The Hosford Clinic doesn’t just provide state-of-the-art, culturally responsive, and affordable assessment, counseling, and psychotherapy services. At least in one area it’s a site for research that should make the therapeutic process more effective for an often mis-served population. Fourth year doctoral student Sarah Patz is leading a research project, under the guidance of Professors Merith Cosden and Steven Smith, examining differences in the therapeutic process for clients with learning disabilities (LD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and traumatic brain injury (TBI) relative to clients who do not have these disabilities.
“What’s unique about this population,” Patz explains, “is that these disabilities are invisible – the therapist may or may not know. Because these disabilities involve cognitive processing, which is typically a core component to therapy, there may be something that could be affecting therapy and the therapist doesn’t even know. Perhaps the client feels a huge stigma or thinks, ‘I’m feeling depressed, what does it matter that I have a learning disability?’”
Patz, who did her undergraduate work at the University of Denver and won the prestigious centrally administered Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship here at UC Santa Barbara, explains the design of the study, which examines actual Hosford clients. “When we identify at intake that a patient has in the past been identified as ADHD, TBI, or LD, or the person performing the intake picks up on either, we invite the person into the study,” she says. “If they agree, they get a free assessment from the Psychology Assessment Center and are assigned a therapist as they normally would be. After the third session, the therapist, the client, and an external reader evaluate the session on multiple process measures to decide what’s actually going on.” The next intake without ADHD or LD, if they agree to partake, is matched as a control client – so far the study has four sets of matched pairs.
Patz cautions it’s too early to draw full conclusions, but so far it seems that “typically the therapists were engaging in less exploration, focusing more on concrete issues and less on depth.” She hopes these empirical studies will provide more information than the current field of case studies. The ultimate goal, she says are to get beyond, “Yes, we should do something [to help those with ADHD, TBI, and LD in therapy], but what are the effective things to do? We want to be able to look at processes that are effective versus ones that aren’t.”