Empirical Methods and Psychology

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A debate rages in psychology. It is not one of the usual kind, dwelling on a specific aspect of the mind or a new drug, but a controversy dealing with the very foundations of psychology. The issue is determining how psychologists should treat patients and on what psychologists base their choices. Some feel that they must be empirically-supported treatments, treatments backed by hard data and scientifically supported. Others feel that this standard for treatments is much too confining for the complex field of psychology and that many good treatments cannot be backed by hard data. The American Psychological Association President Task Force on Evidence-Based Treatment came out with a plan for psychology that effectively maintains a high scientific standard but allows for a variety of research designs to be used in determining how to treat a patient. This plan of evidence-based practice in psychology (EBPP) is a strong standard for psychology because it allows patients to receive science-backed treatment that is still personalized.

EBPP “is the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture, and preferences” (APA Task Force 2006). The first major facet of EBPP is the use of the best available research. For many, this might imply only randomized clinical trials (RCTs), and opponents have argued that RCTs are too narrow a type of study for psychology. A very valid point, this had been addressed in the new EBPP standard. Multiple types of research are included, ranging from public health and ethnographic research, to systematic case studies, to qualitative research, to meta-analyses (APA Task Force 2006).

Using research-backed treatments cuts down on bias...

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