Phenomenology as a Qualitative Research Methodology 

Subject: Famous Person
Type: Evaluation Essay
Pages: 15
Word count: 3848
Topics: Plato, Ethics, Scientific Method
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Introduction and Overview of Paper

Qualitative research method helps researchers to understand people’s perception about the world and their behavior towards it. Researchers use the qualitative approach to understand occurrences based on conversations, documents, and actions. The approach requires the users to construe why persons infer and attribute meaning to their encounter, do, articulate, and other aspects of nature (Saevi, 2014). Many qualitative studies go beyond personal experiences and involve an exploration of interactions and procedures within institutions and other settings (Flood, 2010). Qualitative research methods treat knowledge as a construction of the society. All knowledge gained is interpretive and dependent on social context. In addition, knowledge is shaped by personal perception of a researcher who acts as an analyst and an observer in a research. Qualitative research entails a demonstration of the reliability and validity of findings using methodological strategies (Flood, 2010). The common methods of qualitative research inquiry include case study, narrative, ethnographic, phenomenological and grounded theory. Of these methods, phenomenology entails an investigation of effects and opinion of an event though narrations of the participants. It is necessary to understand the history of phenomenology, its relevance, strengths, and limitations as a qualitative research method.

Phenomenology is the study of how the world appears to other people by understanding their subjective experiences and perception of the world. It is considered a philosophical method of inquiry through which a researcher understands reality through self-awareness. The phenomenological approach recognizes that human beings have the ability to think, interpret, and express their thoughts regarding the occurrences they observe (Palinkas et al., 2015).  The method involves listening to the narrations of participants and interpreting facts out of the experience. The phenomenological inquiry can apply to numerous experiences regardless of the time an experience occurred. A researcher can examine lengthy experiences such as experiences of a holocaust or a single point in time (Palinkas et al., 2015). The findings of a research inquiry in phenomenological approach do not investigate an event as a phenomenon. It investigates what individuals experienced while going through that particular event. Phenomenology has different classes such as descriptive, transcendental, and constitutional phenomenology (Palinkas et al., 2015). Descriptive phenomenology involves the study of personal experiences of participants in an investigation. Transcendental phenomenology analyzes the real meaning perceived by an individual in their conscious thoughts. Constitutional phenomenology involves analyzing the self as a conscious being. The different classes of phenomenology are used when a researcher wants to construct meaning from the diverse experiences of the study participants.

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Review of the Research Surrounding Qualitative Research in Counselling Psychology

Qualitative research is used in different disciplines including counselling psychology.

Counselling psychology is a special field in psychology that facilitates individual and interpersonal functioning in life. The guidelines of the general practice in counselling psychology are derived from other disciplines including anthropology, philosophy, psychotherapy, psychology, and counselling (Saevi, 2014). Counselling psychologists focus on improving the psychological well-being of a person thereby helping one live a normal life. Qualitative research has been used in counselling psychology in research inquiries and dissertations (Flood, 2010). Counselling psychologists have assimilated qualitative inquiry in their curriculums and programs. Extensive research has been conducted in the field of counselling psychology but the nature of research and how it blends with the other fields of research is debatable. Counselling psychology uses both non-traditional and traditional methods in research. On the other hand, qualitative research has moved beyond the conventional methods such as phenomenology and developed experience-based methods that are responsive and spur an interest in practice-based fields of study such as counselling psychology (Moran & Magrì, 2017). The new developments in qualitative research reflect a paradigm shift from demonstration of reality to attainment of understanding of the participant’s behaviour through collaboration. Counselling psychology deals with sensitive and emotionally charged topics that are complex to articulate. The research topics require careful examination of the participants’ experiences and language. 

