The Role of Research in Behavioral Healthcare

The Role of Research in Behavioral Healthcare

A Q&A with Michael Roeske, PsyD, Senior Director of Newport Healthcare’s Center for Research and Innovation

As a child, Michael Roeske was passionate about math. “I felt that there were patterns to be found everywhere, that everything could be measured and worked through equations, and therefore it was vitally important to study, understand, and apply those principles to theoretically everything,” he recalls. Life eventually drew him in the direction of social services, but he never lost his connection to and respect for numbers, data, and the pursuit of an objective truth.

With his appointment to Senior Director of Newport Healthcare’s Center for Research and Innovation, Dr. Roeske merges these passions and interests. After serving for three years as Executive Director for one of Newport’s residential locations in Connecticut, he moves from a focus on operations and direct patient care to a visionary role in which his knowledge, experience, and curiosity will serve this important initiative.

In this Q&A, Dr. Roeske discusses the Center’s purpose and goals, how it helps drive Newport’s mission, and what he finds most intriguing about this work.

Why is research so important to Newport’s mission?

Millions of adolescents and young adults are impacted by mental health concerns each year, and that vast number is doubled and tripled by the number of caregivers and communities impacted. Given how important treatment can be, how pivotal these experiences are for so many individuals and families, and the severity of what we see as a crisis in adolescent and young adult mental health, there is surprisingly little research on outcomes—on what works and why.

Part of the reason is that human beings are almost incalculably complex physical, emotional, and social creatures. And figuring out what provides durable change in behavioral healthcare is just as complicated. Add to that the fact that we, as a profession, often rely upon anecdote, intuition, and personal preference in our work, and research and statistics can be intimidating and feel removed from the actual experience of sitting across the room from a person who is struggling.

The Center can play a vital role in changing that, while supporting Newport’s mission to provide results-driven, state-of-the-art care and to advance the field as a whole.

What projects are already underway at the Center, and what endeavors are currently in development?

The Center arose as a natural outgrowth of our partnership with third-party academic institutions to gather and analyze our outcomes data. We worked first with Vanderbilt University, and for the past three years we have worked with Drexel University’s Center for Family Intervention Science. The idea of the Center also emerged from the desire of leadership to utilize Newport’s resources and large data sets for the betterment of all. Some of these efforts are already underway, such as our outcomes research, submission of significant findings for journal review, and utilizing data-informed care. Others are in development, such as providing staff growth opportunities for training and research. And we’re continuing to look at how best to grow and revise what data we collect and how we are collecting it.

How does the work of the Center benefit Newport’s clients and families as well as the behavioral healthcare industry overall?

On the micro level, our clinicians can access data regarding clients’ risk concerns and symptom reduction, and fold those insights back into their patients’ individualized care. The work of the Center can also be used in supervision and to help with staff development and competencies to better serve the needs of patients. The aggregate data sets and the patient profiles derived from our research can highlight what’s working for specific demographics, at specific geographic locations, or during specific time frames, and thus help guide strategic planning and resource utilization.

On the macro level, everything we learn by collecting, analyzing, and applying outcomes data can also help set new standards of quality for the industry. The development of a robust body of research in this area provides validation and credibility for treatment services, and therefore supports relationships between treatment programs and accrediting organizations, licensing bodies, and insurance payers. This work can potentially be collaborative and generative in a way that creates a synergistic effect—with the ultimate goal of helping more young people find long-term, sustainable healing.

Do you see mental healthcare as a science, an art, or both?

It really is both. People in this field are often what we might call “empaths”—people who are sensitive to the emotional states of others and who help by focusing on those insights. Psychology also has an oral tradition of training and supervision, with each clinician developing their own way of being in the room with a patient, whereby instinct and anecdote absolutely come into play. Beyond that, every dynamic in a therapy session is unique, and that experience can’t be easily measured or quantified—the clinician must include subjective experience. For instance, it is very difficult to accurately define “sadness” or “happiness.”

Having said that, it is essential to have objective information to counterbalance biases and personal preference, and there is a dearth of that information. Historically, ideas have proliferated in the field without justification for why they work. The concept of seeking evidence for effective care has been prominent only since the 1990s, and that push was driven in part by the goal of remaining viable as psychopharmacology studies began to come out. The field has been slow in establishing consistency and consensus. There is a gap here that the Center can help fill, and we are positioned to be a pioneer in this effort.

What is most intriguing to you personally about the work of the Center?

I find it very fulfilling to move difficult projects through to completion, to do the work of understanding the barriers in a situation and then figuring out how to overcome them. It’s like a puzzle that can be pieced together. For example, early in the pandemic, my role as Executive Director in Connecticut required reaching out to the medical community and to epidemiologists to understand what was happening and determine how to best address it at the facility level. As painful and anxiety producing as that was, I also had the satisfaction of being able to be helpful.

On an emotional level, I feel a personal responsibility to the teens, young adults, parents, and caregivers who seek our services. Becoming a parent changed my perspective on everything. My love for and fear for my children exceeds anything I could have imagined. When I hear stories from teens and families, it is sometimes profoundly heartbreaking and tragic, and other times, remarkably inspiring and uplifting. I can’t help but be impacted by it. It also brings back the tumultuousness of my own adolescent experience, my fears and uncertainties, my efforts to establish an identity and figure out who I was in a world I sometimes didn’t quite understand.

From that perspective, to be a liaison between research and practice, to help guide the company in its mission, and to be able to contribute to staff development and growth, while adding to the body of knowledge in the field, is a profoundly rewarding and meaningful prospect.

Read more about the Center for Research and Innovation.