Complexity, Reflexivity, and Parallel Process: The Development of a Foucauldian Discourse Analysis Exploring “Medically Unexplained Symptoms”


This case study is a reflection on the process and challenges of undertaking a Foucauldian discourse analysis for my professional doctorate in Counselling Psychology. The research explored how four general practitioners and counseling psychologists were constructing “medically unexplained symptoms” and what might be the possible implications. As part of the process of designing and structuring this research, I had to make many decisions along the way, such as decisions about what topic I would explore, what stance I would take, the method of analysis, the interview format, the structure of the chapters, and how to describe the discourses I identified. This case study reflects on this process and identifies several likely implicit influences on my decision-making that impacted significantly on the research, yet only became apparent toward the end of the research process. These include the influence of a traditional, positivist academic discourse, a personal need for structure and coherence, an avoidance of complexity and some parallels between researching, working with and experiencing medically unexplained symptoms. The complexity surrounding medically unexplained symptoms that motivated me to undertake this research was mirrored in many of the challenges faced as part of doing the research. Nevertheless, it became apparent that it was necessary to explore, rather than avoid or simplify, this complexity. Process-oriented supervision played a valuable role in understanding this.

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