Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Qualitative Research in Counseling: A Reflection for Novice Counselor Researchers

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Qualitative Research in Counseling: A Reflection for Novice Counselor Researchers

Article excerpt

Counselors practice in a wide range of disciplines, but also represent a distinct discipline separate from medicine, psychology, and social work. Particularly in countries like Australia, Canada, and the Asia Pacific nations, as a relatively new field, counseling is taking up the challenges of encouraging a research culture that can both critique and support clinical practice and counselor education. This paper is thus written to support novice counselor researchers, and to inspire an emerging research culture through sharing formative experiences and lessons learned during a qualitative research project exploring minority issues in counseling. Key Words: Counseling, Health, Qualitative, Methods, and Narrative


There is nothing new under the sun, and this paper does not claim to advance knowledge per se, but merely to reframe existing knowledge in light of an emerging discipline. Of particular interest are theoretical issues that underpin much of qualitative inquiry and other forms of research. Students of research will find an enormous wealth of methods texts to assist in the design of projects (Minichiello, Sullivan, Greenwood, & Axford, 1999). Instead, this paper focuses on more abstract considerations that might be considered trans-theoretical. Issues like how research relates to clinical practice; how both are interrelated through analysis of power, influence, and control; how validity of knowledge (in both research and clinical practice) is evaluated in the current environment; and how forming basic underlying values or theories of research can clarify and enhance both research design and counseling awareness. Within this discussion, examples will be used from a qualitative study on homophobia in counseling (Bowers, Plummer, & Minichiello, 2005a). This study was conducted under the supervision of Professors David Plummer and Victor Minichiello.

Research and Clinical Practice

It is surprising how basic definitions can complicate or simplify a process. Counselors are aware of this through well known cognitive-behavioural principles, where "incorrect thinking" can lead to many difficulties (Hayes & Strauss, 1998). This is no more apparent than when counselors approach research with great misunderstandings that include fear, anxiety, and varying degrees of mystification (Gee & Pelling, 2007). As Gee and Pelling suggest, incorrect attitudes toward research effectively create a sense of apathy and indifference among clinicians toward using the research literature in their everyday practice. Let us back up then, and look at basic points of view by sharing how research as a practice can invigorate and inspire excellence in clinical work, and how clinical work can inform and guide research.

Our first basic presupposition is that research and counseling practice are very much related and complimentary. This echoes the sentiments of other writers (Gee & Pelling, 2007). Research is not a foreign country apart from counseling, although the way in which many research projects are written up may in fact alienate and confuse counselors, by reliance on particular conventions, use of jargon, and difficult concepts. In fact, the practice of research contains essential elements that are similar to counseling practice. For example, researchers are encouraged to observe, keep an open mind, look for the unusual or exceptional, keep records, and reflect critically (Minichiello, Aroni, Timewell, & Alexander, 1995). Researchers are also encouraged to be aware of bias, investigate various possibilities, explore new lines of thinking, and write up notes that sometimes remain private and, at other times, are shared in conference, and may result in publications (Minichiello et al., 1999).

Likewise, counseling involves all the elements described above including an appreciation and concern for people's well being (Pelling, Bowers, & Armstrong, 2007). While the latter is part of the ethics of good research in a general sense, a researcher will not likely have at the forefront of their mind a counseling framework of therapeutic dimensions including the notions of healing, change, or transformation. …

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