There is congruence between qualitative research and counselling psychology. Qualitative research is closely related to the practice of counselling psychology. The features of qualitative research involve obtaining view of study participants’ experiences in unprescricive manner. Qualitative method of inquiry offers the process and offers flexibility for inclusion of unexpected and emerging experiences in the course of research (Moran & Magrì, 2017). It provides an alternative to the restrictive methods used in conventional psychological methodology. In addition, it allows and encourages in-depth study of complex human phenomenon. In a qualitative inquiry, counselling psychologists observe the participant’s experiences and talk such as absolving or complaining (Saevi, 2014). To a counselling psychologist, the language of the client shapes the therapeutic space while in a standard qualitative inquiry the same may not apply. A counselling psychologist must attend to the ramifications of the participant’s language in order to create an optimal therapeutic environment (Lee, Kim, & Kim, 2014). Counselling psychologists asserts that language constructs social and psychological reality. This implies that an intra-physic world exist and can be accessed through language.  When counselling psychologists are not able to fit a client’s experiences within the available therapeutic structure, they use qualitative research to theorize the nature and meaning of the participant’s experiences.  This enables them to formulate and understand the client’s problem. A person’s experiences is a central theme in qualitative research and gives it a more systematic and formal perspective than in a therapeutic environment. 

Qualitative research helps to promote multicultural and social justice agendas, which are common in counselling psychology. Through qualitative methods, counselling psychologists are able to bridge the gap between research and clinical practice (Palinkas et al., 2015). The manner in which a qualitative research is conducted through identifying and understanding the meaning of the social world is strongly correlated to the manner in which therapy is conducted. In addition, qualitative research has similar processes, philosophies, and ethical considerations as those of counselling psychology. The use of qualitative research in counselling psychology deepens the researcher’s understanding and fosters an empathetic view of human experience. 

The paradigms and methods used in the counselling psychology practice align with the principles of qualitative research. This means that qualitative research helps a counselling psychologist not only to understand the people’s experiences from a psychological point of view but also to construct psychological reality and distinct individual subjectivity (Sloan & Bowe, 2014). Some aspects of counselling psychology are not entirely learnt from books (Lee, Kim, & Kim, 2014). This knowledge is obtained from direct experience through research and training programmes. Interactive group work, therapy, and writing case reports allow counselling psychologists to use qualitative method to gain an experiential learning process and augment therapeutic skills and training. 

History of the Philosophy, Specific Epistemology, and the Ontology of the Phenomenology Method

The word phenomenology is borrowed from the Greek root word “phainomenon” symbolizing “appearance’’.  Its study dates back to Plato’s ideas of realism. It dates back further in the Buddhist philosophy (McDaniel, 2014). Johann Lambert initially introduced phenomenology in the 18th Century. Afterwards, the term was used by Immanuel Kant to differentiate between cognitive representation and experiential understanding of objects. The greatest historical personality associated with phenomenology is Edmund Husserl (Sloan & Bowe, 2014). He stressed on the importance of studying meanings and real objects and proposed phenomenology as an experimental method based on the construction of phenomena (Moran & Magrì, 2017). Husserl launched the idea of phenomenology in his book, Logical investigation, published in 1901. However, the idea that consciousness is directed or intentional is credited to Franz Brentano, a German Philosopher. According to Husserl, phenomenology was primarily a methodical reflection on structures of consciousness.

Husserl used empirical observations to reach a conclusion within the limits of science. He established a clear outline between consciousness and the phenomena directed at it. This was one the most significant transcendental contribution to science (McDaniel, 2014). During his research, Husserl attacked the notion that psychology was a pure science and highlighted the elements in psychological research related to human perceptions and intentions. Later in his transcendental period, Husserl focused more on the ideal structures of perception and awareness by introducing phenomenological reduction method (Moran & Magrì, 2017). The reduction method was to eradicate any premise on the existence of peripheral objects. Husserl proposed epokhe as a method of research in phenomenology. Epokhe method requires the researcher to suspend and suppress judgements as a mode of ensuring objectivity in research (Moran & Magrì, 2017). In 1927, Martin Heidegger provided a critical analysis of Husserl’s phenomenological inquiry through the inclusion the experience of a person. To him, philosophy was more fundamental than other scientific disciplines (McDaniel, 2014). Heidegger perceived phenomenology as a metaphysical ontology and developed the concept of existential phenomenology.

