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Challenges in Counselling:


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Challenges in Counselling:
James M. Carmichael

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Copyright 2013 James M. Carmichael
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Acknowledgments vi
Preface vii

1 Introduction

2 Settings


3 Theories and skills


4 Identifying anxieties


5 Strategies for managing anxieties


6 Possible impact on clients


7 Professional challenges


8 Ethical challenges


9 Research
Glossary of terms


Appendix 133
Index 135

Many thanks to Rosemarie Lynass, Olga Pykhtina and Mick Cooper for
the use of their article.
Thanks also to Kirsten Amis for her detailed editing and critical input.
Lastly, Deborah for patience, criticism and gentle reminders.

For many years I have been involved in teaching students about research.
I have also acted in a mentoring capacity for colleagues working on postgraduate qualifications, and have had the privilege and pleasure of being
invited to comment on the work of other colleagues engaged in research
as part of professional development. I have worked as a researcher, both
on my own and from time to time as part of a team. This experience has
made it clear to me how daunting it can and does seem to even very
able colleagues who feel as if they are stepping out of the familiar into
unknown territory when they engage in research.
This book is aimed at trying to alleviate some of the concerns people can
have when they are required or choose to undertake research or in some
way have to make use of research. One source of that concern can be
the extent to which language presents a barrier to understanding. But it
is also about the fact that very often aspects of the way in which research
is written about and discussed are treated as given. In other words there
are implicit expectations about what things mean and how they should
be understood. My aim is to try, as far as possible in this book, to make
things explicit to explain aspects of research that might seem very basic
or fundamental because very often it is these areas that can seem very
obscure to a person new to the field.
Very often what we do in research is not removed from or hugely different
from normal experience. People do, on the whole, think in terms of supporting claims about experiences and opinions on matters with reference
to evidence. It is just that research does this more strictly and formally.
However understanding that research work is not fundamentally different
from the demands of counselling work can be difficult when the language
and terms of the work does seem to be completely unfamiliar. So this
book does try to provide a guide to some of the language of the subject
and includes a glossary with some explanation and discussion of terms.
Even so, the main point of this book is try to convey some of the excitement, fun and pleasure that can be got in both doing research work and
in reading about research. If I succeed in conveying the value, importance and fascination of researching human behaviour, then the aims of
the text will have been realised.
James M Carmichael
March 2013

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Chapter 1


Research is fun. No, really, it is. Quite often when people are first
introduced to research work, they find it difficult, scary and hard to
understand. This book is about starting to see what research is about
and getting a feel for how important it is to you. My aim throughout
is to try to spell out the things that are often left unsaid and by doing
that to try to make it clear just how important research is to practice
and personal development. I also aim to establish that doing research
can be rewarding in lots of ways.
Research plays a vital role in the development of counselling. It
is important to those learning about counselling, to practitioners
and to clients. However, there are real challenges involved, and
often we struggle to make sense of how research works, what it can
tell us and how to use the results of research work. This book will
serve as a starting point on a fascinating journey into the world of
In this chapter we will be pursuing three themes:

the Importance of Research

These themes will be touched on throughout the text: the issue of the
language of research; the role of science; and how important and
useful research work can be.
From time to time common questions, issues and complaints will be
identified with the help of Lynn, David, Ian, Helen and others. Not real
names of course!

challenges in couNselling: Research

The aims of the book

This book is about introducing practitioners and students to some of the
basic elements of doing research and using it in our studies. We will try
to identify some of the anxieties people can have when confronted with
the requirement to read and use research materials and will then provide
some of the resources needed to develop a better understanding of how
research works and how to use the lessons it provides. To do this I will,
in the chapters that follow, try to address some of the basic difficulties
that can present barriers and make it difficult to come to grips with what
research is about.
This will include:
Chapter 1 The Introduction raising some of the initial questions
Chapter 2 Settings thinking about some issues related to context
Chapter 3 Theories and Skills looking at some basic elements of
Chapter 4 Identifying Anxieties identifying some of the issues that can
arise in dealing with and being involved in research
Chapter 5 Strategies for Managing Anxieties how might we start to
come to grips with research materials?
Chapter 6 Possible Impact on Clients matters to consider about the
impact that research can have upon clients
Chapter 7 Professional Challenges what professional issues should we
consider in relation to research?
Chapter 8 Ethical Challenges thinking about some of the different
ethical perspectives that can be applied to research
Chapter 9 Research a summary and round up
Glossary of Terms

To help us along in this journey, from time to time you will find
statements, questions and complaints that are frequently raised by
those coming into research. The points made by Lynn, David, Ian,
Helen and others are ones you might recognise. They are there to
help point the way, and the questions they raise will be addressed
and resolved as we proceed.

