Millions of people in America struggle with mental health, but it remains an area that we have little understanding about. Mental health counselors often have to use decades-old knowledge and information, an approach that doesn’t always help the patient.
Good research gives mental health counselors answers to some of the most pertinent questions. They collect and analyze information and data about different conditions and behaviors in the hope that they can learn something that will help their patients.
As you embark on your online masters in clinical mental health counseling at St Bonaventure University, you will cover topics like introduction to counseling, advanced human growth and development, diagnosis of psychopathology, and agency and multicultural counseling. You will also learn about the different research methods for mental health, including qualitative and quantitative research. You will be instructed on how to recognize each and what methodology is best for different research questions. You will be taught how to design research projects and critically analyze data and information.
These are complex topics, and it helps to know what they are about in advance. If you familiarize yourself you will be better placed to understand quantitative and qualitative research and how both are used by mental health counselors.
What is qualitative research in mental health practice?
It is used to collect and analyze non-numerical feedback. Researchers use this approach when trying to understand concepts, thoughts, and experiences in their patients and the community.
This type of research methodology is used to gain insights into topics that are not very well understood.
Although it can help answer certain questions, qualitative research is often at risk of bias. Researchers draw on their experience and thoughts on whatever they are investigating, which can be colored by bias.
If, for example, a mental health counselor is trying to establish the reasons for a particular behavior in patients, they may find themselves leaning towards their knowledge and experience with that behavior.
Say, for example, that a counselor is trying to establish a link between class performance and social status. It is widely assumed that children from families that are financially stable do better than those from low-income families.
A researcher may let this assumption guide them, and this will affect the quality of their research.
Mental health counselors use some prescribed methods to measure behavior within the sample group.
The counselor hands out questionnaires and surveys to his patients or whoever else they wish to gather information on. Afterward, he collates the answers and analyzes them to determine a trend.
Using this method, the mental health counselor observes his test subjects to determine whether they fit certain pre-determined behaviors.
Implicit attitude testing
This looks at how patients respond to prompts within a given time.
Qualitative methods are often inflexible. If, for example, a patient doesn’t understand a question, they don’t have much room to change the question.
A researcher may very well miss important information because they didn’t ask the right questions.
The method is also broad and complex. It is best used to explore loose patterns and themes within test subjects.
What is quantitative research in mental health practice?
This type of research is more reliable because it deals with raw data. Rather than explaining certain phenomena, it measures and determines their prevalence. Researchers use it to confirm thoughts and assumptions within a sample group.
Using the above example, a researcher, rather than trying to understand why some students do well, and others do not, would gather data on the academic performance of children from rich and low-income families.
They would analyze that data to see how many children do well in class and their financial background.
There isn’t much room for the researcher’s opinions to color the results. The numbers talk for themselves.
There are several steps to developing a quantitative survey:
- The mental health counselor generates a hypothesis, or theory, and determines what variables need to be measured to answer the hypothesis.
- They develop suitable instruments to measure their hypothesis.
- After that, they develop a series of experiments to manipulate the variables.
- They experiment and collect empirical data, which they can then analyze to come up with a conclusion.
Certain assumptions come into play when one conducts quantitative research:
- It assumes that the world is measurable
- That humans are objective observers
- That we can learn more about a test subject by gathering data about them
These assumptions hold in many cases, but not always. Some things will remain the same whether you measure them today or 1,000 years in the future.
However, some things change, and it is the researcher’s job to understand why they change and how it affects results.
What is the value of qualitative and quantitative research?
Why do mental health counselors use these methods to gather and analyze information?
It is a reliable way to measure biophysical factors and how they affect mental health
Doing qualitative and quantitative research is a good way to examine biological, psychological, and social factors in mental health.
The data can be used to determine causation. For example, a qualitative research study can be used to determine what is causing mental health problems within a certain population or age group.
Quantitative research can be used to examine what patients think about some of the issues they face. For example, a mental health counselor can do a research study on why patients relapse after rehab.
The data gathered is important in creating treatment programs, and it can also be used on a larger scale to develop public health policies and strategies that improve the mental health of communities and the wider public.
Both types of research help us understand how to promote mental health
By examining and analyzing the factors that lead to certain mental health conditions, we can identify causes and come up with ways to mitigate them for individual patients and the public.
