Research Methods in Family Therapy

By Douglas H. Sprenkle; Fred P. Piercy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Focus Groups
in Family Therapy Research

FRED P. PIERCY
KATHERINE M. HERTLEIN

Dr. Stella Starr received a 4.9 overall rating (on a 5-point scale) for her workshop at the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) conference. Dr. David Dweeb, on the other hand, received a 2.1. The program committee considered Dr. Starr's ratings when they invited her back the following year to do a conference institute. She eventually wrote a book, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and now conducts workshops across the country. Dr. Dweeb, on the other hand, now shovels manure in a stable in the small town of Tumbleweed.

Such rating systems help program committees make gross distinctions between stars and dweebs. However, what kind of research might give us a clue as to why Dr. Starr received such high ratings? And, more important, what kind of research could help us learn from her success? One approach would be for the researcher to get groups of people together who attended one of Dr. Starr's presentations and ask them to talk about what they liked. A moderator could ask them questions that might encourage them to talk about what Dr. Starr said and did that made her workshop so popular. What about the workshop captured the participants' imagination? As one participant shares a thought, another could elaborate. This in turn might remind a third one about something else Dr. Starr did. The moderator would encourage a free discussion and would ask for specific examples of the qualities the participants identified.

Immediately after these group discussions, the moderator could jot down some of the preliminary themes that emerged. Later, a secretary could transcribe the audiotapes of the discussions. The research team could review the transcript for discrete behaviors and qualities of Dr. Starr, as well as illustrative examples of each. The team would put each on a separate 3″ × 5″ card and again inductively categorize them in terms of themes. The researcher then would write a research article in clear, practical language, including both themes and illustrations of workshop excellence. Dr. Dweeb, during a break at the Tumbleweed stable, could then read the article and learn to be a better presenter.

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