Other philosophers who succeeded Husserl asserted that phenomenology is allied to realist ontology (Moran & Magrì, 2017). The philosophers criticized the Husserl’s idea of transcendental idealism by asserting that phenomenology should not bracket ontology as suggested by epokhe. Ontology deals with events as modes of being in the environment, and hence is a way of understanding the world. Phenomenology developed as a living tradition and divided into various distinct orientations (McDaniel, 2014). A living tradition does re-invent itself. Therefore, phenomenology can be described as a tradition of traditions. The specific epistemology began with Husserl’s assertion of phenomenology as an analysis of what appears in consciousness and the way it appears. In the modern day, the type of inquiry determines the use of phenomenology (Moran & Magrì, 2017). The role of the phenomenological researcher is to make meaning out of the experience. The modern proponents of phenomenology focus more on the modal descriptions. The modes are broad and encompass both metaphysical and qualitative descriptions. The motive is to make the description of consciousness present its sensibility. 

Phenomenology attempts to enhance the objective study of subjective topics that involve use of judgment, perceptions, and emotions. It seeks to remain a scientific discipline but has several assumptions explaining its foundations (McDaniel, 2014). It does not embrace the concept of objective research but clusters assumptions using epokhe. It asserts that through the analysis of daily behavior of an individual, one can gain a great understanding of nature. It gathers data from conscious experiences rather than the traditional data gathering methods. Lastly, phenomenology is oriented on discovery and uses non-restrictive method to gather data.

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Relevance of the Phenomenological Method

The method is relevant in the cases that deal with human experiences such as nursing, counselling, sociology, education, and psychology. The method allows the use of reflective diary helps a researcher to maintain transparency and clarification of thoughts and feelings of the participants. It helps the researchers to conduct rigorous inquiry on participants and the findings of the research can guide policy changes in the current practice in various disciplines(Sloan & Bowe, 2014). The method helps to extrapolate the thoughts of an individual and communicating them in a meaningful manner (Gerhard-Burnham et al., 2016). Therefore, the collected data speaks to the reader and liberate people from long held beliefs that limit their voice on lived experiences. The method is significant when conducting research inquiries for topics that are unstructured and have little or no literature and empirical review. 

The method is useful when gathering data of live experiences of individuals, which are distinct and largely unstudied. The method generates in depth explanations and literature of the unstudied research topic thereby contribution to the knowledge and closing the gap in literature. The findings generated in phenomenology are useful in the provision of a scope for the research inquiry and understanding of research variables concerning the research problem (Lee, Kim, & Kim, 2014). Though the findings of phenomenological research cannot be generalized to a wider population; the generated literature can be used to structure a theory, develop surveys, and quantitative studied which can be generalized to larger population. The method reveals the meaning attached to phenomenon through exploration and the researcher becoming an intricate part of the research. 

Role of the Researcher in Phenomenological Method

The researcher plays significant roles in phenomenological research. The researcher is tasked with the responsibility of communicating their research, collaborating with the research team, and transferring knowledge for the benefit of the society and other stakeholders. The researcher has an obligation to reflect on all features of the research and protect the research participants from harm (Gerhard-Burnham et al., 2016). A researcher owes the participants duty of care to prevent them from the risk of physical, psychological, social, and deprivation in the course of the research. The potential merits of the research must outweigh the potential exposure to harm to the participants. The researcher has a role to monitor the research progress and ensure all members adhere to ethical guidelines (Grossoehme, 2014). Every member of the research team must be honest while conducting research. A researcher is obligated to train and inform research participants what is expected of them before engaging them in research. The researcher is expected to manage their role in research because of their involvement in all the stages of the inquiry from concept formulation to presentation of the findings.

