to complicate things, you don’t just need to be thinking about one supervisor – you need to be thinking about a supervision team!
Further guidance on how to choose a supervisor and supervision relationships can be found at the following links (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7).
This is an interesting topic because there are pros and cons to both staying at an institution you know and moving somewhere else. Some of the pros to staying at a familiar institution include established relationships with staff and processes. It may also be beneficial to stay in the same area if you have family or friends you do not wish to move away from. In some cases, your current institution may also be a leading centre for your research.
However, it might also be the case that the leading centres are somewhere else. Or even though it would be comfortable to stay within a geographical area or institution you know it might be better to look elsewhere. It might, for example, be useful to experience different research cultures and new locations. Some even suggest that staying at the same place for UG, PG and PhD study suggests a lack of willingness to move out of your comfort zone. Just to confuse things even more, some students live in one place but are registered for their part time PhD hundreds of miles away.
In short, you need to weigh up the pros and cons to determine which option is right for you. There are no firmly right or wrong answers. But there are several important points to think through when considering where you should study and live for the next few years of your life.
There is an interesting thread debating both options here. And further advice on where to study here.
It may sound strange to start thinking about your life after a PhD before you even start your doctoral research – but it is an important subject for now. Ask yourself: “Both, why do you want a PhD AND where do you want it to take you?”
Once you have a PhD there will be many routes open to you: continuing as a researcher, in academia or with a research-based organisations, teaching, or using your PhD skills in a non-research / learning setting. But now is also the time for some truth telling. Just so you have your eyes open from the outset.
“Continuing in academia” is a very natural aspiration for many after completing a PhD. However, for many years now, there have been many more people with PhDs than there are academic jobs in UK universities. The academic job market is both oversaturated and very competitive. That is not to say that academia is no longer an option for PhD students – it is the vital first step. But you might need to prepare yourself for a longer and more uncertain road than you were expecting.
This blog, is a sobering but important read. It notes that 70% of UK PhD holders have left the academic sector 3.5 years after graduating. And, of the 30% still within universities, it is unclear how many are employed on “teaching only” or “fixed term contracts.”. As with elsewhere in the UK workforce, casualisation and precarious working is an issue in academia too.
Of course, many people either always planned to move away from research after their PhD or decide to do so during or after they complete their doctorate. Your PhD gives you many valuable skills for a multitude of roles in many fields. Many doors open with a PhD. An interesting case study of living your values post a PhD can be found here.
We hope that this blog has been a useful read and gives you some more information on issues you were already aware of and some new questions to think through and consider. Importantly, none of the information above is designed to put anyone off studying for a PhD – but is offered instead to enable you to go into this exciting process aware and with your eyes fully open. Indeed, in a 2019 survey, across 50,000 postgraduate researchers at 107 institutions, satisfaction levels were at 81%.
This blog was co-written by an amazing graduate student from another university who already had their MRes and was working with members of PSRG to further their research skills. Alex, thank you for all your time and effort in helping put this blog together. And to everyone else, we welcome contact from anyone near or far who wants to work with us and help us with our work. Please contact: PSRG@uwe.ac.uk.
implications of nomothetic psychotherapy research
Psychotherapy research has made significant progress in providing strong evidence for process and outcome in favour of specific approaches. However, after many years of research and advanced methodologies, we are still unsure about why psychotherapy works, and how and to what degree these findings can be applied in everyday practice (Kazdin, 2009). Evidence-based approaches do not appear to be effective for everyone, and the mechanisms of change are still investigated with diverse findings. Randomised controlled trials (RCT) and meta-analyses inform policy and guidelines followed by the likes of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Illustrating this, NICE Guidelines for the treatment of Depression state that “well-defined” depression can be treated with CBT based on its proven efficacy, however “it is not effective for everyone” (NICE, 2009). Clinicians need evidence-based recommendations to inform their work with clients. It is notable though that evidence-based practice is based on nomothetic, quantitative approaches of inquiry but what is actually demanded from practitioners is to apply these theories in an idiographic context and adjust to the needs of the individual who seeks help (Persons, 2008).
