International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Student Perspectives Challenges and Opportunities in Knowledge Transfer: A Conversation Between a Gr

05/31/2017
by By Josianne Lamothe, MSW, Ph.D. candidate, and Jody Sell, MSW, RSW
In the last 30 years there has been a dramatic shift toward the development and adoption of evidence-based practices in clinical settings. This shift was greatly facilitated by the growing collaboration between researchers and clinicians who share a common passion for client wellbeing. This reciprocal exchange of information between research and practice with the aim of achieving improved client outcome is a process referred to as Knowledge Transfer (KT). Although there is no consensus definition for KT, in its simplest of form, KT can be defined as a mutually-enriching conversation between professionals from the fields of research and practice guided by the same objective of improving treatment outcomes (e.g. symptom reduction, assessment accuracy, cost reduction, tool development, improved adherence).

With all its tangible advantages for parties involved (e.g., improved treatment outcomes for clients, enhanced training for clinicians), it is easy to see why KT has generated so much enthusiasm over the last few decades, and why researchers are being encouraged to disseminate their findings beyond the traditional boundaries of academia. As such, opportunities to take part in KT through a variety of means have multiplied (e.g., conferences, trainings, eLearning, social media, public talks). Yet, from the point of view of a graduate student but also clinicians, it is easy to get lost amidst all this enthusiasm and opportunities. Indeed, the role of graduate student and clinicians in this process is somewhat unclear.

As a PhD candidate and aspiring academic, I (Lamothe) see the pertinence of engaging in KT for my future career; but as a current student (read “expert-in-training”), I wonder, do I even have something to contribute at this stage of my professional development? Ironically, I learned that my friend and fellow McGill alumni who is currently working as a trauma therapist (Sell), feels the same way. We both believe in the importance of KT and the need for evidence-based treatment. Just like me, however, she wonders what her role as a clinician should be in promoting and engaging in KT. 

Recent conversations with other graduate students and clinicians have revealed that our insecurities and concerns regarding KT are shared by many. What follows below is a summary of the main points of these conversations. By sharing our thoughts with StressPoints readers, we hope to spark a conversation in the fields of trauma research and treatment about how to promote KT.

KT challenges perceived by graduate students (Lamothe)

1.    Over-specialisation: Many graduate students perceive their research to be too focused or too narrow to be shared with clinicians. There is sense that just because they focus on one aspect of trauma that they are ill-equipped to answer broader, more general questions 

2.    “Imposter syndrome”: Although not an official diagnosis, those who are affected by this syndrome report struggling with excessive self-doubts, depression, and live with the constant fear of being “unmasked as a fraud” despite their obvious success and expertise (Weir, 2013). This often leads graduate students and researchers in general to shy away from KT opportunities (What could seasoned clinicians possibly learn from me? What if they ask me questions I’m not able to answer?)

3.    I don’t want to impose: Many graduate students have a view of clinicians as busy bees drowning in caseloads, and assume they would rather focus on their own work with clients than attend a graduate student’s presentation. 

4.    Reinventing the wheel: Many graduate students are unaware of current KT mechanisms around them and think they would have to set up and promote their own event which can be a daunting undertaking. 

KT challenges perceived by clinicians (Sell)

1.    If I could only find the time….: Unfortunately, the perception that clinicians, specifically in public systems, are over-burdened with cases and administrative requirements is accurate. As in any collaboration or business relationship, both parties need to be assured that benefits of KT activities will outweigh costs (and for clinicians, time is a ‘cost’ on which they can’t afford to compromise). 

2.    Researchers are out of touch with “real clients”: There is a common perception amongst clinicians that those who work only in the research world know a great deal about getting clinical results “in the lab,” but may not understand the complexities of “real world clients” and the need to have a flexible approach. Also, there exists the perception that evidence-based approaches are typically manualized, standardized, and have little room for client variability and clinician creativity.

3.    Imposter Syndrome… strikes again!: Much like researchers, clinicians can feel intimidated in interacting with individuals with very advanced degrees, who were accepted into competitive programs, and are on the way to the top of their very specialized fields. In particular, if KT or clinical/research partnerships involves the evaluation of the ‘success’ of a clinical approach or intervention, clinicians can feel that their performance as a therapist is being evaluated, or worse yet, that their jobs are at stake. 

