Session: Conducting Social Work Research Using an Experimental Therapeutics Approach (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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211 Conducting Social Work Research Using an Experimental Therapeutics Approach

Friday, January 22, 2021: 1:15 PM-2:15 PM
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Ramesh Raghavan, New York University, Michelle Munson, PhD, New York University, Leopoldo Cabassa, Washington University in Saint Louis, Christopher R. Larrison, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Denise Juliano-Bult, National Institute of Mental Health
Over the past decade, federal funding agencies have increasingly begun to support intervention research that is based on an experimental therapeutics approach. The experimental therapeutics approach is a way of conceptualizing interventions, requiring a shift away from quantifying treatment efficacy (i.e., whether or not outcomes are achieved), towards explaining exactly how interventions achieve those outcomes. In our experience as reviewers of federal grant applications, too few applications in the psychosocial sciences present intervention research through this lens, which affects their priority score and, consequently, the fundability of the application. The goal of this roundtable is to assist social work investigators to "translate" their science in alignment to the experimental therapeutic approach, thereby increasing their odds of successfully securing federal funding.

An experimental therapeutics approach requires that investigators articulate two aspects of their work. First, they must identify the specific targets that are affected or engaged by the intervention - these targets may be cognitive, behavioral, affective, economic, or social structures, processes, or phenomena. Second, investigators must then elucidate the action of the intervention once these targets have been engaged, what processes are set into motion following target engagement, and how these various processes ultimately create change in the outcome. Consequently, this approach is not confined only to those investigators working in the interventions space; services and policy investigators can also use this approach to articulate their own mechanisms of change, and resultant outcomes.

This roundtable aims to present examples of social work research that exemplify such an experimental therapeutics approach, to uncover strategies and tactics to present research using this approach, and to assist members of the audience to articulate their own research in a manner more closely aligned with the experimental therapeutics paradigm.

The roundtable will begin with one presenter articulating key elements of an experimental therapeutics approach in general, and its application to human services research in particular. The second speaker will present an instantiation of this approach to intervention research directed at promoting treatment engagement among young adults. The third presenter will unpack elements of a health care manager intervention for Latinx populations with serious mental illness using this approach with qualitative methodologies. The fourth presenter will further expand this ecology by illustrating how an organizational or agency-level intervention can be studied using this approach. The final presenter (discussant) will use these three examples to highlight cross-cutting insights to the conduct of studies using an experimental therapeutics approach.

The latter half of the roundtable will feature the presenters assisting members of the audience in conceptualizing their own research from an experimental therapeutics perspective. Participants who arrive at the roundtable with a logic model of their interventions, or with a developed list of mediators of their treatments, are most likely to benefit from this engagement.

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