One cannot reduce psychotherapy to specific factors and cannot reduce the person to a specific list of symptoms. Added to that, each psychotherapeutic encounter is unique, in terms of transference and real relationship factors. Rigid diagnosis criteria are challenged and culturally sensitive, social models of diagnosis are encouraged in the literature, which question the constant pursuit of functionality, fulfilment and happiness (Kirmayer, Gomez – Carillo & Veissiere, 2017). In reality, clients with the same labels are likely to experience their diagnosis in different ways (Hayes et al, 2019). Moreover, each therapist has inherent biases and internal processes of interpreting each client before deciding which interventions to apply and how (Makhinson, 2012). The therapist’s training, expectations, overgeneralisations and pressure for positive results have a significant impact on the decisions they will make for therapeutic action plans. Lastly, each psychotherapeutic dyad is different, each process that unfolds in this context is a different experience for both parties. Even if the therapist follows the same approach guidelines, they will be different with different clients (Hill, Chui & Baumann, 2013). Each therapeutic encounter forms a new interaction and discussion; a new therapy (Baldwin & Imel, 2020).
psychotherapy efficacy research struggles to capture the level of complexity therapeutic
interactions entail. The findings make inferences about the general population but
do not necessarily apply to the individual (Hayes et al., 2019). Another issue
is the difficulty in defining each therapeutic modality given the new
approaches that appear and their variations in application. Too many approaches
are now presented in the literature for too many syndromes which account for
too many statistical models, and the number is growing (Hayes et al., 2019). Moreover,
there are many confounding factors when trying to measure the effects of
psychotherapy, such as the therapist’s subjectivity, training, supervision, the
therapist and researcher’s expectations and the clients’ presenting
difficulties. The researcher’s subjectivity must also be recognised in the research
process even for the most rigorous RCTs. Psychotherapy research entails bias
and the effectiveness of psychotherapy can be exaggerated. Moreover, many
studies may remain unpublished if results support null or negative hypotheses
(Dragioti, Karathanos, Gerdle & Evangelou, 2017).
back to case analysis: the idiographic paradigm in psychotherapy research
Psychotherapy is a multi-faceted, complex phenomenon. How can we understand and represent its variability in evidence-based findings? Research is moving away from protocol and approach specific treatments towards a more client-centred way of exploring psychotherapy efficacy; it instead becomes a “personalized treatment” (Zilcha-Mano, 2019, p. 694). The focus is on the implementation of methodologies which can do justice to the complexity and variability of the phenomenon of psychotherapy. Qualitative research allows the exploration of the multidimensional interactions in psychotherapy encounters and the emergence of unexpected results (Hill et al., 2013; McLeod, 2011). By implementing methods such as the Narrative Assessment Interview (Angus, Levitt & Hardtke, 1999), the Change Interview (Elliott, Slatick & Urman, 2001) or the Hermeneutic Single-Case Efficacy Design (Elliott et al., 2009), qualitative research is nowadays being used more often in exploring psychotherapeutic processes and effects.
As psychotherapy researchers, we need to pursue a route that is different to “protocol-to-syndrome.” We are moving away from labels and therapy “brands” (Hofman, 2020, pp. 297 – 298) towards elaborate descriptions of people and therapies, focusing on what works, why and how, for both specific individuals or groups that share common characteristics. The suggestion is to distance ourselves from theory-driven process and outcome studies, from measurable and quantifiable behavioural changes (Hill et al., 2013) and instead to approach the client’s perspective in an open and explorative way; to enable learning and knowledge derived from the clients’ experience of psychotherapy efficacy. In particular, idiographic qualitative phenomenological research offers the means to explore intrapsychic change. A well-designed case study provides detailed, in-depth knowledge which is readily applicable to everyday clinical practice (Persons & Boswell, 2019).
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) is a qualitative methodology that focuses on the individual’s unique experiences of the situation studied. IPA can make a significant contribution by enabling researchers and practitioners to gain insights into client’s experiences of therapeutic processes. The philosophical, epistemological, and methodological underpinnings and guidelines of IPA allow for an in-depth exploration of the client’s experience, leading to significant conceptualisations on how therapeutic approaches work (Larkin & Thompson, 2012). It is based on the phenomenological paradigm as outlined by Husserl, Heidegger, and Merlau-Ponty (Smith, 1996; Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). It provides the framework to place the therapeutic encounter in context and analyse it; to go back to the phenomenon of psychotherapy “on its own terms.” The focus is on individuals, their subjective accounts and perceptions, bracketing the understanding of preconceived ideas, beliefs, and expectations. IPA methodology views persons in-context as they expound on embodied, dynamic, and interactive experiences. Interpretation in IPA implies moving away from the obvious, focusing on the meaning participants attribute to their experience, engaging in a dialogue with the data, and illuminating sense-making (Smith, 1996; Smith et al., 2009).
