You have to admit the phrase “best practice” is the buzzword of late. Graduate school training programs, professional continuing education events, policy and practice guidelines, and funding decisions are tied in some form or another to the concept. So, what exactly is it? At the State and Federal level, lists of so-called “evidence-based” interventions have been assembled and are being disseminated. In lockstep, as I reviewed recently, are groups like NICE. Their message is simple and straightforward: best practice is about applying specific treatments to specific disorders.
Admittedly, the message has a certain “common sense” appeal. The problem, of course, is that behavioral health interventions are not the psychological equivalent of penicillin. In addition to the numerous studies highlighted on this blog documenting the failure of the “specific treatments for specific disorders” perspective, consider research published in the Spring 2010 edition of the Journal of Counseling and Development by Scott Nyman, Mark Nafziger, and Timothy Smith. Briefly, the authors examined outcome data to “evaluate treatment effectiveness across counselor training level [and found] no significant outcome differences between professional staff and …. interns, and practicum students” (p. 204). Although the researchers are careful to make all the customary prevarications, the conclusion—especially when combined with years of similar findings reported in the literature– is difficult to escape: counseling and psychotherapy are highly regulated activities requiring years of expensive professional training that ultimately fails to make the practitioner any better than they were at the outset.
What gives? Truth is, the popular conceptualization of “best practice” as a “specific treatment for a specific disorder” is hopelessly outdated. In a report few have read, the American Psychological Association (following the lead of the Institute of Medicine) redefined evidence-based, or best practice, as, “the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture, and preferences.” Regarding the phrase “clinical expertise” in this definition, the Task Force stated, “Clinical expertise…entails the monitoring of patient progress (and of changes in the patient’s circumstances—e.g., job loss, major illness) that may suggest the need to adjust the treatment (Lambert, Bergin, & Garfield, 2004a). If progress is not proceeding adequately, the psychologist alters or addresses problematic aspects of the treatment (e.g., problems in the therapeutic relationship or in the implementation of the goals of the treatment) as appropriate” (p. 273; emphasis included in the original text).
Said another way, instead of choosing the “specific treatment for the specific disorder” from a list of approved treatments, best practice is:
· Integrating the best evidence into ongoing clinical practice;
· Tailoring services to the consumer’s characteristics, culture, and preferences;
· Formal, ongoing, real-time monitoring of progress and the therapeutic relationship.
In sum, best practice is Feedback Informed Treatment (FIT)—the vision of the International Center for Clinical Excellence. And right now, clinicians, researchers and policy makers are learning, sharing, and discussion implementing FIT in treatment settings around the globe on the ICCE web-based community.
Word is getting out. As just one example, consider Accreditation Canada, which recently identified FIT as a “leading practice” for use in behavioral health services. According to the website, leading practices are defined as “creative, evidence-based innovations [that] are commendable examples of high quality leadership and service delivery.” The accreditation body identified FIT as a “simple, measurable, effective, and feasible outcome-based accountability process,” stating that the approach is a model for the rest of the country! You can read the entire report here.
How exactly did this happen? Put bluntly, people and hard work. ICCE senior associates and certified trainers, Rob Axsen and Cynthia Maeschalck, with the support and backing of Vancouver Coast Health, worked tirelessly over the last 5 years both implementing and working to gain recognition for FIT. Similar recognition is taking place in the United States, Denmark, Sweden, England, and Norway.
You can help. Next time someone—be it colleague, trainer, or researcher—equates “best practice” with using a particular model or list of “approved treatment approaches” share the real, official, “approved” definition noted above. Second, join Rob, Cynthia, and the hundreds of other practitioners, researchers, and policy makers on the ICCE helping to reshape the behavioral health practice worldwide.