Wednesday, February 04, 2009

On Becoming "Research Informed"

I have been attending Summit ’09 of the Spiritual Care Collaborative. It has been an interesting experience, and mostly good.

It will have come to the attention of regular readers that I’m interested in research. It turns out that so are a lot of other chaplains. At Summit ’09 there were three separate 90-minute workshops on research for chaplains, not to mention any number that were in one sense or another were informed by research.

I like the concept of being “research informed” as a profession. I took the phrase from George Fitchett, expressed in one of the workshops mentioned above. He speaks in that phrase of a situation in which a few chaplains are actively involved in research, whether as primary investigators or collaborating with others; but all chaplains are aware of research and able to read and consider it critically.

I think this is a worthwhile goal. It’s not something we learn in our theological training. Oh, we do see the results of two sorts of research. We see the results of academic research – the results of extensive studies of articles and critical reflections. However, that research is, essentially, literature criticism. That is, it’s not quantitative, or even qualitative research resulting in numbers. (That’s not to say it’s not quality research; just that research done by an historian is usually different from research done by a physician; and for some important purposes chaplains need to be more in the second group.)

That said, I shared in the workshop my own concern that there are two resources for research that we need to attend to and work with. The first is research about spirituality and health care done by folks in other disciplines. Nurses, physicians, and social workers are publishing research related to spirituality. We as chaplains need to be looking at it for two reasons. First, some of it is actually useful, and we need to know about it. Second, some of it is really not good from our perspective, and we need to be responding critically to it. If those other journals started getting clear and reasoned responses from chaplains, our visibility would rise.

Second, and sadly, we haven’t really read each other’s research. I’m aware of that when, year after year, some of the same topics keep showing up – a new model for spiritual assessment, or a justification for demonstrating our work with numbers, for example. We need to be reading and reviewing one another’s work, and responding critically. Even more important, we need to be reading one another’s work and seeking to replicate studies. In any field, it is the replication that demonstrates that the work is valid and useful. It is also replication that allows us to meaningfully respond and perhaps tweak tools, categories, and hypotheses. If we want to discuss our work as “evidence-based” in the evidence-based world of health care, it is precisely that replication that will confirm the usefulness of our evidence.

This has been a worthwhile conference over all, and I will have other things to say or to point to. However, these thoughts came up in the context of a valuable workshop, and I wanted to get them out. It’s not enough for us to talk about being “evidence-based” or “research informed,” if we’re not making use and sense of the research already out there.

1 comment:

GH Jones said...

Thank you Marshall for your thoughtful comments. I will read, mark and inwardly digest what you are offering.

Gary H. Jones