Introduction 3

To help introduce this area here are a set of core themes for us to consider.
They are:

One of the real barriers to accessing the interesting and helpful parts of
research can be the very language of research itself. Sometimes it can
appear obscure, daunting, difficult and over-complicated. This text is not
a dictionary but it should provide a starting point for developing a better
understanding of the language of research; introducing and explaining some
of the terminology, and providing an argument as to why it is necessary and
important for the language of research to be quite technical and complex.
To help with this, key terminology will be in bold type throughout and a full
explanation of these terms can be found in the Glossary of terms.

Figure 1.1 Science

What do we mean by the word science and what role does it play in
counselling and research? We will from time to time touch upon being
scientific and what it means.

The importance of research

It is important to realise both the importance of research and the positive
role research work can play in our practice and development.

challenges in couNselling: Research

So why should I care about research?

Vanessa is studying to become a counsellor.
For me its about the practical skills I need to know about
to be a counsellor. I have had to read research articles for my
studies, but the jargon puts me off. Anyway I just dont see
research as a priority right now, I need to focus on learning
what I have to know to be an effective counsellor. I do know
that research is supposed to be scientific, but my partner is a
scientist and the way he thinks is completely different, I dont
think that way.

Is Vanessa right?
Here are some points Vanessa made. Think about these points as you
read through this first chapter:

Research is not about practical matters.

Research articles are full of jargon that makes them difficult to
Knowing about research work is not a priority for a counsellor.
Scientists think in a different way.

A major point
When it comes right down to it, research is about curiosity. People do
research because there is something they want to find out about or
check out. Unfortunately because of all the technical and academic
rules (which, ok, are there to make sure that research is properly done)
sometimes the enthusiasm, the interest and the passion about wanting
to know are lost. This does not always come across in how people write
about research.
Developing a better understanding of people and behaviour enriches
counselling practice. Studying in a more formal way can and does
challenge accepted ways of thinking, and makes us adopt new
perspectives and rethink accepted practice.

Introduction 5

Divided by a common language

Part of this difficulty is one of language. Inevitably the challenges of
researching human behaviour demand of researchers that they develop
a technical language shaped by the need to cope with the sheer
complexity of the subject matter. People are difficult, complicated
creatures. We cannot really get to grips with how and why people act
and think as they do without developing equally complicated methods of
research. That means that the very language that is used to speak about
research can seem difficult.
That can present a barrier to practitioners and students who find
academic language impenetrable. It is important to say at the outset
that academic language is not better language than any other, but it
is shaped by the need to try to be as precise and exact in dealing with
human behaviour as possible. In order to read the literature produced
by research we need to understand the language. It can be useful to
think of grappling with research work as being first of all about learning a
different way of communicating.
There is a responsibility on all scientific researchers to try to communicate
the outcomes of their work in an accessible manner, but often, because of
the lack ofconnection between practitioners and researchers, work is held
within an a
cademic community and never really crosses the b
oundary into
a wider d
iscourse. All the same, that does not mean that we can take the
complexity out of the language of research. Studying human b
presents enormous challenges; the issues that are e
demand of researchers a level of complexity in how they think about
behaviour and that in turn demands a language that can cope with the
It is important to say that practitioners can and do bring something of
great value to research; they bring a wealth of experience and understanding. The views of practitioners are important and do matter. But
practitioners also need to be receptive to the sometimes difficult and
challenging lessons that can be learned from the outcomes of research.

A note about terms

Throughout the book you will see that some words are highlighted in
bold type which indicates that, in a glossary at the end of the book, there
will be a definition of those words along with some discussion of them.
If you are not sure what a particular term means, check out the glossary
and refresh your memory as you read the passage.

challenges in couNselling: Research

At the end of each chapter there will be a short section called Key Points
that will highlight the main points made in the chapter and some additional resources on which you might want to follow up. There are a lot of good
books out there that make a very good job of discussing and explaining
some of the methods of research, so I will not be going into the details
here, but you will get some p
ointers to where you can find out more.
Throughout this text we will be referring to research materials. This is a
shorthand way of referring to all the different forms of research output, that
is to say both the text and the statistical data that research can and does
The term respondent is used to refer to the people that provide data,
that is, the participants who answer our questions and thus provide the
raw source m
aterial that research requires.

Doing science
Is counselling research about doing science? We have treated
research and science until now as virtually the same thing, but it is
perhaps important to explicitly say that research work should be and
is scientific in nature. But that only opens another question what is
There is a considerable body of literature devoted to the philosophy of
science that, for the most part, scientists tend to completely ignore. They
are too busy doing science to devote time to fundamental q
about what science is. This is fair enough. However studying human
behaviour does make for additional problems, some of which can only be
dealt with by trying to get a clear picture of what we are trying to do and
how we are trying to do it. The problem is that people who study human
behaviour are also themselves human. I know, its easy to forget. Because
academic researchers are also people living regular lives (for the most
part) with children, relatives, bills to pay and all the other messy business
of ordinary living, it can be really difficult to separate out the study of
human behaviour from our own personal interests, priorities, values and
beliefs. But we have to try to do that. Otherwise our personal lives may
distort how we research the lives of our fellow human beings and make
the results less than reliable. So researchers try to be scientific and that
means they try to be as objective as possible.
Science is considered to be an objective study based only on empirical
evidence. But, is it possible to study people objectively? Researchers and

