A Closer Look

Because a key part of family psychologists' work is facilitating family communication, it seems appropriate that Div. 43 (Family) has declared promoting communication between its scientist and practitioner members its main priority for 2004.

"It's about bringing people together," says Div. 43 President Jay Lebow, PhD, a clinical psychologist and research consultant at the Family Institute of Northwestern University, of the initiative. "We need to refocus our vision to be able to see family psychology as a coherent whole, able to draw from each of its constituent parts and transcend the older conceptualization of practice and science as two disparate activities conducted by different groups aimed toward different ends." Like many areas within psychology, family psychology has researchers and practitioners who often operate in two different worlds: Researchers need to consider the scientific rigor of their research and investigate questions that merit grant funding, while practitioners are looking for ways to help their clients, Lebow explains. And given their different priorities, often these two groups don't inform each other as well as they could, he says. One problem is that it is difficult for researchers to secure grants for research that addresses the kind of questions that matter most to practicing family psychologists--for example, on ways to improve family process, says Lebow. "If you can't get funded for research simply aimed at improving stressed marriages, then people have to refocus their research on other questions such as using marital therapy as a treatment for depression," explains Lebow. "There are some crucial questions for family practitioners that don't get addressed." At the same time, dialogue within family psychology has picked up significantly in the past decade, Lebow points out. The division's 2002 research conference was "overflowing with examples of research with great relevance for intervention," says Lebow, and more family psychology practitioners are open to incorporating research findings into their practice. So Lebow feels certain that his vision of a "co-equal sharing of ideas," where practitioners are informing researchers and vice versa, is within reach for family psychologists. To promote his vision, a track in Div. 43's programming at the upcoming APA Annual Convention in Honolulu, July 28-Aug. 1, will focus on such aspects of the interface between science and practice as the dissemination of empirically supported treatment methods, ways to make research more accessible to family therapists and how to improve communication between scientists and practitioners. The division also devoted the most recent issue of its newsletter, The Family Psychologist, to essays and columns encouraging dialogue between scientist and practitioner members and providing examples of how scientists and practitioners have effectively exchanged ideas. Moreover, Lebow and other division officers are planning a division-sponsored conference for this fall or next spring to further this collaboration. "This dialogue can't be expected to be perfectly smooth...and as we know from couples therapy, the right kind of spirited argument can be useful," says Lebow. "The key questions are not about whether there is full agreement or disagreement, but whether conversation between the scientists and practitioners within family psychology moves forward, and whether that discourse promotes mutual understanding and a helpful exchange of ideas."

Further Reading

For more information on this initiative, contact Div. 43 President Jay Lebow, PhD, at jaylebow@comcast.net or j-lebow@northwestern.edu.