Phenomenology involves study of participant’s experiences meaning that one must get consent from all the participants and the necessary authorities before conduction research. The researcher has a role in ensuring that respect for persons is maintained. This implies that individuals are given the independence of making an informed choice on whether to participate in a research project (Grossoehme, 2014). The researcher should ensure the report has scholarly value and beneficence to all the participants. The research should be conducted in a just manner in a way that all the burdens and merits are distributed equally without discrimination (Grush, 2015). A researcher who is using phenomenological method has a duty of ensuring research is conducted within the guidelines of the relevant research regulatory bodies. The principal researcher bears the sole responsibility for the actions of the other members of the research team. A researcher should ensure every participant signs an informed consent form as a show of acceptance to participate in research activities (Grossoehme, 2014). When human beings are involved in a study, unforeseen or unanticipated problems may arise such as sickness or death. The researcher has a duty to report the events and occurrences to the relevant entities and ensure medical care is accessed in case of sickness.

The researcher should ensure the confidentiality of the participants is maintained even after the closure of the study. The researcher has an obligation of retaining the research records and ensuring their safety. Any conflict of interest of the research team should be communicated before the research commences (Grush, 2015). Phenomenology involves study of a participant in their social environment. The researcher may become emotionally involved during observation. It is the role of the researcher to ensure that they remain objective in the course of the data collection and observation (Hyett, Kenny, & Dickson-Swift, 2014). The researcher has a role to ensure that the research design used, sampling, and data collection instruments are reliable and can be tested for validity. It has been argued that a researcher in a phenomenological method has a passive role compared to other research methods. However, it is worthy to note that in phenomenology, the researcher plays a vital role in determining the quality of data collected and the credibility of the research findings.

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Research Design of Phenomenology

The study sample or participants in phenomenological research are sampled using purposive sampling or the snowball method. A specific criterion to be met by the applicants is incorporated at the time of selection (Anyan, 2013). This ensures that the selected participants have common experiences related to the phenomenon under study.  The research design involves four stages namely bracketing, sensing, analysing, and describing. Bracketing entails identification of preconceived beliefs that a participants may have regarding the phenomenon under study. Sensing involves understanding of phenomena under study by remaining open to the meaning ascribed to it (Grossoehme, 2014). Analysing entails making codes, categories and logic of the critical meanings of a phenomenon. The descriptive stage allows the researcher to understand and describe a phenomenon as well as make a significant description. The sample size in phenomenology research methods is small due to time taken to collect narratives and the amount of data generated.

Data and Data Collection Methods

In phenomenology, data is a narrative or any lived experience of a phenomenon collected from study participants. Data is collected using profound interviews in phenomenological approach. The interviews are open or semi-structured.  The interview method allows a researcher to address phenomena in depth and give the participants and opportunity to express themselves in a real and detailed manner (Anyan, 2013). Additional interviews are conducted in order to verify the data obtained, get more details, and make clarifications. A researcher is required to have excellent skills in interviewing, paraphrasing, and empathetic listening in order to generate rich and detailed data. Other data collection tools used are observation and visual method, diaries for writing, drawings, and non-verbal communication.  

Data Analysis in Phenomenology

Phenomenological research generates large quantity of data from the interviews transcripts and research diaries. Data analysis involves identification of common meanings and themes and analysis of the texts and structure of the narratives. Analysis of the text involves reviewing of what is expressed by the participants (Anyan, 2013). Structural analysis involves interpretation of how the participant’s text is expressed. In a phenomenological analysis, the researcher seeks to identify the elements unintentionally filtered by the participants, events evidenced in the narratives that the participant is unaware of, and the participant’s construction of meaning within the immediate social world (Anyan, 2013). Data is analysed through transfer of explicit information to implicit information. That is, from what the participant say to the meanings behind the narration. The interpretation of data in phenomenology involves establishment of hidden discourses, meanings, and patterns from the interview narratives.

Strengths and Limitations of Phenomenology

Phenomenological method has various strengths. It gives the researcher the ability to use personal drive and enthusiasm to carry out the study. When a researcher has intrinsic motivation to run a study, the self-drive supports the study until its completion. The data collection methods used in phenomenology allows the researcher to get direct responses from the researchers. The direct responses are usually open-ended and broad giving the researcher the opportunity to gain first-hand information regarding the experiences of the participants (Cope, 2014). The method also gives the researcher the flexibility of revising the research plan as new experiences emerge. Therefore, construction of new themes and patterns, and collection of more data becomes possible.