Introduction 7

other scientists are not immune from all the various influences that affect
how we think and feel. All the same, objectivity is about studying behaviour without allowing personal or subjective attitudes and views to affect
understanding. It is about value-free science finding what is, rather
than trying to support what we think ought to be the case.
All researchers can do is try to follow established scientific methods and
procedures in the hope that the effects of culture and attitudes will be minimised. In addition, by exposing their work to the scrutiny of the wider community of scientists it is hoped that any evidence of bias or distortion will be
brought out. Even so, it is very problematic to claim that studying human
behaviour is completely value-free and objective. That is one reason why
it is important for practitioners and researchers to be critical and reflective
and never to accept claims on face value.

Its only common sense

There is a tendency in our culture to regard research and science in
general with two related but opposing views. Academic research is
either set up on a pillar as a source of absolute truths based on geniuslike academics that cannot be understood but only followed, or it is
regarded as a province of impractical dreamers living in their ivy-clad
retreats detached from real world issues. Of course both descriptions
are over-stating matters, but it does convey the point. Research
outcomes are regarded by some as unassailable truths that have to be
accepted and by others as notions that are detached and irrelevant and
therefore best ignored. It does not do any harm to point out that there
are problems with both positions. Academics dont know everything.
Even experienced practitioners can be nervous around academics
because they feel somehow as if by saying the wrong thing, or saying
too much, they will reveal some fault or flaw in how they conduct their
So maybe it is worth saying as well that making mistakes and getting
things wrong is what human beings do, even academic researchers.
Making mistakes is not only inevitable, sometimes it is necessary. Certainly
for the author it has always been about getting things wrong first in order
to then find out how to get things right. And that is partly the point about
science. Being scientific is about recognising that knowing the truth
about something, particularly something as complicated as human
behaviour, is an aspiration that we may never actually achieve. So we
should always be cautious when someone says of some situation or behaviour that explaining it is only common sense, which seems to imply
that the truth is obvious. Usually it is just not obvious at all.

challenges in couNselling: Research

The important difference between what we call common sense and the
sciences is that, mostly, common sense is wrong. You might say something like I dont put my hand in the fire because it is common sense
that you shouldnt do that. Yes, putting your hand in a fire is not a sensible thing to do, but that does not mean that everything we describe
as common sense is equally sensible. The problem is that some of the
things that people believe to be obviously true turn out to be wrong.
Instead of helping us, when it comes to human behaviour common
sense can actually be a problem because what we actually do is jump
to conclusions based on attitudes from our culture, our limited personal
experience and our prejudices. Once it was common sense to regard
lone p
arent families as somehow unnatural.
We need scientific research in order to get beyond the limitations of
culture and prejudice, and above all to challenge our preconceptions.
Any practitioners can ask themselves the simple question, how often
have my expectations been proved wrong? Time and time again in
practice counsellors will and do discover the value of having different
perspectives and a wider awareness of the issues, and of being prepared
to question and be reflective. In a broader way, that is exactly what good
quality research is also about. The view that common sense holds the
answer to complex human behaviour is always just an uninformed and
often damaging way of thinking. We need to have an informed and critical approach; research work is key to developing and maintaining both.
It is very often the case that long-held and firmly believed evident truths
about behaviour are found to be misleading and damaging. All of us tend
to have u
nexamined assumptions about people, the value of personal
experience and how and why people behave as they do, which if put under
the microscope of scientific research would be discovered to be unjustified. There are many e
xamples of scientific discoveries obtained through
research that run entirely counter to our expectations and intuitions. This
ranges from the research evidence that has established that there is no
link between the threat of punishment and criminal behaviour, to studies
of mental states that have challenged conventional views of mental health.
The individual perspective is inevitably coloured and shaped by our particular situation, but the great power of research is that it gives us an alternative view; a different perspective based on evidence.

So what are we afraid of?

When confronted by the need to read research materials or to get
involved in research there can be a real fear about what is involved.


As mentioned, the language of research can be difficult and it can seem

a daunting task to try to make sense of it. When it comes to such things it
is quite comforting to know that you are not alone. Most people, at least
at the start, find getting into research difficult and daunting.
This can lead to a real difficulty. Because the outcomes of research can
contradict experience; because it seems to demand a level of application
and engagement that seems too great; and not least because sometimes
the outcomes of research present uncomfortable challenges, academic
research is sometimes dismissed without due or proper consideration.
This difficulty is made worse by the fact that practitioners often feel that
more than enough is demanded of them in the normal experience of
work without adding the difficulty of having to struggle with unfamiliar
language, terms and processes.
This lack of connection is all the more unfortunate in that the r esearch
process would benefit hugely from the richness of practitioner
experience and because research can actually show how practice
can be effective, can be more effective and, rather than being an
additional burden, can offer insights that would make life easier for
those facing the challenges of dealing with complex human issues.
Yes, that can be hard to believe, but getting to know about research
can make things easier.

