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My personal journey of trying to get an ethical approval as an independent researcher

I would like to start by giving you a little bit of context. I have been a chartered clinical psychologist since 2009.  I have developed interest in coaching psychology since 2018 and embarked on gaining coaching qualifications in 2021.  I received an excellent training at The Centre for Coaching, gained The Accredited Advanced Diploma last year, and became an accredited coach with The Association for Coaching.  In addition, I  have also applied for chartership in coaching psychology in September 2023.  I am awaiting my professional conversation  on 23rd February.  I  received very good feedback with regard to my portfolio from my assessor. One specific area that we will discuss in our conversation is how my prior doctorate research relates to coaching psychology. 

I am a conscientious person, and whilst preparing for my professional conversation,  I started to research what can I do, should I decide to conduct further research.  The more I read, the more I realised that there seem to be many misconceptions about therapy which I would like to address. Furthermore, boundaries between therapy and coaching are not yet clear either, so I developed an idea that I would interview clinical and counselling psychologists who provide both therapy and coaching and gain some in depth understanding whether the boundaries might potentially differ for this participant sample.  So I wrote my research proposal and started to approach chartered coaching psychologists to enquire how to get an ethical approval.

And unbeknown to me, the first tough hurdle is actually getting an ethical approval, so another journey, let’s call it number 2 has begun. I am in private practice, I no longer work for the NHS, I am no longer a student, I am not an academic teaching at university, please help I do not know what to do!!!  So call me naïve, I contacted the BPS, thinking - surely they are bound to have an ethical research committee right? Well, I discovered that they have a research department and they can advise on research, but unfortunately they can only assist rather than approve so to speak.

I am not the one to give up easily and being a persistent person, I  emailed about 15 professionals and they all had a different opinion, ranging from -  ‘in order to publish you do not necessarily need an ethical approval unless you conduct research to gain either MSc or PhD’, to ‘you may not need it for publication but it is the best practice, follow the BPS research guidelines and protect yourself, check your indemnity insurance’, to ‘getting an independent ethical approval is not possible at the moment in the UK’.  Various parties are working on it which is great but nothing is yet concrete. So this is not going as easy as I thought…But why? How can I go about it, should I just give up or at least wait until an independent research committee exists?  Surely other independent researchers will have the same problem?

So my next step was contacting academics who are currently based at universities in the UK, can they help??  Strictly speaking unless you are a student at a university where your academic supervisor is based, you reach the end of the road. Until… one lecturer has told me that if she is a principal investigator, it might be possible. Hurray, there might be a way after all!

So it is not far from straightforward but please do not give up if you have good ideas that can professionalise coaching psychology. Be persistent, challenge the system and see what happens… I have discovered that many professionals are fighting to have an independent ethical body established. I am still perplexed as to why the BPS does not have the research ethical committee or is not affiliated with an organisation that can provide ethical approval.  

I think my quandary raises a number of ethical issues, such as research should  not be just reliant on academics and should not be dependent on whether someone wants to be a co-author on the research paper. If I could get an ethical approval on my own, I think I would be able to conduct my study on my own because I am using a familiar methodology.  On reflection I understand why academic researchers are keen to become research supervisors because there is a need to show published research to bring up personal and university research ratings. You can argue that in this sense we are helping each other.

Another ethical issue can be related to payment for research supervision. Should a  research supervisor who is not based at university charge for their supervision especially if they become co-authors; and the third dilemma is that professionalising  coaching psychology is an important goal for the future of coaching psychology and conducting research is one of the important ways to achieve this goal.  Yet it does not appear at all easy to contribute as an independent researcher.

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