Starting over

Today I start anew. After a long bit of struggling with my research area and accessing a population I used to work with, I’m starting again. I’ve moved from planning an explanatory mixed methods study introducing a universal CBT based mental health skills online course for adolescents aiming to be both preventative and targeted for anxiety to….. a hermeneutic phenomenological study of post secondary students with psychiatric disabilities studying through distance education. Talk about methodological whiplash!

And a research question? “What is the experience of post-secondary students with psychiatric disabilities taking online courses?” Well, a first take on a research question. Hermeneutic Phenomenology seems a better fit to me as a researcher and for my research area than, say, descriptive phenomenology. Heideger (1962) developed this approach and parted ways with descriptive phenomenology. Rather than focusing on description as the main way of understanding phenomena, Hermeneutic Phenomenology also aims to discover meanings that may not be readily apparent. As a research methodology, silences and omissions are also open to interpretation. Rather than bracketing and phenomenal reduction of our preconceived notions as researchers, hermeneutic phenomenology sees these preconceived notions as important and as a projection of reality to be examined. I’m looking forward to digging into this research methodology further. Margaret Wilcke’s (2002) doctoral thesis is an interesting application of hermeneutic phenomenology as well as being a social work thesis. 

Wilcke, M. (2002) Crossing Thresholds: A Hermeneutic Phenomenological Examination of the Experiences of Refugee Women from the Former Yugoslavia, doctoral thesis, University of Calgary.

Heidegger, M . (1962). Being and time. J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson (Trans.) San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publisher, Inc.

…. and….. cuteness quotient. Overrun by Goat Kids

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Fundamental Assumptions in Narrative Analysis: Mapping the Field

Robert, D., & Shenhav, S.  (2014).  Fundamental Assumptions in Narrative       Analysis:  Mapping the field.  The Qualitative Report. 19(22), 1-17.

And it begins. A first blog post to reflect on  reading in the area that my current dissertation proposal is most missing; the qualitative piece of my mixed methods study. Last summer was filled with  readings on ethnography and narrative inquiry. I return to narrative inquiry as a way of learning about adolescents’ experience of mental health and as a complement to the quantitative piece of my study involving a universal intervention for the prevention of anxiety in adolescents including pre- and post-test screening for anxiety and depression.

Robert and Shenhav (2014) attempt to clarify approaches to narrative by encouraging researchers to consider two questions, one of which  asks  about the status of narrative. Is it “defined as the very fabric of human existence or as one representational device among others?”. The second question refers to the perspective taken towards narrative. “Is it defined mostly as the characteristic of an approach, an object of investigation or both?” As I read this article and the complexity of approaches to narrative both classical and post-classical, I tried to imagine how I position myself and my study within these narrative approaches.

With the understanding that answers to these questions are not polar but often overlapping, I lean towards narrative as a representational device. My experience as a therapist has allowed me to see how changing a personal narrative can be transformative. I don’t see, however, that this is very different from the status of narrative as “defining the very fabric of human existence”. I suppose it comes down to defining what is reality? Is it separate from our narratives or do our narratives socially construct our world?

So what might I take away from this reading? I suppose that my stance regarding narrative is most in line with the postclassical school, that both content and context are important, less so the analysis of language use or bits. And that, underlying it all, our world and our understandings of it are socially constructed. The adolescents and parents I hope to interview may have very different views and experience of mental health. And, who knows perhaps, somewhere in the mix a “grand narrative” regarding mental health may arise but…. I’m not counting on it!