4.    Not knowing how to get things started, either: Clinicians often assume that researchers are also very busy people doing “more important things” than collaborating on projects in the community. Like researchers, clinicians are unsure of how to approach a professor or graduate student to ask for collaboration, and may not be aware of mechanisms already in existence for this.

Finding solutions together

Luckily, just as many of the barriers to KT are similar among researchers and clinicians, so too are many of the solutions.  What matters is that clinicians and researchers get regular opportunities to interact through different mediums (e.g., trainings, wine-and-cheese events, informal talks, social media,). Below, we list a few possibilities to help both graduate students and clinicians engage in KT.

1.    You do belong here: Whether you are a graduate student who has spent many coffee-filled nights summarizing current scholarship on a given topic or a clinician with a “real-world” understanding of trauma and working with survivors, we all have something to contribute, and it is important to know this. 

2.    Look around: You do not have to set up, organize, and promote your own KT event. KT mechanisms already exist in many large clinical settings and are constantly recruiting new presenters and an audience. These KT mechanisms take the form of brown bag meetings, after-hours wine and cheese symposiums, public conferences, TEDtalks, and student research days. 

3.    Advocate: KT is increasingly becoming an important aspect of evidence-based practices. If your organization currently does not have any KT mechanisms in place, consider advocating for their inclusion. It is crucial that organizations give clinicians and researchers the time to meet and discuss important aspects of trauma treatment. 

4.    Explore your network: Your organization does not currently have any KT mechanisms in place for you to jump in on? Consider talking to colleagues in other settings about your desire to engage in KT. Perhaps their organizations of KT mechanims in place that you can participate in. 

5.    Embrace social media: Social media is one way to engage in KT. It’s a dialogue you can have with not only colleagues in the field but also the greater public in the comfort of your own pajamas. Several researchers and clinicians operate blogs, Facebook pages or are active on Twitter. 

6.    Learn to be confidant…: If you’re a student, remember that clinicians want to hear about issues that concern their clients. Don’t assume they are automatically not interested in hearing your presentation. Discuss expectations before setting up your presentation. If you’re a clinician, your insight into findings is invaluable. Clinicians need to feel safe to engage in their best work and to be involved in any process, and making goals/intentions clear as well as removing a judgment/performance aspect on an individual level can assist in this area. 

7.    … but not too confident: Using highly technical terms or clinical lingo in an attempt to make the other side feel as if they just “don’t get it” helps no one. Instead, let us have the humility to recognize that we bring one perspective on the treatment of trauma and that knowledge can come from many sources. KT is about listening as much as it is about speaking.  

We end this written conversation with this last point; engaging in KT is not only a personal choice, it is an organizational one. What kind of research lab do we want to be, one that is isolated from “real-world clients” or one that actively seeks out and uses clinical knowledge? Inversely, what kind of clinical practice do we aspire to, one that fosters continuous learning and evidence-based treatments or one that shuns away from new insights? Both sides can benefit from KT and appear motivated to listen to one another, so why not make a choice as an institution to promote KT? Allow clinicians to take time off their caseload to attend KT events, extend lunch hours at hospitals for brown bag research presentations, make an active effort to promote research symposiums as clinician-friendly events, and invite them to your next lab get-together. If researchers and clinicians are too busy to come together and discuss treatment, we are doing it wrong.

About the Authors

Josianne Lamothe, MSW, Ph.D. candidate, is a second-year PhD student (criminology) at the University of Montreal. She studies how mental health workers adapt to the constant challenges posed by workplace violence. Her research interests are victimology, trauma, resilience, social support, violence prevention, and organisational dynamics. She also works as a research assistant in the field of child protection. Josianne is a strong believer in the importance of knowledge transfer seizes every opportunity that passes to partake in this process.  

Jody Sell, MSW, RSW, is a trauma therapist currently in private practice in Newmarket, ON. Jody completed her Master’s at McGill University in 2012, and has been pursuing clinical training in a number of evidence-based treatment methods for trauma since this time. From her Master’s research (on profiles of children living in residential care in Montreal) to her first placements, to her work now, Jody’s professional soul has always been in the understanding and treatment of complex trauma. She also has a strong passion for bringing the worlds of research and clinical practice closer together with the goal of enhancing client treatment outcomes.   

Reference

Wiers, K. (2013) Feel like a fraud? GradPSYCH : An American Psychological Association publication, 11: pp. 24. 
 

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