Impact as a symbolic concept

Most professionals operate outside of the rarified echo-chamber of academic discourse. Whilst in psychotherapy there has been increased emphasis on the desirability of paying attention to the ‘evidence’ (with little discussion of what that might mean….), there has been very little engagement with how research is disseminated, understood, challenged or utilised by busy therapists.

Borrowing from the field of social policy the work of Christina Boswell is informative on this issue. She has shown that while research impact is measured (in terms, for example, of the REF) in instrumentalist terms, its value is often considered to be more symbolic – the attention of the researchers ┬álegitimises key players, perhaps could be said to be raising profile generally rather than influencing key output decisions. In psychotherapy this effect is important and pronounced – one of the key qualities fostered by therapists is a capacity to loosen up the ‘rational’ function of the mind.

It is crucial for the future of depth and integrative psychotherapy that practitioners engage with research output, but this will not happen until that output sings a song to the profession which it wants to whistle along to. Instrumental ‘impact’ of various interventions are not going to appeal to the humanistic, existential and transpersonal therapist on a day to day level. What is needed is the reinvigoration of the knowledge base of the profession – this is where the academic community could serve wellbeing professionals. The reinvigoration of the knowledge base, the symbolic impact of the vibrancy of the research culture. Time for a new conversation.

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