Take some time to reflect on these opening points.
What is the difference between a common sense approach to
understanding human behaviour, and a scientific approach?
Which is more reliable?
Does the prospect of having to work with research materials, or
being involved in research, make you feel concerned?
Try to identify what worries you make a list and then check to
see if some of those concerns are addressed in this book.
Read over the Introduction again but this time note any terms in
the text that you feel you need to clarify. Check the glossary at
the end of the book. If you still feel that you need more clarity,
look up other definitions and try writing your own.
Now make a list for yourself of all the reasons why research might be
useful to you and might actually help your practice.


challenges in couNselling: Research

So what about the points Vanessa raised? Lets take them one by one.

Research is not about practical matters

In fact, all the practice of being a counsellor owes its origins to research
sometimes formal, sometimes less so that led to the development of
psychology as a discipline and ultimately to the profession of counselling.
Research leads directly and indirectly to practical outcomes.

Research articles are full of jargon that makes

them difficult to understand
Yes there is a problem about understanding the language used by
researchers; sometimes it looks very complex and presents a barrier
to understanding. But human behaviour is complex and we need a
language that can cope with the demands of studying people. Learning
how to understand that language is part of what we have to do.

Knowing about research work is not a priority for

a counsellor
Every therapeutic technique, every innovation, every adaptation of
practice comes out of research work. Every counsellor needs to be able
read and evaluate research work; it is a vital part of the work of being an
effective counsellor.

Scientists think in a different way.

Do counselling practitioners think in a different way? Yes, they
certainly can and do think differently about issues and problems
that people sometimes face, but why? Because they are involved
in thinking about the issues and problems of life and that thinking
is informed by theory, by therapeutic practice and by experience.
Something very similar could be said about scientists. Scientists do
not think differently from the rest of us, rather their thinking about
the areas they study is informed by theory, by research and by the
dialogue they have with other scientists. But we can all become
scientists; all it takes it that one driving force that can transform how
we think, and that is curiosity.



Key points
The language of research can be difficult, but with practice and
persistence we can crack the code.
Science is about adopting rigorous methods and an evidence-based
approach. We can all be scientific in our work.
Research is of central importance to counselling, and we should all
make the effort to benefit from the lessons that can be derived from it.
Doing research is fun. It is about finding answers to questions that
trouble us, discovering new things about human behaviour, and
it is about challenging our expectations, all of which is good for
counselling practice, good for counsellors and good for clients.
Seriously, I recommend research work to everyone. Try it; you might
be surprised at how much you enjoy it!

Further reading
Here is a list of a few texts that might help with starting to investigate
research methods. Some of these books will be referred to in future
Amis, K. (2011) Becoming a Counsellor: A Student Companion. London:
Cooper, M. (2008) Essential Research Findings in Counselling and
Psychotherapy. London: Sage.
Feltham, C. and Horton, I. (2012) The SAGE Handbook of Counselling
and Psychotherapy (3rd ed.). London: Sage.
(Particularly the chapter Fundamentals of Research by McLeod, J.)
McLeod, J. (2003) Doing Counselling Research (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

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Chapter 2


Research can mean different things to people working within different

contexts. In order to simplify matters we will look at three broad

the student
the practitioner
the new researcher

These categories are not mutually exclusive of course, but it will help
to consider them separately and look at what research can mean in
each case.
This chapter will include:

Research and funding how they work

Public- and private-funded research
Solo research working on your own
Team research being part of a project
Research and personal development
Practitioner research fun or more hard work?
Why research matters to everyone
Key points

This includes NHS practitioners, those working in private practice

and voluntary organisations, as well as counsellors employed by
educational establishments and private concerns. By the end of the
chapter you should be aware of some of the issues that can confront
people when doing research and using research in their work.


challenges in couNselling: Research

Research and funding how they work

Most of the research related to counselling is funded by public bodies and
is carried out by academic researchers working in universities. That can
involve post-graduate students working on projects as part of their studies,
and it can be university lecturers and staff pursuing the questions they think
are most interesting and relevant to their field of expertise. When external
funding bodies are involved, depending upon the costs for a project, the
work is monitored to ensure that standards are met. This means both that
the quality of the research meets high academic standards and that the
work is conducted in a professional and ethical manner.
A range of public and private bodies do fund research, for more specific
information go to:

Public private
It is worth saying something about the difference between publically- and
privately-funded research. Public bodies fund most of the research work
that is carried out in counselling directly or indirectly, but the possibility
exists at various levels for privately funded research to take place. The
difficulty is always that privately funded research may, depending upon the
funding body concerned, be regarded as following a particular agenda
or purpose and therefore be considered to be less objective and reliable
than publically funded research. This might not be entirely fair, those
involved may well strive to be as objective as possible, but inevitably
the concerns and the priorities of the funding body will play a role in
determining how the research proceeds and what its outcomes will be.
For example, a private company seeking to determine whether or not the
provision of counselling within the organisation is of real benefit will tend
to favour the use of systems of measurement that make sense within
the context of how the company operates. This may mean focusing on
issues such as employee absence due to stress-related problems with
the expectation that therapy would help to solve the problem. Simply
counting the number of employees who have participated in counselling and establishing a rough correlation between the numbers involved
and the levels of sick leave might do this well enough for the purposes of
company management. But it would not be considered to be convincing
to an academic researcher.