Adhering to an existential framework,
IPA methodology does not rely on psychological theories for the collection and analysis
of data. It is data-driven, emphasizing personal experience (Smith, 2017). It
is deemed a useful method for psychotherapy process exploration as it frees the
researcher from the compounds of psychotherapy theory and gives voice to the
clients’ unique experience and intersubjective meaning-making processes
(Larking & Thompson, 2012). Phenomenological methods have been applied to
the exploration of adults’ experiences of psychotherapy during their childhood
have changed their live, clients’ experience of positive change and to psychotherapy outcome studies
(Binder et al., 2010; Midgley, Target, & Smith, 2006; Olofsson et al.,
2019; Wilmots et al., 2019). IPA applied to psychotherapy research allows for
the exploration of the clients’ perspective, the meaning they attribute to
seeking and receiving help and how they conceptualise the psychotherapy process
rendering the results useful for incorporation into everyday clinical practice
(Binder et al., 2010; McLeod, 2011; Midgley et al., 2014). IPA guidelines help researchers keep the focus
on the participants’ experiences and meaning-making processes, and can further
bolster and clarify the knowledge of psychotherapy effects from the clients’
approaches to research claim that there is one absolute truth outside of us to
be discovered (Ponterotto, 2005). As psychotherapy researchers, the
phenomenological perception of truth helps us view psychotherapy as real
however it is the individual’ consciousness that determines its reality. IPA
exploration of psychotherapy brings research back to the clients, to their
experience of change, from which we can acquire significant insight on how and
why psychotherapy works. We go back to the individual case and understand the
psychotherapy processes from their perspective. Thus, the findings are closely
linked to practice. Inventories and questionnaires may capture a small proportion
of this variability in psychotherapy change procedures, but they are restricted
to overt behaviours and symptoms whilst the questions might not be applicable
to the person’s issues. The use of qualitative research methods in
psychotherapy effectiveness and outcome research adds to our efforts to
comprehend when and how psychotherapy works in an explorative and descriptive
psychotherapy research allows for the client’s voice to be heard. Their
perceptions and interpretations of psychotherapy process and change may guide
research conclusions, theory advancements and policies. Hence, psychotherapy is
adjusted to the clients and the service users, and not the other way around. In
recent literature, a more pluralistic method of inquiry is now considered in an
effort to address the diversity of psychotherapy processes, encouraging
researchers’ reflexivity on the aspect of psychotherapy they choose to explore (Rieken
& Gelo, 2015). Various methodologies and epistemologies are now employed in
the search for an answer to why psychotherapy works. Qualitative methodologies,
and especially IPA, places the client in–context considering psychological,
physical and social aspects of their experience of psychotherapy. Like
clinicians who tailor their use of techniques to the specific client in the
specific therapeutic relationship, researchers should consider individual needs,
culture and social context, tailoring research methods to specific aspects of
psychotherapy process and change.
Angus, L., Levitt, H. & Hardtke, K. (1999). The narrative processes coding system: Research applications and implications for psychotherapy practice. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55(10), 1255 – 1270.
Holgersen, H., & Gier Høstmark, N. (2010). What is a “good outcome” in
psychotherapy? A qualitative exploration of former patients’ point of view. Psychotherapy
Research, 20(3), 285 – 294. doi: 10.1080/10503300903376338
Dragioti, E., Karathanos, V.,
Gerdle, B., & Evangelou, E. (2017). Does psychotherapy work? An umbrella
review of meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials. Acta Psychiatrica
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If you read the higher education press, you will be aware of the concerns of many British academics and universities following the 2016 referendum and the vote in favour of leaving Europe. How the UK leaves the European Union could have many important consequences for British universities. It may become impossible for British researchers to access European research funds, which in the past have been a major source of funding. Access to staff and student mobility schemes may cease, making it harder for people to travel abroad to study and collaborate. Academic staff from Europe may no longer find the UK an attractive place to come and work, and vice versa.
