The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

The Emotional Impact of Conducting Violence Research

Friday, January 17, 2014: 9:00 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, River Terrace, Upper Parking Level, Elevator Level P2 (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Stella M. Resko, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Background & Purpose: Researchers increasingly recognize the emotional challenges that emerge when conducting ‘difficult’ research on topics such as violence and trauma. Most of the discussions of these difficulties have taken the form of reflexive personal narratives (e.g. Alexander et al. 1989; Blackman, 2007). Several researchers have also conducted case studies of the emotional aspects of qualitative research on sensitive topics (e.g. Campbell, 2002; Dickson-Swift et al., 2008). The purpose of the current study was to examine the emotional challenges of conducting both qualitative and quantitative violence and trauma research. Building on previous work, we examine the experiences of research team members’ working directly with participants and the impact of the study’s quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-method orientation on their experiences.

Methods: Semi-structured qualitative interviews (n=34; mean length = 40 minutes; sd=8minutes) were conducted with a purposefully selected sample of adults who worked on the research team for a trauma or violence study. Participants were recruited from violence or trauma studies that were identified through a series of web-based searches (e.g. NIH RePorter, and recommendations of colleagues/researchers working in this area. Most participants were employed as research assistants, interviewers, or study clinicians (6+ months). The majority of participants were women (77%) and they ranged in age from 20 to 67 (mean = 29; sd = 5.2). Most participants self-identified as white (62.9%), and smaller proportions identified as African American (11.4%), Latino (14.3%) and other races/ethnicities (11.4%). A quarter of participants reported a personal history of physical or sexual victimization as an adult (25.7%) or as a child (22.9%). The first stage of the data analysis utilized a thematic approach that began by using deductive codes developed from prior research and theory. We then used Erickson’s (1986) method of analytic induction method, which is an iterative procedure for developing and testing empirical assertions in qualitative research (see also Patton, 2002).

Results: There was a tremendous diversity in how participants reacted to working in a research setting with individuals impacted by trauma/violence. Although some emotional challenges were more frequently identified by those working on primarily quantitative studies (e.g. difficulty remaining objective, the toll of working with larger numbers of participants) many challenges were identified by those working on both quantitative or qualitatively-oriented studies (e.g. difficulty seeing/ hearing about certain types of trauma, difficulty with participant’s reactions [e.g. crying or no emotional reaction at all]). Several features specific to the quantitative studies (e.g. following a structured interview guide or intervention manual) were frequently highlighted as positive features that helped make emotional challenges more manageable.

Conclusions & Implications: Although much interest in the emotional impact of trauma and violence research has emerged from qualitative researchers, the current findings suggest it is also an important and often overlooked aspect of quantitative research. These emotional challenges need to be taken into account by investigators planning both quantitative and qualitative research on violence and other emotionally sensitive topics. Researchers should consider these factors as resources need to be budgeted to provide adequate support for the research staff.