The approach is the most appropriate method to research about the human experience. It uncovers the discreet meaning in the experience entrenched in the words of the narrative. The method is rigorous, systematic, and critical in nature hence the findings generated are rich in literature and credible (Cope, 2014). The analysis in phenomenology begins as soon as the initial data is collected which allows the researcher to establish broader patterns and themes. The method allows a researcher to obtain comprehensive narratives about a phenomenon through focus groups and interviews. Phenomenological method allows for in depth understanding of experiences thereby gaining rich data. The method values the individuality of people’s perspective and recognizes their capacity to study experience.

On the other hand, the phenomenological method has some limitations. The data is subjective which makes it hard to establish the validity and reliability of the approach (BarYam, 2015). Secondly, the researcher makes and records the observations. This implies a high likelihood of researcher induced bias. Subjectivity in the data collection process can lead to challenges in data interpretation (Cope, 2014). The findings of the phenomenological method are qualitative in nature making it difficult to present the data results in a usable manner by other stakeholders (BarYam, 2015). In addition, the sample size used in phenomenological approaches is very small and thus the results cannot be generalized to a larger population. Lastly, the participants may have difficulties in articulating themselves making it difficult to collect data. The strengths of phenomenology outweigh the limitations implying that the method is beneficial to the researchers.

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Ethical Implications in Phenomenology

Human beings are the instruments of research in a qualitative research and an integral part of the research. The use of human beings in research in phenomenological approaches has several ethical implications. The closeness and intimacy developed between the researcher and the participants in the study raise some ethical concerns. The researcher is faced with dilemma on privacy issues, establishment of sincere and open interactions, and misrepresentation (Holland, 2014). When the researcher has to deal with conflicting issues and methodological strategies, a conflict may arise. Sometimes, conflicts emerge among the research team members, the sponsoring body, and society. Such conflicts are unavoidable and should be taken into account when conducting research. Other ethical considerations to be made are how to maintain anonymity, privacy, and informed consent. 

The research design used in phenomenological approach involves explanations, clarifications, and elaboration of the different meanings of the human experiences. An ethical concern may arise on the right of the researcher to know about an experience and the right of privacy of the participant (Holland, 2014). The researcher has an ethical duty to protect personal information through securing data. The researcher has to consider the potential impact the personal relationships developed during data collection may have on the participant. The details of the interactions during the research should be clearly outlined in the proposal. The data collection methods in phenomenological studies involve conducting multifaceted interviews to generate experiences (Lee, Kim, & Kim, 2014). The researcher has to make ethical considerations when playing the role of the mediator between the respondents and the society in which the research is conducted. Sometimes, researchers’ physical presence makes them responsible for potential risks and accidents that may occur in the field. It is prudent for researchers to make ethical considerations when conducting research in health care settings and risky environment. 

Conclusion

Phenomenological approach is a qualitative research method used in conducting inquiry on human experiences and emotions regarding events. It is a variation of hermeneutics and interpretivism. The history of Phenomenology dates back to Plato’s times. It stems from philosophical, epistemological, and ontological foundations. Different philosophers and scholars have made immense contributions to the current practice and model of phenomenology.  Use of phenomenology in research inquiry allows the researcher to generate huge amounts of data through interviews, observations, and induction. The method is reputed for enhancing better understanding of meanings attached to different phenomenon in the people’s social world. However, it is discredited for lower levels of reliability and validity compared to other methods. The researcher plays a major role in the research process since human beings are involved in the study. A researcher has several ethical considerations to make in planning and conducting the research. The privacy, confidentiality, and individuality of the participant must be respected. The method can be used in different disciplines to conduct research such as nursing, healthcare, sociology, and psychology. Phenomenology helps in generation of literature for the unstructured and unstudied topics involving human perception. The method has proven beneficial in research and its use should be continued in future research inquiries.

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