Jacqueline Sparks

When Jacqueline Sparks, professor of human development and family studies, published “The Norway Couple Project: Lessons Learned” in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy in 2015, she hoped the article would bridge a longstanding divide in psychotherapy.

“There’s been a cutoff between researchers and clinicians because research articles do not always translate findings in a way that resonates with clinicians,” she said. She sought to close that gap with her piece and did just that, distilling research into actionable take-home messages and earning the journal’s award for Best Article of the Year.

Sparks analyzed therapy feedback and monitoring data from The Norway Couple Project—the largest couple trial to date—and four related studies. Sparks examined the value of the Partners for Change Outcome Management System, a feedback and monitoring tool that measures client perceptions at the start of a session (personal well-being, close relationships, school-work-friendships, overall well-being) and the client’s appraisal of the session at its close (relationship with therapist, goals, therapist’s approach, overall perception). In a matter of seconds, clients use iPads to provide feedback that is immediately tallied, alerting clients and clinicians if the responses indicate therapy is not progressing. “The system is designed to give clients a voice,” she said. “What is so elegant about this system is that it doesn’t require clinicians to learn a new therapeutic approach, but it can help their therapy produce a better outcome.”

And better outcomes are what it is all about. Sparks said the evidence is convincing: five studies have proven the system’s effectiveness in a variety of settings. She teaches the method to her graduate students and hopes her work encourages them to realize that research can help them become better therapists.