Bridging the Gap between Research-Supported Interventions and Everyday Social Work Practice: A New Approach

Aug 11, 2014

Clinical trials are essential to making progress in developing new methods for social work to help clients. Research universities use randomized clinical trials to conduct research in the field. But there are limitations to applying the results of randomized clinical trials to actual field situations. Clinical trials rely on comparing a test group to a control group. Yet often in a university research setting, neither the test group nor the control group reflect the realities of service provision in an everyday practice setting.

Furthermore, randomized clinical trials require funding; grant applications can severely limit the scope of the trial or the flexibility of the researcher. Yet the highly structured requirements for grant funding, especially Federal funding, limit the scope and flexibility of the studies.

In a recent article in Social Work, Allen Rubin, Ph.D., recommends a new approach to studies that would help bridge the gap between research and practice. Noting that both NASW and CSWE have been calling for improvements in the ways social work practice is informed by research, Rubin says that a gap remains nonetheless. He recommends modifying research-supported treatment interventions to fit specific practice settings, and using comparisons between various treatment programs to measure the effectiveness of the treatments. Using statistical analysis between the various research and practice applications of methods, researchers could judge the effectiveness of interventions in various settings without having to compare to a control group. A database of research, treatment interventions, and results could facilitate this method.

Rubin notes:

This approach might not appeal to researchers who already have been achieving success in procuring major funding. Neither might it work for junior faculty members who must seek major external research funding as a prerequisite for achieving tenure.…For other researchers, including faculty members at all ranks as well as doctoral students seeking a doable yet valuable dissertation topic, this approach provides a way to do research that is highly useful to social work practice and is feasible, without requiring the long and often futile pursuit of elusive major funding.

He further notes:

When obtaining major research funding becomes the main or only route to academic success, pressure to obtain it might impede alternative research pursuits of significant value to the profession.

By bridging the gap between research and practice through the comparison of one-group case studies, significant advancement in social work practice can be achieved without the pressures of resorting to major funding. Collaboration with practitioners is built, and information can flow between researchers and practitioners better facilitating the knowledge and benefits to the profession and to social work clients.

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