Trust the (Research) Process

May 18, 2021

Traditionally, I’ve struggled to trust life’s natural unfolding. I’ve attempted to plan each step in advance, to bend the arc of events towards my own ends, and generally to impose my own understanding onto the world.

I’m slowly learning to “trust the process,” helped along greatly by gestalt therapy, Buddhist practice, and my children. Yet still there are areas of my life where I easily slip into untrusting ways.

Research and writing are such areas. I’m skilled at conceptualising and planning research and writing projects. These skills certainly have benefits—for example, I doubt I could have completed a PhD thesis without them. But at times these skills have stifled other important capacities, such as creativity and spontaneity.

In 2019 and 2020, I was challenged to bring a deeper level of trust to the research process as I participated in a co-designed research project focused on supporting children and families with complex needs. Co-design is a methodology designed to include people with relevant lived experiences (e.g., of living with mental health difficulties) as equal partners with professionals in the conceptualisation, design, and development of projects or organisational processes.

To stay true to this methodology, I needed to relax my desire to maintain control over the project. As I write in the research paper that emerged from this project:

I normally start a research or writing project with quite a clear idea of how I would like the process to unfold and what I would like the final outputs to be. If I look honestly, I see that when I have worked with others, I have tended to treat them as consultants: people who can offer valuable assistance and advice, but who are unlikely to fundamentally shift my basic ideas.

This co-design process has disrupted my usual way of working. I have been challenged to step back, really listen, and cultivate space for other perspectives. I have been asked to soften the tight grip I have on my own agenda and my own ways of working—to move from consultation to collaboration.

I’ve authored and co-authored lots of papers over the years, but this one stands out to me as a testament to, and reminder of, what’s possible when I get out of the way and make room for emergence, novelty, and the unexpected.

In this project, I worked with Jason Tyndale, a trans man with lived experience of mental health difficulties, Jackie Amos, a psychiatrist and gestalt therapist, and Lydia Trowse, the Child and Family Partnership Coordinator at Emerging Minds.

Emerging Minds have recently released two podcasts (which can be found here and here) in which Jason, Jackie, Lydia, and I discuss co-design, our research project, and the lessons we learned along the way. I may well be biased, but I believe these podcasts are well worth a listen!