As an academic that has had strong links with our nearest
European neighbour for some time, the referendum decision has been personally
painful, and the ensuing months and years since torturous. However, I am
determined to do my bit in maintaining close working relationships with our
continental colleagues, however the Brexit project turns out. So I thought I
would use my PSRG blog entry to tell you a bit about French psychology, and the
rewards of international collaboration.
This story really started for me in the winter of 2013, when I decided it might be useful to travel abroad to find out how other institutions were delivering online learning in post-graduate psychology. Having set up a distance-based MSc in the early 2000s, and by 2013 being the programme lead for the doctorate in counselling psychology at UWE, I was keen to see how professional courses could be delivered online. I duly wrote and submitted a travel grant application to the Higher Education Academy (HEA), with a view to visiting the Fielding Institute in California and Paris 8 University in France, both of which run distance courses in clinical psychology (if you are an undergraduate psychology student that speaks good French you might consider the Paris 8 Masters – though using this to get HCPC registered might be less straight forward after Brexit!). Unfortunately, the HEA hit a period of financial turbulence, and the travel grants were axed. As a result, the USA part of the plan had to go, but Paris 8 was possible with some university funding.
So in 2014 I spent a week at Paris 8 University, talking to
staff and students, and finding out how their online MSc in clinical psychology
was run. In France currently, access to the profession of clinical psychology
is via a two year MSc, as it used to be in the UK (before Plymouth University
pioneered professional doctorates in the 1990s, and everyone else followed suit).
I soon discovered that an interesting aspect of clinical psychology at Paris 8
is that it quite closely resembles our counselling psychology course at UWE, in
that students study both humanistic and psychodynamic foundations of therapy,
as well as the ubiquitous cognitive behaviour therapy.
Paris 8 University is well known in France as the experimental university which was founded after the student led riots of 1968. Well known academics have included Foucault and Deleuze. Amongst the current psychology staff is Professor Arnaud Plagnol, who like me has interests in the application of cognitive science to understanding and working with client issues in therapy. Following my 2014 visit, Arnaud and I have collaborated on a number of projects. The picture shown here is a poster we did on neuroscience and depression, at the DCoP conference in Harrogate in 2015. More recently we have written a book together called Cognitive Psychodynamics, which illustrates how psychodynamic insights into phenomena such as the unconscious and transference can be understood and further developed in therapy through a cognitive framework.
Since 2014 I have done a small amount of teaching on the Paris 8 MSc. To help me communicate better with my French colleagues and students, I have attended a number of the annual conferences of the French Psychological Society. This year’s was in Poitiers, and the picture shown here is of the Hotel Fumé, which as the name suggests was built as a hotel by the Fumé family in the 15th century. It became part of the University of Poitiers’ Faculty of Human Sciences in 1922. The University of Poitiers is one of the oldest in France, often seen as the number 2 after Paris (so the French equivalent of Oxford ;). I was pleased to be able to present at the conference the excellent research carried out by one of my professional doctorate students, Sara Dowsett, on the utility of schema theory in understanding mental health issues in higher education students. The great thing about attending this conference is also the opportunity to catch up on some of the research being done by our colleagues in the Francophone world. For example, I listened to an extremely interesting paper by Geoffrey Gauvin, who along with colleagues in Montreal has been looking at the utility of self-help groups for clients with depression. It struck me that the holistic perspective being used with clients in these groups is something we might well benefit from here in the UK.
One of the highlights, as you would expect for a conference in
France, was the conference dinner. I felt privileged to be seated opposite the
president of the French Society, Rene Clarisse. In talking to Rene, one of the
interesting things I learned was psychologists in France are pushing the
government to extend psychology training courses by an extra year, which may
well give rise to the development of professional doctorates in France. Ironically, the similarities between British
and French psychology may well therefore increase even further after Brexit,
just as the possibility of professional mobility may well get harder.
I hope my blog entry encourages you all to reach out to our
continental psychology colleagues and overcome the linguistic barriers, whatever
language your rusty GCSE happens to be in.
