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Exploring Parents’ Attributions About Their Child’s Physical Disability: The Benefits and Challenges of Qualitative Research in the Context of Psychology

By: & Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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This case study aims to exemplify and overview some of the major issues faced by students considering undertaking qualitative research in the field of psychology. It describes the progress of a clinical psychology PhD from initially using purely quantitative methodology to adding a substantive qualitative study. This change was aimed at gaining clinically useful insights into the lived experiences of parents in raising a child with physical and multiple disabilities. Specifically, we focused on their thoughts (attributions) about their child’s condition. We did this because attributions about the causes, permanence, and pervasiveness of difficult life events such as illness or job loss are known to affect people’s psychological adaptation. However, in a disciplinary context (psychology) where qualitative research is often not well-regarded, we needed to carefully consider several issues. These included how to balance pre-existing theory with emerging data and how to demonstrate rigor to a potentially skeptical readership. Having addressed these issues, the outcomes were fourfold: a sense that the participants had been empowered by the study; a successful PhD; a useful method for assessing, in a community setting, parental attributions about their child’s disability; and a publication based on the qualitative study. Some practical ideas are presented to aid the decision-making of psychology students considering undertaking qualitative research.

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