Settings 15

That is not to say that publically funded research is immune to

influences that might have a significant effect on the subject of the
research and the m
anner in which it is carried out. The priorities and
policies of government will and do influence the decisions that are
made to fund and support research work. Research that involves the use
of methodologies or which raise questions that do not seem to be relevant to the policies and priorities established by government may not
be funded or researchers may at least have to work very hard to convince funding bodies that their work is important and deserves support.
Currently there is a strong tide towards establishing an evidence base for
the provision of counselling. For many reasons this is a good thing, as it is
important that the claims made by and on behalf of the counselling community are substantiated by evidence. This emphasises the importance
of research since it is through research work that this evidence is being
established. However
it is all too readily assumed that research equals science and
that scientific methods represent the only acceptable means of
generating useful knowledge.
(Mcleod 2003 pg 4)
Certainly a particular interpretation of what being scientific means
tends to drive research work towards more quantitative methods, which
generate work that can more readily be generalised.

Our second theme science is about this debate. If you take the view
that science is necessarily about very specific approaches to research
as some do then research can only properly be scientific if it involves a
strict process of identifying a hypothesis and then testing or measuring
the extent to which the evidence supports or refutes that hypothesis.
This tends to support the view that only quantitative methods of research
can be regarded as proper science and that other methods, which
may not generate evidence in the same way, cannot be regarded as
properly scientific. Alternatively, it can be argued that the study of human
behaviour requires the use of techniques of research that are less about
hard evidence and about generalisation and more about the particular
nature of human experience and the way in which we attach meaning to
aspects of our lives. It is not so much that there are scientific ways to
investigate people and that other methods are non-scientific, rather it is
about a different, wider definition of what science is about.


challenges in couNselling: Research

Karl Popper (19021994) was a philosopher of science who took the

view that there was science and then there was pseudo-science. In his
view, genuine science involved the establishment of a measureable and
fully testable hypothesis that could (at least potentially) be proved false.
Statements that could not be subject to a test of this kind were not r eally
scientific at all. So for example if an astrologer predicts that you will come
into money or that happiness will find you we cant really sensibly test
those statements in any way. But if a scientist claims, forexample, that
there is no life on Mars, then finding evidence of life could d
isprove that
statement. Scientific hypotheses are testable and can be shown to be false
non-scientific statements cannot be properly tested or proved false.
The social sciences are, in Poppers view, suspect because many of the
hypotheses used for research purposes are difficult if not impossible
to clearly disprove and therefore much of the social sciences are, in his
view, pseudo-science; that is, not proper science at all. He regarded
psychoanalysis asa study in its infancy:
psychoanalysis is a pre-science (i.e., it undoubtedly contains useful and informative truths, but until such time as psychoanalytical
theories can be formulated in such a manner as to be falsifiable,
they will not attain the status of scientific theories)
This view of what science is and how it should be done is powerful and
influential and many academics and researchers (not to mention funding agencies) take this view. It has the simple advantage that it makes
sense. What is the difference between an astrologer predicting that
you will meet a tall dark stranger and a scientist testing a hypothesis
like CBT will help people cope with loss better than other forms of
therapy? Well we cant really disprove that someone will meet a tall
dark stranger because that statement cant be specifically tested.
Maybe we can specifically test the usefulness of CBT. Or can we? Is it
the case that every individual will respond to CBT differently? Are there
groups or sections of the population that may respond differently to
CBT depending on their age, gender, circumstances, life history, etc.?
So do we test the effectiveness of a therapeutic approach through
measurement that allows us to generalise results and say something
about how a therapy is of value to a whole population, or do we study
the specific individual response which cant really be generalised but
may tell us something important about how a therapy works on an
individual basis?

Settings 17

If we do focus on the individual level we cant do the same kind of science that is possible with quantitative work, but does that mean it is
not science? It could be argued that if research draws upon tried and
tested methods, using those methods rigorously and appropriately, it is
just as scientific in nature as other methods that might be more readily
recognised as being science. The point is that science is about carrying
out research in the context of a community a community of scientists
exposing that work to critical review and examination by others in the field
and entering into a dialogue about the meaning and value of the work
carried out.

