Dr. Adam Horvath – An Update on Research Work Post-Retirement and the Challenges & Opportunities of Data Sharing

July 03, 2019

Dr. Adam Horvath is professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Education at SFU.  During his academic career, he has published over 100 articles, presented over 200 conference papers, wrote chapters for edited volumes, and a book.  He is also a registered psychologist and still has an active practice as a psychotherapist.

Can you tell me more about your professional background?

I am a practicing psychologist and started off as a social worker, having two decades in clinical practice before going back to university to get my doctoral degree in counselling psychology. I am an immigrant to Canada and like many who come to this country from less fortunate circumstances would work during the day and study at night.  I believe that this experience was invaluable in my own praxis and ensuring relevancy of my research to practitioners.

As an academic, in addition to teaching, research and writing, I was actively involved in training up the next generation of my peers by sitting on 20-30 PhD committees.  Many of my relationships with students, have led to productive partnerships .

Can you tell us briefly about what you have been doing since becoming professor Emeritus after twenty years at SFU Faculty of Education in the Educational Psychology program?

I have had a number of teaching contracts since becoming professor Emeritus in 2006.  I have also continued pursuing my first love as a therapist in my counselling practice, advised on accreditation for Counselling-Psychology programs as well as continuing my work on research projects with next generation researchers.

These has been very rewarding experiences because intergenerational learning involves both the younger generation inheriting something but also forcefully questioning what was done and the way it was done.  I believe this is part of good science and how knowledge can continue to advance.

Tell us briefly about your ongoing research?

My research has predominantly focused on two areas.  The first looks at the relationship between counsellor and clients, a concept often referred to as therapeutic alliance.  The second looks at ways counsellors help people, in the context of couples and family counselling, to make positive changes through discourse.   I am interested in exploring how to bridge theory and practice via the careful examination of the way we facilitate change trough dialogical means. Trying to better understand how effective counsellors communicate, convey empathy, and manage the delicate relationship with those who seek help.

I have had a very productive long-term relationship working on this topic with Peter Muntigl, a linguist whom I met as a member of his PhD committee, and who is now an adjunct faculty member of SFU’s FoE.  We have been working on exploring how conversational analysis can explicate different aspects of the relationship between therapist and client.  This summer, we published a chapter on the Alliance as a Discursive Achievement: A Conversation Analytical Perspective: Practice and Research.

How has your research work changed post-retirement?

One of the benefits of retirement is that I am free to choose what I’d like to study and write about.  I am currently engaged in a FoE funded project looking at the ethical challenges of sharing primary research data with other professionals:  the challenge of balancing the interest of society ( e.g., the need to share data that is funded by public money to advance science), and the rights and privileges of the individual which includes privacy. In the context of psychotherapy research, there is a duty to do no harm, protect dignity, be truthful and maintain transparency.  What are the implications of these standards and obligations to our clients as we try to extend and share our resources to collaborate with colleagues?  The path forward is complex.

Data sets are rich resources and potentially very valuable to scientist beyond the use the material was originally collected. These precious resources can be often explored by scientist outside the original research partners to great benefit of science and humanity.  We have a duty to maximize the use of what is collected by making it accessible and transparent, especially since in the vast majority of cases public paid for it.  But we also need to protect individuals who generously volunteered to share their experiences under strict conditions. There is movement to making anonymized data available, but progress has been slow as we need to work through some complex ethical issues balancing privacy rights, ownership concerns, and the public good. Changing technologies including increased ease of distribution, risks of data “escaping in the wild” or being hacked, and the nature of social media itself complicates the issue. As well we need to examine the incentive systems for journals and researchers to publish these data sets.

Who is the target audience and key stakeholders/partners for your research?

I believe that early in my career, my focus was on peer reviewed publications and my research spoke mainly to my peers in the academic field. Today, in addition to speaking to the community of researchers, I see my work as targetting the applied side of the profession of psychologists and counsellors.

As a professor emeritus I have also had the opportunity to reflect more on the academic system and how knowledge is advanced.  My current study on the ethics and challenges of sharing data have made me more aware of the practical complexities in maximizing the impact of good information and responsible science. There are many difficult questions with complex trade-offs.  Looking at it from a systems perspective, I have had to consider how journals publish and the incentives/disincentives for researchers to share data.  I have also had to consider university practices, priorities and policies.  There is a need to create greater awareness amongst researchers to to the importance of not publishing the results of their research but also consider their data itself as an product of research. From this perspective a key stake holder in this work is the academic community, public funding agencies and publishers.

I also believe that as a university and group of researchers, we have a daily responsibility to question what good science is. We ought to use our expertise and resources to engage the broader community on public issues of broad consequence such as climate change and the real benefits and risks of vaccines.  I applaud SFU in its  efforts of engaging the community ‘at large’  like Confronting the Disinformation Age – Fake News, Real Talk. I believe that such efforts are an important part of our larger mission as the academic community. The public, the communities we are part of, are our sponsors and a key stakeholders in our mission.