I received my undergraduate degree in Psychology from University of Crete in Greece. I then moved to London where I completed my Master of Science in Counselling Psychology as well as my Professional Doctorate (PsyD) in Counselling Psychology at City University of London. Prior to joining UWE, I worked as an Assistant Professor and Director of the Psychology Division at Hellenic American University (Athens, Greece) for three years.
I am a qualitative researcher and my projects have been based on constructionist methodologies like Grounded Theory and Narrative Analysis, but recently I have engaged more into phenomenological paradigms and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis in particular. My scholarly interests initially involved the exploration of psychotherapy termination, trainees’ professional development, mental health practice and the impact of financial crisis on people and services. Over the last years, my research focuses on the investigation of psychotherapy process, change and outcome, developing longitudinal, mixed method and qualitative study designs. I have collaborated with academics and researchers from Greece, UK, Netherlands, and USA, and I have published academic articles and peer-reviewed chapters based on my research activities. Given my expertise in qualitative methodologies, I have been invited to facilitate seminars and also consult on projects by a number of institutions. Moreover, I have been the organizer of five qualitative research panels in national and international conferences and I have been invited to participate in numerous discussions as a presenter. Recently, I was invited to be the keynote speaker in an international conference of the American Counseling Association.
I am a trained psychotherapist, adhering primarily to the psychodynamic and psychoanalytic model of formulation and practice but I have also been trained in Cognitive Behavioural approach. I have worked on short and long term therapeutic basis with a variety of clinical cases (depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, psychosis etc.) and ages (adults, adolescents, children and families). I have collaborated with social workers, play therapists, psychiatrists, teachers and other professionals in the fields of mental health and education. I adhere to the scientist – practitioner model based on my academic and clinical training and practice. As a researcher and a psychotherapist I believe the two domains interact and inform each other. I try to encourage this model to my students and trainees.
Exceptional physical features, together with high commitment and motivation, are important attributes of high-performance athletes. However, when faced with frustrating setbacks, the same qualities of commitment and motivation that have elevated athletes above the pressures of competition can be their own worst enemies. It is not uncommon for elite athletes, especially young athletes to push themselves too far, to overreach and experience extreme tiredness on a regular basis and never reach their full potential because of excessive training load and insufficient recovery.
Unexplained underperformance and persistent fatigue – Exploring overtraining syndrome
Overtraining syndrome has been described as persistent fatigue and underperformance, which occurs following hard training and competition. The symptoms do not improve following two weeks rest and there is no other identifiable cause. It can be a devastating condition, as highly motivated athletes have to cope with the frustration of reduced performance and taking extended periods off training and competition to recover. Monitoring and treating a persistently fatigued athlete can be challenging, as the root cause of the fatigue is often not recognised until months of poor performance have passed. Accurate diagnosis is difficult as there are often numerous other medical and psychological conditions that present with similar symptoms.
There is much debate in the sport science literature regarding the aetiology of overtraining syndrome. Various physiological mechanisms have been proposed to influence an athlete’s vulnerability to the overtraining state. These include low muscle glycogen, decreased glutamine, central fatigue, oxidative stress, an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system, hypothalamic dysfunction and elevated cytokine levels. However, no single marker can be taken as an indicator of impending overtraining syndrome. Until a definitive diagnostic tool for overtraining syndrome is developed, regular monitoring of a combination of performance, physiological, biochemical, immunological and psychological variables seem to be the best strategy to help identify athletes who are failing to recover properly.
Making the familiar unfamiliar – Using visual methods in applied psychological research
My passion for conducting research in the area of overtraining syndrome was inspired by my personal experience of the condition when I was competing as a national level lightweight rower. I understood first-hand what a debilitating condition it can be and the devastating impact it can have on an athletes’ career. I desperately wanted to help further our understanding of the condition so that sport science and medical practitioners could better support athletes like myself. There is a wealth of research that has examined the pathology of the overtraining syndrome, but no comprehensive understanding of the subjective experiences.