Solo research working on your own

Individual practitioners can carry out their own research using the data
that has been generated by their own work. It does not have to be
research that is groundbreaking or entirely novel (a lot of research is
neither) but such workcan be both informative and illuminating for the
practitioner involved. Simply by gathering together data about their
own work, practitioners can either find evidence that supports existing
practice, or indeed can discover that what they thought was effective is
not actually as good as they believed. It is the case that all too often what
we expect to find when we conduct research is not what the evidence
tells us! That is one of the reasons why it is good to do.
Of course practitioners and those who wish to become practitioners
often get involved in research as part of their personal development.

Tony is a student working towards an entry-level qualification in
I have been told that it is really important to know something
about current research work, and for some assignments I have
to include references to research. But there is so much out
there, I dont know where to start, I dont really know how to
use research in my own work, and honestly I dont really get
why it is so important.
Entering into the world of research can seem very daunting at first to
those who are studying for a qualification, either in order to become a


challenges in couNselling: Research

counsellor or as part of their professional development. Tony picks up on

a number of points:

There is so much out there.

How do you use research in student assignments and for the
purposes of studying counselling?
Why is research work so important for students?

There is so much out there

If you had an ambition to get up to date with all the published research
available, then you would be setting yourself an impossible task. There
is just too much. That is why abstracts are very useful (we will be looking
at abstracts in more detail later on). Reading research material is about
focus. We need to narrow our search to just those specific topics that
are relevant to the work being carried out, and resist the temptation to
wander further afield. Of course it is not a bad thing to get a wider sense
of what is going on in counselling research, but for a student working
towards a particular end, it makes sense to limit reading to those areas
that are relevant to the task in hand.
Reading research material is not about picking up every journal article or
research report that might be useful and reading every line and detail.
When reading as part of a study programme there simply is not enough
time to read everything. Reading for study is about prioritising that which
is relevant and important and setting aside other fascinating material.
You need to:

Search through the literature to find what is directly relevant to your

work. Online resources make that task, to an extent, easier, but there
are complications. For one thing, access to the content of articles
can be limited (we will return to this in Chapter 9) but it can also be
overwhelming because so much is potentially available. Limit yourself
to that which is relevant. Please do remember that libraries and
librarians can be a great help with this.
When reading research material, start by identifying paragraphs that
really help. If you intend to quote from an article, then it does make
sense to more carefully read over the introduction and the conclusion
to make sure you have a clear idea of the argument presented by the

Settings 19

If the article is really informative about your area of interest and work, then
take a closer look, scrutinise the evidence presented and try to make up
your mind as to how convincing the piece is. You may also want to check
out any citations references to other work incorporated in the article
along with the bibliography.
Once you have one article that you know is relevant and important
to your current work, make sure that you record all the details that
will allow you to find it again. Those details will be very important
if you do intend to quote from the article as they will be required
for any solo research or other tasks you are doing. More than that,
recording the details (title of the article, name of the author/s, date of
publication, journal it was published in, along with issue information)
will make it possible for you to find that article again, both for your
own interest and because it might help with other work.

That one article can then provide you with a road map to the topic you
are studying. The references to other published work in the article and
the bibliography can supply information about other relevant work. Now
you are not just trawling through articles in the hope of something interesting turning up, but you have information that tells you where to go,
what to read, and what is current, relevant and important for the topic
you are working on.

Research for practitioners

Finding and using relevant research articles and papers can be very useful
and indeed necessary for anyone studying counselling. But of course
it can be equally important for a practising counsellor. Knowing what
issues are current when researching counselling can be very useful to a
practitioner, can keep them informed of where the discipline stands with
regards to different methods and practices, and helps them to reflect
about their own practice. Just as a student counsellor needs to seek out
articles that are relevant to their studies, so too does the practitioner
need to keep abreast of developments in the field in much the same
manner, using many of the same techniques. Of course it is also the case
that practising counsellors need to be involved in Continuing Professional
Development (CPD) in order to maintain the currency of their practice.
Dont forget its not about trying to read everything. Identify your interests, what is relevant to your experience and work; build up an understanding of what is currently being done; and construct your own bibliography and a list of resources that are important to you.


challenges in couNselling: Research

Team research being part of a

Many research projects involve a team of researchers, which can often
mean just three or four people but occasionally a bigger group is
involved. When research teams work well together, supporting and
challenging each other, the experience can be very positive. Carrying out
research on your own can at times seem a very isolated activity and it can
be difficult to judge the worth of work without others to critically appraise
what you are doing. At the same time however, exposing your work to
the criticism of others can be a very difficult and daunting experience.
Even so, the process of sharing work and exposing it to criticism is a vital
and necessary part of the scientific process. It is all too easy for a practitioner or a researcher to convince themselves that they are doing good
work that meets the highest standards when no-one else is involved.
Painful though it can be, opening work up to the scrutiny of others is the
best way to ensure that it does indeed meet high standards and is meaningful and convincing. Research work does involve developing the confidence to stand by your work, to take criticism and to respond positively.
If you are concerned about getting involved in research work, either as
a student or as a practitioner, because you are worried that your work
simply wont be good enough, bear in mind that many who get involved
in research feel something similar. Each time a researcher publishes work
they know that they may face challenges, and academic criticism is not
always gentle or forgiving. For that reason sharing work with colleagues
and getting their comments and views before publication helps to make
sure that every detail is robust and well developed. Being part of a team
makes this easier.

