Transcending the Quantitative-Qualitative Divide with Mixed Methods Research: A Multidimensional Framework for Understanding Congruence and Completeness in the Study of Values

Article excerpt

Quantitative research dominates published literature in the helping professions, Mixed methods research, which integrates quantitative and qualitative methodologies, has received a lukewarm reception. The authors address the iterative separation that infuses theory, praxis, philosophy, methodology, training, and public perception and propose a dimensional viewpoint as a framework for successful integration of mixed methods research, This dimensional perspective demonstrates that mixed methods research techniques are necessary but not sufficient to study spiritual, ethical, and religious value issues. Research of career development, "best practices," nature-nurture, and prayer illustrate weaknesses and opportunities for evaluating dimensional mixed methods approaches.

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A great divide has long been present that segregates researchers and practitioners in the helping professions, a division that bifurcates entire disciplines (e.g., psychology, education, and counseling). Although some methodologists maintain that objectivistic and naturalistic research philosophies are contradictory and mutually exclusive paradigms (Smith & Heshusius, 1986), other methodologists insist that qualitative (QUAL) and quantitative (QUAN) research methods can be used interchangeably, and thus the "paradigm wars" are largely irrelevant (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998). The resulting pragmatic philosophy calls for the use of QUAL, QUAN, or mixed methods (MM) approaches that are congruent and resonant with the topic of study, the stakeholders' viewpoints, and the application of conclusions (cf. Greene, 2006).

Standardized definitions of QUAN and QUAL research tend to be contextual (Leech & Onwuegbuzie, 2006). For this article, we define QUAN research as that which primarily involves quantifiable, numeric data and the use of statistics. Defining QUAL research is much more elusive (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005); we define QUAL methods as those approaches that primarily involve the use of nonnumeric data, expressed and analyzed in words. MM research, therefore, involves the intentional use of both QUAL and QUAN in a given study. We readily acknowledge deficiencies in this oversimplification.

Research and practice in the helping professions cannot be accomplished solely by mixing QUAL and QUAN methods. A mechanical technician of research methods likely will find only concrete results. We argue that a dimensional framework is required to apply MM research to the spiritual, ethical, and religious values issues present in Counseling and Values.

First, we examine the great divide that permeates counseling, psychology, and education in training, public policy, theory, research, and publication. Then, we provide an overview of the assumptions inherent in the use of QUAL and QUAN data. We believe that a dimensional framework will provide a perspective for understanding MM research of spiritual and religious values. Finally, examples of theory and research are examined through a dimensional legitimation model for congruence and completeness.

College Curricula and Training Programs

Accreditation standards of professional programs have adapted rapidly to include both QUAN and QUAL research methods. Accreditation standards for counseling and school psychology programs specifically mention QUAL (Ponterotto, 2005). The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2009) specifies a range of methods, "such as qualitative, quantitative, single-case designs, action research, and outcome-based research" (p. 13). Training in both QUAN and QUAL is specified by the National Association of School Psychologists (Ponterotto, 2005). In contrast, the American Psychological Association's standards encourage training in a broad range of methods, without specifying QUAL or QUAN (Ponterotto, 2005).

However, professional training programs in counseling and psychology overwhelmingly favor QUAN research. …