Qualitative research as an adjunct to the therapeutic training of counselling psychologists Dr. Mark Thorpe AUT University Counselling Psychology Symposium New Zealand Psychological Society & New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists: Joint Conference April 2012, Wellington
Personal experienceReasons the research improved mytherapeutic work...In-depth interviews of experiencedtherapistsTopic was clinically and personallyrelevantThe process of wrestling with andmaking sense of the data
Basic thesisUndertaking qualitative researchimproves therapeutic abilitiesIndirect and additional way oftraining cliniciansGood therapists do good qualitativeresearch & visa-versa
Training students ascompetent psychologicaltherapists6 years formal academic trainingBHSc, Hons, MHSc & PGDipHow much of the knowledge is needed?What is the ideal time to select CounsellingPsychology students?
Six phases of thequalitative researchprocess1.Choice of topic2.The research interviews3.Initial data analysis – coding4.Abstract/symbolic analysis5.Theory construction6.Writing/presentation
1. Choice of topicCPs drawn to researching topics which arepersonal, sensitive & emotionally chargedexperiences which are difficult to meaningfullyarticulate.Ideally the research will extend & add depth toknowledge gained from real practice byexperienced clinicians.
Reflexivity - understanding of how the researcher’spolitical, social, epistemological AND psychologicalstyles influence their way of understanding thephenomena being researched. What is the axe theyare grinding and why?Paraphrasing Winnicott- therapeutically orientedresearch is an attempt by the researcher to process andunderstand important issues in their own lives. Theseunresolved issues are frequently linked to theirunderlying motivations of becoming a CP.Research participants also frequently reportpsychological insights & therapeutic benefits arising fromthe interview process.
2. Research interview. Thefoundation of the researchOvertly most similar to the therapeutic process.Need to empathically hear, feel, understand &value what is conveyed by the participant/client.Quality & direction of the research is determined bydata collected.The depth, richness & complexity of data isdetermined by;4.The verbal sophistication of the participants5.The psychological sophistication & interviewskills of the researcher6.The quality of the ‘research alliance’
Qualities needed by the interviewer;Active listening, accurate understanding, warmth,acceptance, genuineness, fully present, engaged,sensitive, respectful, non-judgemental (Grafanaki1996, Morrow, 2007)Listen intently, engage fully & empathy (Gair,2011, Stein, 1996).Empathic immersion (Wertz, 1986).Ethical danger of blurring boundaries betweenresearch and therapeutic boundaries. Somestudents try and advise and cure the participant.
3. Initial data analysis –coding of themesIdentification of common themes or meanings.Themes arise from the data – not predeterminedby the literatureBe aware of objectifying and removing theexperience from its specific context (Harman,2007)
4. Abstract/symbolic dataanalysisUse of meta-analytic skills to achieve greater levelof abstraction. Frequently not achieved bystudents.Phase is the most complex, time consuming,uncertain, frustrating, overwhelming, anxietyproducing, exciting, interesting & rewarding.Strong pull to abandon being open, receptive &curious, and to give in to the desire for certaintyand premature closure.Optimal distance from the data – Gadamer’sbicycle wheel – too tight won’t turn, too loose willfall off.
Therapeutic parallelsNo memory or desire (Bion)Play, reverie and potential space (Winnicott,Ogden)Slouching towards Bethlehem (Coltart, Yeates)Secure base (Bowlby)Therapeutic frame (Langs)
5. Theory constructionResearcher needs to keep in mind a cleardistinction between; What the participants actually said What they thought about what the participant said (analysis) What the extant literature says The theoretical model they developOngoing dialectic between the data and theory.Avoid theoretical imposition & atheoreticaldescription.
6. Writing/presentationPsychologists need to write formally,dispassionately and precisely (Writing forPsychology - O’shea et al. (2007)Qualitative stance captures the lived experience,produce emotionally engaging, authentic, empathicstories to elicit the empathy & engagement of theaudience (Gair, 2011, Smythe & Spence 2011).Learning outcome: The research report challenges,inspires and makes the reader-clinician reflectdeeply upon aspects of their own experience ofbeing with a client in the therapy room.
Summary of research processSupported by a strong base of discipline,rigor, security, commitment and trust in theprocess, the researcher approaches the taskwith an attitude of self-awareness, curiosity,flexibility, compassion, empathy, respect,openness, non-judgement and playfulness.The researcher strives to remain emotionallyand intellectually deeply immersed, whilelistening intently and maintaining anopenness to multiple perspectives andunexpected responses...
By tolerating experiences of not knowing,uncertainty, ambiguity, chaos, restlessness,disappointment, overwhelm and surprise theresearcher avoids premature closure andremains open to the emergence of meaningMaintaining an optimal distance the researcherlets go of the already known, identifies andclarifies meanings allowing patterns andabstractions to form. The research report ispresented in an emotionally engaging, detailed,in-depth manner which captures the livedexperience of clinically related phenomena andinforms therapeutic understanding.