Voice of Students

Diversity in research and clinical activities

Guidelines for integrating discussions about diversity into research and clinical activities.

By Adam Miller and Crosby Modrowski, MS

As a student, the idea of being sensitive, comfortable and fluent in topics of diversity from both a clinical and research perspective can be daunting. Here, we describe some opportunities to include diversity in your research and clinical activities that are particularly related to child and family work.

You may have heard it before, but it bears repeating. The definition of diversity should be diverse. This is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when you approach both clinical and research tasks. We must keep in mind that diversity encompasses more than racial diversity. In addition to race, diversity can refer to an individual's sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender expression/identity, socioeconomic status, religion, disability, veteran status, family composition or neighborhood characteristics (e.g., rural/urban, resource availability). A narrow definition of diversity overlooks the rich heterogeneity of our society and the very population(s) we aim to study and serve through clinical work. Although our field of psychology has become more sophisticated in terms of methodological rigor, our approach to the measurement and treatment of diversity effects has remained surprisingly simplistic within many programs of research and clinical practice. These trends often are true in clinical practice; sometimes, therapists may approach treatment planning without full consideration of the diverse background of the client or the interaction between the client and therapist backgrounds. Given that these challenges are ongoing and are relevant throughout our time as trainees, we advocate that students start to grapple with issues of diversity early in their training.

Diversity is a broad, complex and often emotionally charged topic, and actively inviting discussion by raising issues of diversity in a professional or classroom setting can be intimidating. Furthermore, resources on incorporating diversity into practice and research and encouraging productive discussion are difficult to locate and surprisingly scarce. The following guidelines are meant to help (not hinder) the interested student integrate discussions about diversity into research and clinical activities.

Do's

Elicit discussions about diversity by asking questions of the professionals around you.

  • How might these findings hold in rural vs. urban communities?
  • Are the measures we are using sensitive to minority identities/experiences?
  • sk a supervisor how diversity may influence treatment planning.

Weave diversity throughout your program of research or work with clients.

  • Consider identifying a theme from the start and check in throughout each project, such as rates of mental illness in underrepresented groups followed by how this lack of information affects the development of interventions.
  • Actively pursue clinical experiences that will broaden your view of diversity. In other words, seek out clinical opportunities that will expose you to a population you may not be familiar with or one that actively challenges your understanding of a particular culture or community.

Try to spend time talking about more than one type of diversity by considering intersections of identities.

  • As an example, coping with terminal illness may look different among black women compared to Latino men. How might this affect both the implementation and success of our interventions?

Don'ts

Don't assume that diversity means non-white and only relates to race.

  • It bears repeating, the definition of diversity should be diverse.

Don't say “there isn't enough research” and stop there. At this point, we know that research is lacking.

  • Let's talk about how we can address it, instead. Related to the point above, elicit a discussion around aspects to consider moving forward.
  • Prevalence rates are a starting point. It's also safe to talk about clinical examples that are relevant. This is often incredibly useful and interesting.

Don't assume diversity does not apply to your topic.

  • As an example, ask how cultures vary in their approach to individuals with traumatic brain injury and/or mental illness.

Don't assume your client's experience is representative of every individual from his/her community. Keep in mind that every individual has his or her own experience.

The task of integrating diversity into your program of research and clinical practice can be daunting. As students, it can be challenging to confront your own discomfort related to topics of diversity. We encourage honest and open conversations with colleagues, peers, supervisors, patients, research participants and policy makers. These conversations will invariably lead to rich, productive conversations that may be difficult at times. As we know from the treatment of anxiety disorders, exposure is a key component of change. We must continue to talk about diversity, and students can assume a leadership role by opening up dialogue across a host of settings.

Interested readers are directed to two excellent articles on this topic. Each article provides further resources:

Medin, D. L., & Lee, C. D. (2012). Diversity makes better science. Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2012/may-june-12/diversity-makes-better-science.html

Wendt, D. C., & Slife, B. D. (2007). Is evidence-based practice diverse enough? Philosophy of science considerations. American Psychologist , 62 , 613–614. doi:10.1037/0003-066X62.6.613