MedFTs bring a systemic, biopsycholsocial-spiritual approach (BPSS) to their research. The scientist-practitioner model has been identified as a valuable approach for MedFT research (Zak-Hunter, Berge, Lister, Davey, Lynch, & Denton, 2014). There is also an emphasis for MedFTs to address the clinical, operational, and financial worlds of health care through their research (Mendenhall, Pratt, Phelps, Baird, & Younkin, 2014; Peek, 2008) To address this complexity of issues, MedFTs use a variety of research methodologies (Mendenhall et al., 2014).
MedFTs engage in qualitative, quantitative, mixed method designs, and quality improvement projects across various academic and healthcare settings (Zak-Hunter et al., 2014; Mendenhall et al., 2014). Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) and Practice-Based Research Networks (PBRN) have been highlighted as two mixed method research designs particularly valuable to the field for addressing the healthcare needs of diverse patients (Mendenhall et al., 2014; Mendenhall, Berge, & Doherty, 2014). CBPR utilizes a collaborative approach between researchers and community members that 1) recognizes each group’s strengths and 2) begins with a topic of importance to the community rather than the researchers (Minkler & Wallerstein, 2010). PBRNs are groups of clinicians working together to answer questions related to improving processes related to health care outcomes. MedFTs in COAMFTE accredited doctoral programs receive extensive training in all these research designs and analyses.
RESEARCH WITH MARGINALIZED AND UNDERSERVED POPULATIONS:
To address and improve the BPSS health of patients, MedFTs are also concerned with understanding the context in which people’s lives, health, and illness are embedded. This context includes the history of abuse and exploitation of racial minorities and vulnerable populations (e.g., The Tuskegee experiments, the vaginal experiments of Dr. Marion Sims, the syphilis experiments with Guatemalan subjects, and forced sterilization projects of disadvantaged women) as well as the effects of poverty, discrimination, and prejudice on health outcomes.
MedFT researchers value cultural humility for its attention to the diverse life experience of research participants and researchers as an attempt to promote community engagement that flattens the power differential between researchers and participants (Doherty & Mendenall, 2006; Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998; Lewis, Myhra, & Walker, 2014). Critical race theory and a decolonizing framework are two examples of theories that are recognized by MedFT researchers to address the often ignored stories of abuse, discrimination, exploitation, and marginalization of minority and underserved populations (Lewis et al., 2014, Curtis & Romney, 2006; Smith, 1999). An example of the application of a decolonizing framework has been applied to understanding the intergenerational struggles of substance abuse and healing among American Indian Families (Myhra & Wieling, 2014). (CBPR) is also used to develop culturally humble research strategies that empower communities and minority groups to reduce minority health disparities (Wallerstein & Duran, 2006). The Family Education Diabetes Series (FEDS) is a good example of this.
MedFTs research various types of questions including the financial benefits of MedFT, the practice, patient-centered outcomes, operational challenges of integrated care, and other biopsychosocial-spiritual concerns (Mendenhall et al., 2014).
Examples of projects and research questions include:
Utilizing a BPSS approach for treating specific illnesses
Examining MedFT in inpatient psychiatry
Using CBPR to target health disparities in families
Determining the effectiveness of family interventions on physical illness outcomes
Whether family therapy reduces healthcare costs for both identified patients AND family members
How integrated care treatment modalities address physical illness and public health concerns
DISSEMINATION AND IMPLEMENTATION:
MedFT researchers are actively engaged in Dissemination and Implementation science in order to bridge the gap between science and practice and bring evidence-based treatment and intervention modalities to clinicians, faster and more effectively (Polaha & Nolan, 2014). Making sound science available to clinicians also requires that the interventions deemed effective in scientific circles be evaluated in clinical settings. Williams-Reade et al. proposed that MedFTs’ expertise in complex and contextual issues are uniquely qualified to carry out program evaluations in order to evaluate the effectiveness of their clinical practices and to evaluate the programing initiatives of their employers (Williams-Reade, Gordan, & Wray, 2014).