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 and away from efforts to find objective truth and complete certainty in outcomes. But he never lost his respect for numbers and data and the potential power of analytics, as well as the constant pattern-seeking nature of humans.

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

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

Just Released—New Third-Party Outcomes Research on the Impact of Newport’s Treatment: The Science of Healing 2022

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 CRI wants to play a 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 are the origins of the CRI?

The CRI 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 then with Drexel University’s Center for Family Intervention Science. It was while working with the latter that the possibilities and vision went from a casual conversations about the need and possibilities of a research center to the conceptualization of what it might look like and how it would function. These ideas fortuitously merged with the desire of leadership to utilize Newport’s resources and large data sets for the betterment of its services and, when possible, for the industry as a whole.

How does the work of the CRI 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 CRI 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 also highlight what’s working and 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 research provides validation and ways to measure reliability of 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 contributes to helping more young people find long-term, sustainable healing.

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

I really see it as both. Each clinician, whether a Marriage and Family Therapist or a psychiatrist, develops their own way of being in the room with a patient, whereby instinct, preferences, and experience absolutely come into play. Beyond that, the patient is also unique and has their own history and reasons for being in treatment at that particular time. It is in this inter-subjective world in which they meet and try to understand and learn from each other. But much of what we sense and see cannot be easily measured or quantified and is very much impacted by this very human meeting between individuals. And how to best do that is an art.

Having said that, it is essential to have information to counterbalance biases and human limitations, as well as agreed-upon ways to measure what we are doing and produce outcomes data. And there is a dearth of that information. Indeed, 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 psychotherapy field, in particular, has been slow in establishing consistency and consensus. There is a gap here that the CRI can help fill, and we are positioned to help in this effort. This is the science of it.

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

On an emotional level, I feel a personal responsibility to the teens, young adults, parents, and caregivers who seek our services. And part of that is because I am a parent myself. Becoming a parent changed my perspective on everything. My love for and fear for my children exceeds anything I could have imagined. When I listen to the stories from teens and young adults and their families, it is sometimes profoundly heartbreaking and tragic, and other times, remarkably inspiring and uplifting. I can’t help but be impacted by it.

On a professional level, this work is replete with puzzle to solve and is always revealing some area of needed development or a gap in knowledge that needs to be addressed. From this perspective, it is quite rewarding and I feel productive and effective. Perhaps most importantly, though, 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.