When I started my research, I was excited to conduct my first interview with a triathlete who had suffered with the condition for the last five years. I thought long and hard about the questions I was going to ask, and I was eager to hear his responses. But at the end of the interview I felt bitterly disappointed that the answers I received told me nothing I didn’t already know. I could not understand why. Perhaps he had difficulty accessing and communicating his experiences, maybe he was offering a rehearsed narrative, or was it that I was asking the wrong questions?
I attended a seminar organised by my colleagues Victoria Clarke, Nicola Holt and Elizabeth Jenkinson from the psychology department at the University of the West of England, in collaboration with Cathy Randle Phillips and Catherine Butler. The seminar focused on exploring the potential for creative and arts-based methods for applied psychological research. Whilst feeling demotivated and dejected about my research it was following this seminar that I experienced what can only be described as an epiphany. I realised that the problem was that I was asking questions I already knew the answers to; overtraining syndrome had become too familiar – I needed to make it unfamiliar.
The Dormouse – Recollections of a lightweight rower with overtraining syndrome
In my role as a practitioner I have been humbled and privileged to hear the stories of athletes I work with. I have shared in their joy and their sorrow, I have played a part in their journey of self-exploration – my role has been so much more than enhancing athletic performance. Yet in my research, to date, I have not allowed my participants to tell their stories. So, like all mad scientists I conducted a little experiment on myself! I got my camera out and started taking photographs of what overtraining syndrome meant to me. These are the images that represented my experience of living with the condition and some extracts from the story they inspired, told as part of The British Journal of Sports Medicine’s Patient Voices series this month.
Making weight was a challenge for me and my crew, the extreme and frankly ridiculous weight loss strategies we employed in the days leading up to the National Championships in 2000 seem incomprehensible now. I was not at race weight the night before the finals, so I severely restricted my food and drink intake, to the point of dehydration. I remember feeling so thirsty it was uncomfortable to swallow. The blissful sensation of sucking the moisture out of my toothbrush – I savoured that moment when the cool, minty water slid down my throat, it could have been champagne! It was July and I had set the central heating in the house to full blast, I had put on as many layers of clothing as I could, and I slept motionless, restrained from the weight of the blankets pinning me down. Despite subjecting my housemates to a night in a sauna, the next morning I was still 500g over race weight. In a last ditch attempt to be able to compete, I fashioned a t-shirt out of a bin liner, layered all my cold weather kit on top and ran a few laps round the housing estate. I remember darting behind a dustbin when I saw my coach drive past, I did not want him to know the shameful extent of my weight loss strategies. But to me it was normal, it was just part of being a lightweight rower, we all did it, I think our coach did know but he chose to ignore it.
These strategies proved effective as I won a bronze medal at the Nationals, and later a coveted place on the England lightweight women’s rowing squad for the 2002 Commonwealth Games.Everything was going to plan, when one morning at 5.30am as I reached over to turn my alarm off, I felt my head begin to spin, my heart was pounding, and I felt violently sick. I threw up to ease the nausea, sipped some water, put on my kit and drove to the rowing club. I managed to complete the training session, but my legs felt like lead and my heart was racing. This was the start of a progressive decline in performance.
One of the most debilitating symptoms I experienced was the need to sleep. I became affectionally known as “The Dormouse” because I slept over 10 hours a night and during the day. When I stood up my heart rate would go through the roof and my blood pressure would drop, I felt constantly dizzy and sick. I caught cold after cold and I felt like I had a pair of golf balls permanently lodged in my throat. Despite these debilitating physiological symptoms, I was more motivated than ever to represent my country.
It took me two years until I was well enough to do a full training session on the water with the rest of the squad. I had various relapses along the way, but none as severe as the first one. By the time I was fit enough to trial for the national team again I was completely burnt out. The sport that I loved more than anything else in the world, became something I despised and not long afterwards I quit (Woodford, 2019).
My current research has embraced some of the methods offered by the creative arts and has empowered my participants to shape its direction. I am excited about how this new approach can further our understanding of this debilitating condition and help us develop strategies to support those athletes with overtraining syndrome.
