In recent years, translational research has begun to take on an increasingly important role in healthcare, particularly in the field of mental health. But what is meant by translational research, exactly, and how is it typically applied?
In this article, we examine both the meaning of translational research in general and its potential applications in treating mental health issues. In addition, we also look at some of the key elements of this type of research, the type of educational path that can assist with them, and expected developments in the future.
Opportunities offered through translational research
Translational research is a subset of applied research and is of particular importance in mental health. Translational research is about moving — or translating — scientific discoveries more rapidly and efficiently into practical results in order to produce more meaningful, directly beneficial results. It is based on the idea that by applying new discoveries in the development of studies and humans and also implementing new best practices, it will be possible to produce better results in a shorter period of time. This approach is particularly valuable in the field of healthcare, where there is often a constant demand for improved results, but also significant budget constraints and a large number of regulations that, at times, can slow down access to treatment.
Translational research can have useful applications in a number of different areas of mental health, including suicide prevention, mental health for younger people, combatting stigma, and mental health in the context of socio-economic factors. It can be applied in a variety of settings, from acute psychiatric care to outpatient treatment, and even the work of mental health professionals in schools and businesses. In many cases, researchers, educators, health professionals, and even drug development companies will work in partnership to develop and improve treatment methods for patients.
One aspect of translational research concerns the improvement of research networks and increased funding in specific areas of concern. The main principle is that while much of basic science is not directly connected to practical applications in the real world, by identifying specific, current needs in the general population and using sophisticated research networks to source funding and carry out targeted studies, patient outcomes can be greatly improved.
In this context, the data transformation revolution — where we are now able to rapidly access, create, and communicate data through a range of different channels — makes this kind of development a more realistic prospect than in the past. Indeed, in many cases, processes that in the past could have taken months or even years can be reduced to a matter of weeks. This is particularly important today, given the dramatic rise in the number of people seeking mental health treatment and the subsequent increased demand for solutions. Here, rapid, cost-effective, and innovative solutions have the potential to engineer real change in the way we treat mental health.
One potentially innovative area of mental health research today is in terms of cohort populations, where access to large, aggregated data — often from many countries and cultures around the world — can offer important insight into human behavior and potential effective avenues of treatment. The use of virtual populations, where models are created to simulate the expected effect of a particular variable on a selected part of the population, also has the potential to help us increase our knowledge in a cost-effective manner and provide genuine insight.
Case studies also remain a valuable avenue of research. Here, if there is a treatment or process that looks particularly promising in isolation, an effective research network can then look to exploit this through further exploration on a wider scale. Well-integrated translational research networks also have tremendous potential in terms of knowledge and capacity building, as they offer us the chance to rapidly develop, store, and disseminate knowledge. In each case, the fundamental principle is the same: a close relationship between all the people involved in the chain of research, from scientists and drug manufacturers to counselors, psychiatrists, and patients that can produce rapid, evidence-based results.
Exploration through education and experience
Unsurprisingly, given the demand for expertise in translational research, several universities now look to provide specific training in this area. The American International College, for example, offers an online Doctorate in Education (EdD) in Mental Health Counseling (MHC) for students interested in completing a doctorate in counseling online. Here, students have the opportunity to explore not only psychopathology and therapeutic strategies but also theories related to human lifespan development and their applications to mental health counseling and psychological interventions.
Indeed, forward-looking counselors who choose to complete this course, and who take the time to learn the fundamentals of basic research, set themselves up for a truly promising career, given the ever-closer ties between clinical studies and practical application. Of course, counselors and other mental health professionals will also learn a lot throughout the course of their working lives. In addition to their own explorations in research and private reading, many counselors may have the opportunities for further training courses, while peer-to-peer and mentoring sessions can be equally valuable.
An increasingly influential approach
There can be no question that a translational approach to research is only likely to become increasingly important over time, as the partnerships between the various stages of scientific research and application become more fully intertwined. Today and in the future, it will be increasingly important for mental health professionals to be not only aware of basic scientific research in their chosen field but also to be able to find ways of applying it in their own work.
This kind of closer integration presents both a serious challenge and a huge opportunity for counselors and other experts involved in providing care for issues related to mental health. At times, it may seem overwhelming to keep track of all of the latest developments. At the same time, the most important thing is to understand that ultimately, the more effective the research and the closer the cooperation in mental health, the greater chance we have of identifying and realizing positive outcomes for patients.