Academic journal article Social Work

Revisiting the Benefits Debate: Does Qualitative Social Work Research Produce Salubrious Effects?

Academic journal article Social Work

Revisiting the Benefits Debate: Does Qualitative Social Work Research Produce Salubrious Effects?

Article excerpt

A heated debate ensued on the pages of this journal regarding the "fit" of qualitative research and social work practice in response to Gilgun's (1994) famous "hand-in-glove" analogy (Bein & Allen, 1999; Padgett, 1998a, 1999; Pieper & Tyson, 1999). In a "reflexive spirit," Padgett (1998a) offered a caution that social work researchers should not confuse the roles or the goals of research with those of social work practice, even if the processes that they use might be a good fit. However, in a desire to avoid ethical impropriety that harms the research subject and the research (Padgett, 1999), many have apparently taken Padgett's cautionary words too far. Bein and Allen noted that "the qualitative researcher enters a human relationship that can be empowering to the interviewee" (p. 276). Refusing to acknowledge this process does not make it go away. It merely walls off an understanding of what may actually happen in the researcher-participant relationship and thus precludes reflection and the possibility of understanding the benefits and risks that may be a by-product of this relationship, particularly for participants. Confronting this possibility can enhance the benefits and mitigate the risks.

The NASW Code of Ethics requires all social workers to "critically examine and keep current with emerging knowledge relevant to social work and fully use evaluation and research evidence in their professional practice" (NASW, 2000, 5.02 [c]). This article contributes to the social work literature by examining whether qualitative interviews provide research participants with any benefits beyond the intended academic and practice use of such research. Drawing from our research findings, we argue that qualitative interviews have personal and political implications (both positive and negative) for research participants. As social work professionals, we must pay attention to these research dynamics (see NASW, 2000, 5.02 [j]) and disseminate knowledge about them (NASW, 2000, 5.02 [p]).

LITERATURE REVIEW

Social work literature about participation in qualitative research focuses on the difficulty of finding study participants, convincing them to speak with researchers, and understanding how to work with participants sensitively so as not to offend them (Fine, Weis, Weseen, & Wong, 2000; Lofland & Lofland, 1995; Padgett, 1998b, 2004). The primary discussion of the relationship in the literature revolves around the assertion that qualitative research is a good fit (Gilgun, 1994) because of the clinical social work skills that social workers bring to their research, coupled with a warning (Padgett, 1998a) not to confuse practice with research.

Concerns about conflating therapeutic efforts and research have long troubled both practitioners and researchers. The Belmont Report (National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1978) specifies that research-related informed consent procedures must include a statement that the activity is for purposes of research. The identification of any incidental benefits (and potential harms) that may accrue must be delineated with the stipulation that the primary activity is research. With the dawning of the practitioner-researcher movement (Bisman & Hardcastle, 1998; Bloom, 1997; Dangel, 1994; Raw, 1998; Thyer & Myers, 1998; Wakefield & Kirk, 1996, 1997a), more therapy was conducted in a manner that was intended to be both therapeutic and research oriented as the efficacy and effectiveness of various treatments were explored. Wakefield and Kirk (1997b) expressed concerns about this in connection with single-subject design in which the issue of informed consent about the A-B-A design may bias the outcome of the research and where conflicts among therapeutic goals, research goals, and ethical imperatives may occur. Padgett (1998a) explicated the differences between clinical practice and qualitative research in terms of paradigm, goals, education and training, relationship, and criteria for success. …

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