Much research is conducted by exclusive academics or “parachute” professionals who drop into a situation or culture long enough to do a curiosity study or hand out a bunch of surveys and then leave. I think more research should be conducted by those of us actually working in the field, don’t you? However, therein lies the problem—we are working in the field! Who has time to do research? Well, I think many of us do but we just might not realize it. Due to incomplete lessons on research some of us may have received in college, many of us do not realize what we are capable of contributing to the overall body of knowledge. And guess what? There’s more to research than lab rats and statistics!
Do you remember your undergrad Research and Methodology course? I hope it was better than mine. I remember poor grades, many excruciating hours in front of a computer trying to make sense of statistics programs, and wondering how this truly examined human behavior. I’ll be honest, I took that course twice to get an A. Why? I did not easily connect with the “research methodologies” being taught because they were centered on statistics, numbers and lab rats! During that time I decided not to pursue a PhD because my professor told me there would be 4-5 more years of the same. Guess what? He was wrong. There’s a LOT more to psychological research and I actually love it now.
I was not truly introduced to qualitative approaches to research in my educational programs until this past year as I began my PhD studies. Okay, so I knew what a case study was. And yes, I had literally heard of narrative studies and maybe ethnographic studies. But I didn’t know about the different specific qualitative approaches to designing and conducting research. I didn’t understand factors such as the intent of the researcher (such as changing an injustice found within a society or advancing one’s career), the particular research question to be asked, and the participants being studied dictate which approach is most suitable.
At The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, there is a deliberate effort to expose students to all THREE research communities: QUAL (qualitative), QUAN (quantitative) and Mixed Methods. The quantitative methodology course was familiar and boring to me, as I anticipated. But the qualitative and mixed methods courses were quite a surprise. For both, I had great professors and great reading lists that described the different approaches and how to apply them realistically. I recommend Creswell’s Five Approaches to Qualitative Research (2009) and Foundations of Mixed Methods Research by Teddlie and Tashakkori, 2009 to anyone interested in research in the social sciences.
In addition to learning more about various approaches to research, it was important to me to realize that any mental health care professional is capable of designing and conducting research that can benefit others. Personally, I don’t want to read a QUAN article and look at a bunch of charts displaying statistical information via numbers, letters, and plotted graphs. Please don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly understand and appreciate the statistical relevance of including factors such as significance and correlation. But as a Professional Counselor, I want to read about specific interventions and insight regarding application of best practices, for example. I want to read something about client perspective—not just results of a survey. How much can truly be explored on a Likert scale vs. a narrative of someone who experienced a potentially traumatic event? I’d much rather read what an experience was like from a survivor or a natural disaster than from a university professor’s paper about survey results of a group of survivors he never spoke to otherwise, except for the informed consent.
Due to my personal interests in research, I have been drawn to QUAL research. While I see the value of QUAN, I find it to be very limiting in social science research. I’d much rather see a mixed methods study that also utilized QUAL elements to better explain a phenomenon. For my doctoral dissertation, I’ve finally concluded I’ll be designing and conducting a phenomenological study. My study will seek to learn more about the role of a perceived interpersonal support upon a person’s experience when encountering a potentially-traumatic event. I will not be handing out a stress survey to my participants and I will not be using a scale of measurement to assess their interpersonal support. Instead, I truly want to study their experiences and their perspectives. I want to explore the topic further by revealing any common themes or patterns among the participants of the study.
I know I’ve learned a lot from clients and from people I’ve interacted with in my work over the years. I’ve seen cases of people who demonstrated resilience against all odds and I’ve learned about strengths and what helps people during hardships. But until now I’ve not captured any of this in an organized format that others in my field might learn from as well. This is how I view research in the social sciences—a way for professionals to reveal hope and insight to others. Whether it be an elaborate study with a large group of people or a case study of something an individual reveals that may benefit others in similar situations, research can be designed and conducted to fit various purposes and any time schedule. If more of us contribute, the effect will be a more well-rounded body of research and hopefully more appropriate theories and treatment ideas to help people.
Natosha Monroe is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.