Research and personal development

The point has been made along the way that research is an important
part of being a counsellor. Reading research material:
1. keeps us up-to-date by raising awareness of current issues and
2. makes sure that we are fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of
different elements of practice.

Settings 21

3. informs us about new developments that can provide valuable

insights into aspects of practice.
4. helps us to avoid become complacent about techniques and methods
that do need to be reviewed and reconsidered from time to time.
5. challenges perspectives and helps to keep our approach to work fresh
and relevant.
Getting involved in doing research can also:

improve aspects of practice by helping to develop new ideas and

encourage us to engage with the wider community of practitioners
and researchers, which is always healthy.
provide new insights that can radically change the way we think about
maintain our enthusiasm because it stimulates our curiosity about
aspects of counselling work and because it can be fascinating.

Many practising counsellors can find, sometimes much to their surprise,

that later in their career they get involved in research. If you choose to
undertake a masters or doctorate, or if as part of your practice you find
that you need to seek answers to difficult issues, then you may well find
that you end up doing research and even getting your work published.
Those experiences can and do throw up new challenges. But that is good
because it keeps your interest and enthusiasm alive.

Practitioner research fun or more

hard work?
Research is work; there is no question about that. It is demanding,
exacting and at times exhausting. Carrying out research puts demands
upon researchers who must pay strict attention to detail and be aware of
very particular academic standards. It cannot be anything other than hard
work. However, it is about trying to find answers to questions, satisfying
curiosity and learning new things, and that is rewarding in many ways.
For some time now, research work in a variety of fields has involved
the use of practitioner-researchers. That is to say that academic researchers have long recognised that one of the best ways to research
fields of h
uman behaviour is through the use of those who work in that
field. Collaborative projects that have involved recruiting practitioners


challenges in couNselling: Research

to become both respondents (sources of data) and researchers have

become part of the range of techniques used in research.
There are obvious advantages to practitioner-research. In the first case,
the experience that practitioners have of real cases and conditions can
be invaluable. The insights that practitioners can provide into the reality
of the counselling experience keeps research work grounded and relevant.
Practitioners and academics can seem to speak a different language
and it can be challenging for both parties to build effective communication. Often practitioners are reluctant to take the lead in discussions and
hesitate to offer information, either because they assume that academic
researchers simply know what they are doing or because they undervalue the contribution they can make. At the same time academics (even
ex-practitioners) can have priorities and perspectives that make it difficult
for them to fully appreciate just how much practitioners have to offer.
To some extent these difficulties are inevitable. They grow out of the
different context that practitioners and academic researchers work within.
Building an effective working relationship between practitioners and
researchers is not a simple matter and requires determination and work
by both parties. When it does work effectively it can be a very positive
experience for all involved.

Why research matters to everyone

(theme three)
Counselling is becoming more important to our society and gaining
wider recognition. An essential element of this growing realisation is the
degree to which effective therapies are employed and counsellors are
professional, operate to high standards in all aspects of their role, and
are as well-informed and aware of both the challenges involved in their
work and the possibilities for further improvements to practice. Research
work is playing a key role in this by establishing the evidence base of
the profession and contributing to the maintenance of high professional
However, as in many professional walks of life, the link between research
work and practice is tenuous and underdeveloped. There are many
reasons for this.

Settings 23

Figure 2.1 Linking research and practice

Here is a point to consider. It could be argued that it is not necessarily a

bad thing for professionals to be slow to pick up on developments from
research. Sometimes it is important for new developments to be tested
and re-tested before being adopted into practice, for new ideas to be
proven repeatedly and for practitioners to slowly adapt to them. If every new perspective that emerged from research had a direct impact on
practice, then there would be no consistency or stability and we would all
be constantly changing our approach in response to the latest findings.
So there is a balance to be struck between adopting insights from research and maintaining a consistent approach based on well-established
Set against that, if the gap between practice and research is too great,
then two major problems emerge. There is the danger that significant
new findings do not reach practitioners and therefore fail to make an
impact on practice. This can mean that developments or approaches that
could have a very p
ositive impact on the lives of clients do not get implemented. At worst it can mean that p
ractitioners become complacent and
we miss out on benefits because our practice stagnates and we carry on
with comfortable, unchallenging methods that dont develop. On the
other hand, research could become more abstract, less relevant and lose
its relevance to the real world of practice.
What we need to remember is that counselling practitioners can only
benefit from developing a greater awareness of their role in research by
keeping it relevant to their work and raising the questions that matter for
the future development of the field.


challenges in couNselling: Research

Activity: Reading research

Try to identify those particular areas of practice or those theoretical
perspectives that you find interesting. Take just one topic or point
and try to find some examples of published research that address
your interest. You might carry out a search online or in the database
of a professional organisation or you might look through an index in a
Once you find some material, take a note of all the publication

name or names of authors

date of publication
name of the publisher
where the text was published
any other relevant details such as edition or if it is part of an
edited collection or series.

