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No such thing as a free lunch (or training)?

You know that the whole point of this website is that it brings you free online training in mental health, psychology and psychotherapy. But is it really free? We know that many 'free' online resources (yes I'm talking about you Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, & YouTube) are trading the illusion of giving you free access, free products and free information in exchange for your data. And it's a very financially savvy exchange with some very concerning effects. The motive that drives these online platforms is making money. We may not understand the business model driving our social connections on Facebook but we know that there is one.

Other free resources seem much more benign and generous and that is the kind of free high quality online training that I curate on this website. These resources are created for a range of different reasons. Given that our subject matter is mental health and psychology it's probably not surprising that our profession wants to share and promote. Most psychologists and mental health clinicians want to bring about change. For many of us bringing about change extends beyond helping individuals and families to changing groups, organisations, societies and cultures. Clinicians and researchers who develop new methods or discover new understandings usually want to share their findings and use them to improve practice. And increasingly, employers and funders of research, education and training want to see that their funding can make a real tangible difference or positive impact.

As an undergraduate in Cardiff my class were introduced to the concept of 'Giving psychology away'. There would never be enough psychologists to deal with all the mental health problems in the world so we had to find new ways to prevent mental health problems and new ways to make psychological treatment simple and easy to deliver. I understood the argument but I couldn't see a way that would ever be possible. I failed to predict the emergence of the internet and the way in which online learning would become possible.

A colleague and friend, Eni Becker, took a look at this website and suggested that I include more information about my own motives for setting it up. She invited me to self-reflect and this is not something I do as often as I probably should. I worry that self reflection, particularly if solitary and unchallenged, can become self indulgent and self deluding - after all Narcissus saw exactly what he wanted to see. But Eni is wise and has a point. So I accept her suggestion and invite you to challenge my self-reflection and prevent me falling into indulgence and delusion!

So why did I set up the website? There are lots of reasons , some are superficial and about the specific context I found myself in, others are less so. I've said already that the website grew out of the coronavirus, from social distancing, and from the ending of live, face to face training. I was also not employed, after working continuously from the age of 14. I was not working for a university, after being attached to one university or another from the age of 18. I've spent a lifetime learning and teaching other people. It's what I do and what I believe is important. This website was a way to learn and help others learn, and it provided a way to overcome the barriers to learning introduced by social distancing.

Why else? Well it's important to me that this training is FREE. Although not all FREE things are really FREE this website is, and as far as I can tell everything I include is FREE to use. Why is that important to me? Well that's all about helping to knock down barriers to training and education. I came from an immigrant working class family. Myself, my brothers and cousins have been the first to be able to stay on at school past the age of 14, let alone go to college and university. If you read my last blog post you will know where I came from and how lucky I have been both in my past and my present. I know that there is huge untapped potential in people who are often not included in higher education and believe that education should be free to all. Education benefits everyone and everyone who has the means should share the cost. In addition we need the people who work in mental health services to reflect the population that we work for - it doesn't make sense that psychologists or psychiatrists or mental health nurses don't reflect their local communities. We need the mental health professions to be open to people from every community and every culture just as we want mental health services to be open to everyone.

Everyone deserves to be able to access the best mental health services. So part of my motive is to help share good practice, to link practice to research and to promote evidence based practice. Research and evidence based practice can make clinicians and counsellors feel uncomfortable. Not everyone has research training and many people who choose to work in mental health have been scared by research or feel they can't learn about research. Research can be used as a way of excluding or diminishing. There are disputes and sometimes arguments about the value of research and the politics of research. False dichotomies are often made between qualitative and quantitative research. Some suggest that qualitative research is more sensitive, more clinically relevant, and more politically 'correct'.

I've heard people argue that psychotherapy cannot be understood or improved by doing research and that change cannot be measured. I disagree. I can answer questions about my experience, my mood, and my behaviour. A therapist or clinician can assess if I have symptoms of depression, or anxiety or schizophrenia and if those symptoms increase or decrease. That information can help a therapist or clinician and a patient or client to make shared and informed decisions about how to proceed in therapy or if a change of approach is needed. Developing a good measure of depression or anxiety or schizophrenia involves a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research. It is based on understanding the felt experience of service users, which can only be elicited through qualitative research. A good measure of mental health cannot be developed without involving service users and clinicians in the design and development. A good measure needs to incorporate and evaluate the impact of social context and culture.

I've done all kinds of research and I'm still learning. As you might have guessed I'm currently learning how to develop sensitive and valid psychological measures thanks to my PhD student Rebecca Watson*. You can take a look at her new measure of adolescent anhedonia here and read some of the qualitative research she carried out to help develop it here I have learned that different research methods can answer different kinds of questions and that lots of different questions are important and will help us improve mental health services. No research method can answer every question. Your favoured research method will not provide better answers or answer more questions if you undermine other methods. On this website I've deliberately included a page that includes FREE online training in research to encourage anyone who is avoiding research to take a small step forwards and try a bit of exposure therapy!

This website is called "Do More That Matters". Sometimes we can work out what matters to us, what our values are, but are not so clear about why we hold those values. This website 'matters' to me, it reflects some of my core values about the role of education, equality of access, the need for social change and the way in which mental health services should be shaped by evidence and high quality practice.

Sometimes there is such a thing as a free lunch, or at least free training. If you find that any of the training on this website is not free please let me know and I will remove it.

*Rebecca has her PhD viva on 9th December 2020. She's done a fantastic job so I just want to wish her luck - she won't need it.

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