Connecting solid research in social work and counseling with treatment strategies is a practice gaining more attention. Called Evidence-Based Practice, or EBP, the term can be applied in different ways to help therapists and experts at the policy level make the best decisions possible, drawing on all current knowledge.
Many experts in the social work field agree that Evidence-Based Practices are ultimately based on the determination of a critical question that reflects a patient’s needs. Once the question has been formulated, an answer is sought using scientific study and evidence. This evidence should guide the use of the treatment.
First coined in relation to medical practice, Evidence-Based Practice has also been used to study educational philosophies, in the law field for working with offenders, and for considerations of child welfare. Knowledge learned from evidence-based practices can be applied before treatment, during therapy and after care, allowing for the best chances of success.
EBP for social work and mental illness treatment requires an assessment of available research studies on particular treatments, as well as expanding and adding new research in key areas. Evidence-Based Treatment can be used interchangeably with the term Evidence-Based Practice, and involves the act of basing a practice on results from specific criteria evaluated in a scientific-based setting. In general, treatments based on Evidence-Based Practices will show consistent, positive outcomes for clients.
The National Institute of Mental Health invited experts from the federal level and leaders in the social work field to a symposium on EBP in 2007, resulting in a published report, “Partnerships to Integrate Evidence-Based Mental Health Practices into Social Work Education and Research.”
Several key considerations emerged from the symposium, including the statement that people working in the mental health field should be trained in the assessment and diagnostic practices toward mental illnesses, believing that this allows for the best possible intervention recommendations.
Second, Evidence-Based Treatments can be modified to match a patient’s beliefs, life situation or circumstances. In addition, both patients and mental health providers are critical within research planning so that research involves the most current, practical topics possible.
Another consideration for Evidence-Based Practice is the awareness that mental illnesses often occur on multiple levels simultaneously, and can be treated with a diverse base of treatments. Therefore, people working in the social and mental health fields must build an extensive knowledge base and be exposed to Evidence-Based Practice often.
As EBP continues to gain recognition across the social and mental health fields, a growing list of resources are available in book form, on the Internet and through conferences and symposiums. The Campbell Collaboration is an emerging leader in the field of EBP, and acts as a nonprofit organization on an international level to analyze the success of interventions in fields like social work, psychology and mental illness. Federal resources are also available, such as the National Guideline Clearinghouse.
It is recommended that therapists reviewing Evidence-Based Practices consider the level of flexibility the research findings offer in terms of their particular clients’ needs. For example, a therapist may want to carefully consider the varying life situations and cultural environments that contribute to patients’ challenges.
As Evidence-Based Practices continue to link professional research with professional treatments and outcomes for clients, experts are especially hopeful that the philosophy may help treat widespread illnesses such as anxiety disorders.