Using a unique research model that has proven successful in the field of medicine, John Brekke, Frances G. Larson Professor of Social Work Research at the USC School of Social Work, is leading an effort to bring together mental health practitioners to determine what type of research is most needed to improve services for people with serious mental illness.
Known as a practice-based research network, the group of providers will outline key topics or questions related to their work and engaging with researchers to address those issues.
“They’ve been very successful in primary and specialty care medicine, but they have not been tried very often or with much success in mental health and psychiatry,” Brekke said. “It’s really an exciting project.”
Along with Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, a local treatment agency that is partnering with Brekke to lead the project, the initial collaborative will include clinicians and consumers of mental health services from Exodus Recovery, Mental Health America of Los Angeles and Pacific Clinics.
Known as the Recovery-Oriented Care Collaborative, the group will consider the best approaches to integrating primary health care and mental health treatment. In addition to moving one critical question through the research process — from inception to study publication — the network will develop a set of issues and priorities to guide future research studies.
“All the agencies are very enthusiastic about this because there is such a critical research-practice divide,” Brekke said, noting that experts have suggested that it can take up to 15 years before research findings are implemented in real-world practice. “This is really a way to try to bridge that divide.”
Brekke has worked with several of the providers that will be involved in the initial stage of the network, particularly Pacific Clinics. He said that although community agencies have been excellent hosts and participants in past research efforts, the practice-based network will transform the process of developing and conducting research projects in the arena of mental health services.
“This will really solidify a partnership to develop clinically rooted and clinically relevant research that will transform clinical practice,” he said. “What’s great is that clinicians become engaged and generate the most relevant ideas to their own work.”
The one-year project received approximately $30,000 in seed funding from the Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), and Brekke plans to seek additional support to extend the project in future years. He will be working alongside Matthew Meyer, the project’s co-principal investigator and vice president of best practices at Didi Hirsch, as well as Lyndee Knox, a consultant who has led successful practice-based research networks in primary health care settings.
Toward the end of the first year, the collaborative will hold a session with the CTSI to present research topics and find investigators who may be interested in pursuing related projects.
“If we pull this off, and of course we’re planning to publish the process of it as well, it could be a model for other fields within social work,” Brekke said.