Sofie Bager-Charleson is well placed to have written her latest book, Doing Practice-Based Research in Therapy: A Reflexive Approach. A psychotherapist, supervisor, writer of fiction and non-fiction and Doctoral academic adviser, she successfully pulls together a large number of strands in the research and therapy literature to highlight the value of practice-based research – a relatively little understood area in the social science research literature. Relatively small as a book, it manages to pack a lot in, making it an ambitious and inspiring read for anyone interested in research, which more and more qualifying therapists are encouraged to be. When I qualified over a decade ago, research wasn’t on my curriculum, an omission I regret as I now begin a Doctorate.
The book begins with an exploration of key characteristics of practitioner research and introduces the integral link between the researcher (therapist) and the research of the therapist. The hum of the scientific paradigm of ‘certainty’ – as Freud himself attempted to replicate – is acknowledged and accepted, yet set off against the more pluralistic and open enquiry of human relatedness that qualitative studies often aim to capture. While therapists are inevitably drawn to qualitative approaches, which inevitably involves self-reflection, Bager-Charleson uses examples of helpful quantitative thinking too.
Wide territories are chartered in the early chapters, signposted with further useful reading – including a look at evidence-based research, formulating a research question, conducting literature reviews, considering ethics, epistemology and methodology. These chapters are far from dry – not least because of a consistent use of case-studies from Doctoral candidates sharing their research experiences. There are also plenty of reflective exercises littered throughout, but also the text pays frequent attention to the duty incumbent on the reflexive researcher to reflect on his/her emotional responses, cultural conditioning and levels of competency.
Reflexivitiy is so central to this book’s thinking (hence the title), that four chapters explore it in some depth – with a look at how it relates to introspection (such as with autoethnographic research) , intersubjective reflection (such as with psychoanalytically-informed infant observation research) and mutual collaboration (such as with the use of co-operative inquiry groups). I particularly like a concluding chapter by Simon Du Plock, ‘Making An Impact’ where he encourages research that is clinically useful – ideas that get out there in the world to make a difference rather than sit on an Institute’s library shelf gathering dust.