Division of Counselling Psychology

Workplace Research

This contribution is offered by Dr Masrita Ishaq, a newly qualified counselling psychologist. Masrita is also the editor of the fortnightly E-letter and has taken over the Division’s official Twitter account.
Experience of workplace research for a newly qualified Counselling Psychologist

Research has always been at the forefront of my mind; after all I have had a long academic career spanning over 8 years. So, it was not surprising that as I moved from a university to a workplace setting post qualification, I wondered how I could integrate research into my current role. 

In my first role at a university counselling service, I did not have to think hard, the research opportunity was presented to me. In collaboration with the Department of Complementary Health, I assessed people for either CBT or Acupuncture treatment, as part of a Randomised Controlled Trial. Although, I did not manage to participate in the analysis and write up phase, it gave me a good foundation on how research at workplace could look like. 

Subsequently, I moved to a newly created post in a residential recovery setting for people diagnosed with mental health problems. I worked with established teams and this role has challenged the very core of my understanding of a psychologist’s role, from explaining how psychological therapy works, to setting up reflective practice groups and creating a psychologically informed environment. Given that I also worked individually and in groups with service users, carrying out research has felt insurmountable. Despite this, I often wondered how research would look like in this setting. So, I drew up a list of the things I thought a sound research would need to include: 

  • First carrying out a comprehensive literature review, 
  • Then drafting a research proposal, 
  • Followed by obtaining ethical approval (and who would I approach to get this?!)
  • Interviewing participants or administering some form of psychometric measure (and where would I get the time to do this during my working hours?!)
  • Analysing the data (which means I wouldn’t get downtime from work…)
  • And finally writing it up (Do I have the time and where would I get it published?! Is this worthwhile? Actually is this even part of my role as a counselling psychologist?)

The task felt monumental and as you can see, I was able to come up with many reasons why it just wasn’t something that I could have done at that moment. I also wasn’t sure about my organisation’s policy around this- who would I need to approach about this and would also understand my ‘research-speak’. However, the scientist part of me did not want to lose my research skills. I also found that, when I first started my role there was a paucity of information for psychologists working in these settings. All these fuelled my desire to contribute and be involved in a conversation about research at workplace and in residential recovery settings.  

The opportunity for a conversation came for me in the form of a study day organised by the Psychologists in Rehabilitation and Recovery Services Network. What was most apt was that there was a presentation on research in a rehabilitation setting. The psychologist was in a similar position to me, although admittedly she approached her role much more systematically than I did. She started her job by asking and noting down how others perceived her role (among other topics), compiled, analysed and presented it scientifically to the team. This then formed the basis of her role and ensured that she is addressing a gap in the service. On a side note, she had an assistant psychologist to support her with these research. This was when it struck me- research at work did not have to involve complicated and elaborate procedures, nor does it have to be a deeply academic topic. I could simply start with something that I am interested in learning more about, which will also benefit the services, and proceed from there.

So, when my manager requested me to run a few training days for the recovery workers on Psychological Interventions, I seized the occasion to plan some form of research to answer a few long standing queries I have about how Psychology is perceived in these services. Specifically, here, I was interested in knowing how the recovery workers understood psychological interventions and their part in providing and/or drawing from CBT and DBT (which are the primary models that inform the services). My interest in knowing more about this area also correspond to the development of the psychologist role and the novel provision of psychology in these services. I started by clarifying the organisation’s policy around this, which involved no more than to maintain service user’s confidentiality. Moreover, I ensured participants’ anonymity as part of the ethical process. Following this, I emailed attendees to inform them that their responses in the last part of the training will contribute to a research report, and to notify me if this will cause any issues for them. None has expressed any so far, and in fact, they were very interested in participating and wanted to know what their colleagues think. Everyone who attended the training were asked a set of open ended questions, their responses recorded and collated to form a report, which will be shared across the services.   

It may be debatable whether this qualifies as research, perhaps not in its strictest sense or that this is simply a survey, or whether making such distinctions is inconsequential. In my opinion, as long as it contributes to an increased understanding of relevant and pertinent issues, it is worthwhile to formulate and carry out a research study. Although work demands may seem relentless and organisational policies may seem daunting, research at workplace does not have to feel insurmountable. As we are curious about our clients’ worldview, we can be equally curious about our professional settings.

Dr Masrita Ishaq