As a clinical scientist, I had no doubt that my value for research would generalize into my approach to parenting. During my pregnancy, I prepared for the transition to parenthood with the same rigor and enthusiasm that I approach a new research project. I exhaustively searched literature—gaining expertise in safety and consumer satisfaction rating of many types of child gear. I consulted experts—working closely with a Lamaze instructor, obstetrician, and pediatrician to prepare. I took good care of myself—relying heavily on social support, resting, and maintaining optimal prenatal care. In short, I designed a perfectly smooth transition into parenthood that, of course, included all of the most research-based practices for promoting optimalinfant development.
My well-controlled, internally valid design for parenthood took a serious hit when I actually became a parent. On one hand, I had a conceptual understanding of “best practices” for various topics related to parenting and infant caregiving. On the other hand, my real world lived experiences highlighted significant barriers to consistently implementing these practices. In short, I often found myself caught in the uncomfortable, guilty mire of discrepancy between understanding what I should do and recognizing what I did do. This discrepancy was not because of ignorance or a lack of motivation to do my very best as a parent. Instead, real world barriers challenged my initial model for parenthood and required a more flexible plan.
This experience as a new parent reminded me of the science-to-service gap that is frequently discussed in the psychological intervention literature. Specifically, evidence-based psychological interventions that are supported by researchare not consistently used in community settings where clients seek treatment. I believe that this gap, usually, is not due to clinicians’ ignorance about best practices or lack of motivation to provide the best care to clients. In my view, a major contribution to this gap is that well-controlled research designs may not account for barriers that clients and clinicians face in the real world. Fortunately, there are ways in which researchers can address this gap.
A thorough understanding of barriers can advance intervention research and clinical practice. This understanding depends on open communication and a bi-directional flow of information between researchers and clinicians. One strategy for promoting open communication is researchers actively soliciting feedback from clinicians and clients when designing studies.As a parent, I felt so supported when our pediatrician invited discussions about difficult aspects of infant care. With a better understanding about difficulties I was encountering, the pediatrician could make more targeted, personalized recommendations. I, in turn, felt understood which helped to strengthen my alliance with the pediatrician. Similarly, researchers and clinicians can work together to design studies that are well suited to understanding if, how, and under which conditions therapy works.
Furthermore, researchers can adopt flexible designs that emphasize external validity. For example, rather than labs or university clinics,interventions can be tested in the community settings in which they occur. As a parent, I’ll never forget the benefit of working with a lactation consultant in my home. The consultant was able to see difficulties as they arose and problem-solve realistic solutions with me. Similarly, conducting intervention research in the community settings where interventions are likely to be implemented can ensure that a particular intervention is feasible in a particular setting.
Finally, researchers can acknowledge community clinicians’ unique skills and leverage their expertise by including them as part of the research team. Community clinicians are an obvious choice as the treatment implementers. As a parent, I appreciated times when our pediatrician acknowledged that I knew my children best and invited me to share in decision making about medical care. Rather than relying solely on the pediatrician to provide instructions for how to care for my children, I felt invested in closely monitoring progress between visits and continuing to maintain current knowledge about medical decisions. I believe that this “partnership” stance has helped ensure the best possible care for my children. Similarly, having community clinicians as part of the research team can promote investment in evidence-based practice, enhanced clinical care, and a seamless marriage of research and practice even after the conclusion of a study.
My early experiences as a parent inspired me to reflect on what is and what is not helpful for addressing the science-to-service gap. These experiences reminded me of the importance of flexibility and of open communication—two qualities that are also important in addressing the science-to-service gap. In addition, I had the good fortune of working with caring individuals who often reminded me of something that I had told countless clients in the past—“You are doing the best you can. It is okay to have some compassion for yourself.” I believe that this message is important for new parents, researchers, clinicians, and clients alike.
Families in Psychology Project