There’s an interesting phenomenon when it comes to psychological research; as much as we often characterise scientific research as being objective and neutral, like many researchers, our own personal experiences often guide us and inform us through our exploration of research areas. I am an immigrant raising my daughter in a different country than her grandparents. I was thrust into a new lifestyle of motherhood 3 years ago and had to re-evaluate my identity, my purpose and how I fit into society. As my maternity leave ended and I came back to the world of academic life, I became involved with Acorns ‘n’ Oaks Playgroups, a new organisation which was organising playgroups in care homes across the Bristol area, as a parent participant, a group leader and the research coordinator. I could immediately see the benefits of activities such as these playgroups to not just the older people and the children, but the parents, grandparents, caregivers, student volunteers and staff as well.
We are currently experiencing a crisis of providing mental health support and reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness in our society, whether it’s for older adults, new mothers, or university students, three groups vulnerable to these issues as they experience life transitions. Intergenerational activities have been proposed as a way to prevent and alleviate some of these issues, providing the connections and relationships that allow for improvements in mental and physical health, changes in ageist attitudes, learning opportunities, and stronger communities.
Why is Research Important?
Key to any programme or intervention is the research; activities should be evidence-based and evaluated. For decades, researchers have been investigating the effects of intergenerational contact on its participants, particularly the physical and mental wellbeing of the older participants and the attitudes and social development of the younger participants, finding overall positive consequences from intergenerational experiences. Constructing a coherent picture of intergenerational benefits has been tricky, however. The nature of evaluating programmes that have not been set up as controlled experimental studies means that research often suffers from issues such as small sample size, lack of control groups or control activities, and variation of participants and structure both within and across studies.
Research on intergenerational contact, however, has also been useful to identify what qualities can make a programme more or less successful. Focussing on programmes that aim to reduce negative attitudes toward ageing and stereotypes of older adults, publications such as a recent report for Age UK by Drury et al. (2018) and a review article by Christian et al. (2014) give a thorough review of intergenerational programmes and research findings to highlight, backed by social psychology theory, recommendations for planning and structuring successful intergenerational activities.
Intergenerational Contact and Research: The Next Steps
Research can be greatly beneficial to any organisation interested in setting up and evaluating an intergenerational activity. Although it’s positive that so many nurseries, care homes, community organisations and councils are interested in developing intergenerational activities, the fact that so many of these projects are initiated from the ‘bottom-up’ means they aren’t able to benefit from a top-down structure or organisation that can provide the evidence for planning, the evaluation tools, the practical guidelines such as risk assessments and data protection and funding opportunities. There are, however, some excellent resources, for example the United for All Ages’ webpage which includes tips for planning parent and toddler groups in care homes, St Monica’s Trust’s guide for intergenerational activity, and the Together Young and Old Programme, which provides a number of resources and training opportunities, a toolkit for training people in intergenerational activities and an online course. The more a network of those interested and working in intergenerational activities and research can be developed, the stronger this area will become. Currently I am part of an interdisciplinary intergenerational research group that has recently been awarded funding from the NIHR to do a systematic review on intergenerational programmes and research. This research group grew out of last year’s Innovation in Care: Stories of Intergenerational Action conference, which was a very informative gathering of those working in the area ranging from one-off and pilot projects to regular activities to co-located facilities.
I am currently working with Acorns ‘n’ Oaks to evaluate their playgroup experiences, looking at some of the motivations and perceived effects of participating in the playgroups from the perspectives of the older adults, those that bring children to the group and the staff involved. Psychology students researching this area for their final year undergraduate dissertation have been key in this data collection. Findings will be presented later this year at the 11thInternational Social Innovation Research Conference in Glasgow. I have also been working with BS3 Community in South Bristol, who have run a number of successful intergenerational programmes, including linking their nursery with a local care home, Tech and Talk and their current pilot Grandparent-Toddler playgroup, which will feature as a case study in Children’s Centre Leader magazine later this year. We also have a fantastic opportunity now with the new ExtraCare Stoke Gifford Retirement Village situated next to UWE Frenchay Campus for intergenerational connections to be made with university students, as well as special projects with the local community. Psychology students have been instrumental in working with the new village to develop and run an intergenerational playgroup, funded by a UWE Community Fund and Quartet, and we’re working with ExtraCare to help keep their intergenerational programmes sustainable with a general plan for intergenerational activities across their facilities.
I’m very interested to grow a local Bristol/Southwest network of those involved in intergenerational activities and help provide resources and workshops to those interested in starting and evaluating programmes. If you’d like more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.