At some point in my life, I became a skeptic. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but a part of me developed that just didn’t believe things were ever quite what they seemed to be. Granted, this has served me well at times, but to a large degree it has produced in me a stubbornness that has resulted in many fruitless hours of butting my head against walls I could have just as easily walked around or climbed over.

Are you familiar with the term “empirically based research?” If not, don’t feel embarrassed. I had never really heard it either until I began graduate school classes. By definition, empirically based research is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct or indirect observation or experience. In short, it’s the study of what works and what doesn’t. For example, if a counseling theory has empirically based research to back up its effectiveness, that theory can be trusted to get positive results. If not, it may seem like a fine idea on paper, but it hasn’t been proven to produce success.

A great deal of space in my college textbooks has been dedicated to empirically based research, and a lot the language used to describe it is not exactly the most exciting reading in the world. As a result, I have found myself at times sort of glossing over the indicators of how successful a theory or technique may be. By my logic, I figure I already know what is being discussed works or it wouldn’t be in the textbook in the first place, so it seems redundant for me waste time reading about it.

When the rubber meets the road, though, no theory or technique works without a buy-in from the student or counselor. What I mean by that is this: If I do not fully believe in the effectiveness of what I’m doing, I’m going to fail. I’m sad to admit I’ve had to learn this the hard way. There were moments during my internship this past semester where I doubted the process. I wasn’t fully invested in what I was doing, and I doubted whether the work I was putting in was actually going to produce results. In ignoring all the research I had been given, I became an ineffective counselor.

It is only in looking back now that I have come to realize the importance of empirically based research in the buying-in process. If a technique or theory seems fishy to me, but I have over 20 years of research backing up its effectiveness, there is a very high likelihood the problem lies more with my doubt than with what I am questioning. Results compiled by people much smarter than myself have stood the test of time. Who am I to question what has been proven over and over again to be effective?

I do realize that each counselor must develop his or her own style and way of doing things, and not everyone will employ the same techniques or adhere to the same theories. Innovation and uniqueness, after all, are what sets us apart from each other as human beings. Every now and then, though, it pays to go along with the crowd, especially when the crowd has time and endless hours of research on their side. I may not buy into everything I’m being taught, but I’m learning that being a skeptic comes with its own set of drawbacks. That’s one bit of research I can attest to firsthand.

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