Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

177 Phenomenological Approaches to Research On Sensitive Topics

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 8:45 AM-10:30 AM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Jane F. Gilgun, PhD, LICSW, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Phenomenological approaches invite researchers into the experiences of the persons whom they interview. When researchers have empathy for participants, they may feel energized and optimistic because of the potential their findings have for fostering fair and just policies, programs, and interventions. Research with persons who are resilient in the face of adversities is an example of work that not only is energizing but may even be inspiring. On the other hand, much of the phenomenological research that social workers do is on difficult topics. Among these topics are child sexual abuse, rape, murder, and intimate partner terrorism. The values of social justice, care, and respect for the dignity and worth of other human beings often drive researchers to do this kind of work. They too are driven by the promise of the positive contributions that they research may bring about. Yet, this research can turn into nightmares. Vicarious or secondary trauma is typical among phenomenological researchers on sensitive topics. The purpose of this workshop is to grapple with the difficulties of doing phenomenological research on sensitive topics. Participants will do so through a structured process that has the following components. Participants will 1) share the values that underlie their work, 2) reflect individually upon the horror, fear, and pity they may have experienced in doing phenomenological research, 3) share in small groups these difficult experiences as they feel comfortable, 4) do a self-assessment as to whether they find themselves reliving their own personal issues, whether they are over-identifying with the traumas they witness vicariously, or whether they experience empathy while also able to maintain their own analytic stances, and 5) share the many possible strategies that are successful in coping with the effects of phenomenological research. The workshop facilitator has done phenomenological research on sensitive topics for more than 30 years and has published widely in this area. She is an experienced workshop facilitator who will provide handouts and self-assessments that encourage self-reflection.
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