For example, a mental health counselor may notice that many of his patients get to bed late and wake up too early. He opts to research how many hours of sleep are optimal for good mental health.
He can use qualitative research to get an understanding of the factors that affect the number of sleep hours and the quality of sleep.
He can also use quantitative research to determine how much sleep his test subjects get each night, what time they get to bed, and what time they wake up.
Not only will they use this information to help their patients, but they can also share it with the public so that people know how much sleep they need to enjoy good mental health.
Research provides a basis for public health policy and spending
Researchers provide evidence for whether certain health policies work. They can help justify spending in certain areas while lowering it in others.
Governments and private institutions use the information gathered through qualitative and quantitative research to determine where they should focus their efforts and how much money they should spend.
A good example is the use of drugs. In some countries like Canada, it has been determined that rather than educating people on the dangers of drugs like heroin and cocaine, or using interventions, having clinics where they can use these drugs safely saves more lives in the end.
The government hasn’t entirely abolished programs to educate people on the dangers of drug use, but it has lowered spending and instead used that money to establish supervised clinics that provide access to clean needles and unadulterated drugs.
Conducting research gives the counselor valuable insights
Mental health counselors use research to understand certain behaviors and their causes. This helps them design better treatment programs that can lead to wellness more quickly.
How to conduct sound mental health research
Counselors must be careful when researching because if they draw the wrong conclusions, it can have wide-ranging effects for years to come.
They must formulate their research questions carefully, design control experiments and choose their study subjects with care.
Additionally, they must:
- Be ethical at all times. It is not unusual to hear of researchers who went to extraordinary lengths to prove or disprove a theory, hurting people and disregarding common ethics. Mental health counselors must be ethical at all times and always take into account the well-being of their patients.
- Use scientific methods. They help collect, analyze, and organize data so that it can be used to draw conclusions. Using a scientific approach introduces organization and sound reasoning to research.
- Share findings with colleagues and the wider world. This allows peers to repeat experiments to see whether they will come up with similar research. Sharing also provides a firm foundation for healthy academic debate that can be used to improve mental health care.
Common topics researched by mental health counselors
As you pursue an online master’s in mental health counseling, you will be asked to write up research papers. It is important to choose a topic that resonates with the times and deals with problems that patients face today.
Below are some of the most commonly researched topics for mental health.
Loneliness has been declared an epidemic in America. A 2023 report by the Surgeon General indicates that a large number of Americans lack social connections, and it is affecting their health in different ways.
As a mental health counselor, you will encounter many patients who suffer from isolation. It may present as something else, but as you probe, you will discover their main problem is a lack of social connections.
Our understanding of gender has evolved, and in the 21st century, it can be quite confusing.
Mental health counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists are trying to understand the role of gender in the well-being of an individual and the communities within which they live.
Numerous studies have been conducted on this topic, but it seems we are no nearer to finding answers than we were at the very beginning.
More research is needed to give us a better understanding of addiction and how to beat it.
Childhood mental health
Too many children in America are diagnosed with ADHD or other disorders affecting their learning and socialization.
Why do we have such high numbers compared to other Western countries? What is the cause of these disorders, and how can we drive down their numbers in the future?
The effects of social media on children and young people
This is of concern to many parents, teachers, and guardians, and there has been plenty of research done to get a better understanding of what social media does to young brains.
Violence in homes
This is an old problem, but we seem unable to find solutions to it. We are yet to understand why it happens and how it can be alleviated.
How can counselors help families live harmonious and productive lives, providing a conducive environment for children to grow up in?
The effects of childhood trauma on adult life
Some people endure terrible trauma as children and emerge without much scarring. They become well-adjusted adults and live fruitful and happy lives.
Some endure similar trauma, and it eclipses their adult lives. They are not able to make much of their lives and often go on to become dangerous individuals.
What makes these two groups different? The research that has been done so far has yet to provide clear answers.
These are a few of the topics that mental health counselors are struggling with today. They remain popular with researchers because we don’t have a good understanding of their causes and how they can be solved.
Mental health counselors can use qualitative and quantitative research methods to better understand the issues affecting their patients.
Qualitative research deals with opinions, while quantitative research is about numbers and data. Each method has advantages and drawbacks and should be used only when suitable.