The Cancer in Academia and Mental Health Research
I have made no secret about my skepticism in the clinical value of new research in mental health in the last decade. I am just not certain we are targeting the right areas or bodies of underdeveloped research and moving forward in the important or needed areas to truly impact mental health as a discourse or field of inquiry. As a social worker, I sit on a vast, layered, and profoundly broader body of knowledge, theoretical understanding, and foundation of information than some other more narrow-focused disciplines out there in mental health. This is why I believe it is up to social workers, prosumers (people with lived experience and professional training) and other more ornate backgrounds and experiences to jettison research into the next era.
ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), and other hot interventions like Dialogical Therapies, while sharing some commonalities, also share what has truly become a cancer in mental health research. This cancer, located at the metaphysical polarities of the clinical spectrum for accepted, empirical, and “evidence-based” research, continues to eat away, and carve out the discourse of mental health treatment from within. The acuity and esoteric nature of these hot, miracle modalities continue to overshadow what we practitioners are setting out to do. Instead of practitioners learning a vast, eclectic, and broad skill set to treat all diagnosable, or treatable conditions, the task at hand has become estranged from healing and the helping process.
Alas, clinicians are boxed into a small physiological space for learning new research, and identifying gaps in current mental health trends and community-based needs. In a sense, these mental health clinician-crats, and those that decide, what techniques, are in, and which are out, are ruling out, and marginalizing hope and healing for a segment of the population which could benefit and stand to profit from advancing research forward across the board, and not limiting future data collection to the in treatments and those practiced by those with more influence in the field than intellectual credence. I am very serious about the set of propositions I am laying out here. This is part of a restatement of claims I have made before, but this article needs to signal a giant tectonic shift in how we do things in our field.
So, who really is charged with appraising the clinical value of our research these days? Who is really validating the claims researchers are making? Scholarly work, studies, published papers, all of these outlets and mediums for dissemination good information in our field have bias. We must accept and own these biases. Peer reviewed work, blinded, however we tell ourselves our work is pure, intellectually and ethically solvent, needs to be overhauled if not torn down at the very ground floor we built the discourse on before we can call ourselves truly non bias, and platonic in our commitment to unassailable research in mental health. Let’s be totally honest here. Endorsement of peer work in academia is as rife with political intrigue, and back door funneling of money, and funding, as the White House. The difference with academia is that we refuse to talk about it, and there are no television dramas depicting our ethical and moral battles in the wings of institutions and library halls.
Similar to the perseveration of our patients, we must re-direct the very meaning-making, and re-target the areas of research which aren’t talked about. The missing or underdeveloped areas of research which continue to confound, and contest the very bodies of knowledge we hold as truly incontestable. Well, if we really being honest about what we do in mental health, we would do just that. No modality, no study, no manuscript for submission is truly above reproach. There are taboo areas of how we do things as researchers that are problematic. If we do not overhaul and turn academia, pedagogy and practice on its head sooner rather than later we are headed for disaster. I would hazard to say the destruction of this field as we know it as an accepted discourse of intellectual inquiry. So, before it is too late, ask questions, continue to go against the current, until the very armamentarium of new research moves with us towards a brighter, healthier vistas tomorrow.