If it is an article you accessed online, for the most part, the same
information will be available, but you might also want to take note of
the URL.
Now, go through any article, book or other form of publication you
have found and narrow the focus even further. Are there particular
sections, chapters, pages or even paragraphs that are directly
relevant to your interests?
If there are, take note of the page number or numbers. You may want
to take a quotation or extract from the text for future use.
Follow this approach and collect a set of resources about the areas
that are of interest to you. In quite a short time you will begin to
accumulate a rich and detailed set of resources that can be of great
use to you, both in practice and in your professional development.
Note: it is not always necessary to go through every chapter of a
book, every element of a journal article or every section of a report
to get insight into those specific areas or aspects of a topic that
are relevant to your interests. You may come across an article or
book that is relevant and that you can and should read through, but
often it is enough to focus on just those aspects of research and
publications that address your area of interest.

Settings 25

Key points
Reading research materials and being involved in research present
distinct and different challenges.
The sheer quantity of research work that is going on can seem
overwhelming but by keeping a clear focus and pursuing just those
questions that are immediately relevant it is possible to build up a
good working knowledge by constructing a road map to specific
Keeping a detailed record of where we have been in our journey
through research material is an invaluable aid and builds resources
that can be used and re-used in different ways.
Practitioners can do valuable research work on their own that can
make a very valuable contribution to practice.
Getting involved in research does mean sharing work and may involve
publishing work that can be daunting but remember that everyone
who does this can find it challenging.
There are many benefits to be gained from being involved in
research, both on an individual level and for the profession as a

Further reading
Therapy Today 2006
McLeod, J. (1999) Practitioner Research in Counselling. London: SAGE
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

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Chapter 3

Theories and skills

In this chapter I will be looking at some of the broad theoretical

arguments about research. It will be no more than an introduction to
this area, but it will serve to raise some questions that are useful to at
least be aware of. Then we will go on to look at some of the specific
methods used in research and along the way try to raise some of the
questions and issues commonly associated with the work.
This chapter will include:

Thinking about theory

What have theories done for us?
Theories about research
Dealing with the implicit
The research toolbox
The classical experimental method
The survey
Qualitative research
Mixing the methods
Key points


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

Thinking about theory

Rosemary is a practising counsellor at the start of her career.
There are lots of different theories that are useful to know
about, but I dont think it is useful to follow just one theory,
all of them can be useful in different contexts. Not that Im
saying I know a lot about the theories, Im more interested in
how they can help my practice, I dont think its really necessary
to know all the ins and outs of what the theory is about. It is
enough to know some of the main principles and how they
apply in a way that can help you support clients. Not that I
wouldnt like to know more about them, but it can be really
difficult to get information without being bogged down in
lots of complicated arguments about what they mean and
who said what. I suppose at the end of the day a theory is
just someones opinion about things; different people have
different opinions right?
Rosemary makes a good point. We use this word theory a lot but do we
really understand what it means or implies? When research is carried out
it is often aimed at testing hypotheses and they in turn are about either
supporting a theory or helping to arrive at a theory. So what is a theory?
Is it just an opinion?
Lets get one point clear from the outset: theories are not just someones o
pinion. Theories are much more than that. In the course of a
conversation with friends, views and opinions might be expressed but
it needs a lot more than a casual conversation to turn an opinion into a
The word theory comes from the ancient Greek theoria, which essentially
means to think or reflect about things. The term grew into something more
complex and important along with the development of science. Theory is
now better regarded as an intellectual construction, based on evidence that
serves a variety of purposes.

Theories and skills


What have theories done for us?

Figure 3.1 Theory comes from the ancient Greek word theoria

We can think about theories like this:

1. they help to explain the past.
2. they make it possible to understand the present.
3. they predict the future.
That demands some explanation. Lots of theories about human behaviour can help explain why things happened as they did in the past.
Some theories are better at doing that than anything else. If we are
faced with trying to understand why certain things fell out the way they
did in the past, in order to better understand those events we need a
theory that offers some explanation. Why, for example, did people fear
mental illness in the past? Is it enough to say that they did not understand what it was?
If we want a more complete and thorough answer we might turn to psychological or sociological theories in order to try to build a more complete understanding. Was it about social exclusion or identification of the
other? A variety of theories might offer importantly different perspectives about what the significant drivers could have been to make people
behave in the way that they did.


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

Very often what can seem evident and straightforward can be transformed
by applying theory that uncovers dynamics of behaviour that otherwise
we might overlook. However, we need to derive a specific hypothesis
from these theories in order to carry out research that can then provide
evidence that might help to support or refute the explanations of past
events and behaviours. So a hypothesis is a specific bit of a theory that
we can test. Theories are not directly tested by research however, only
parts of the theory that seem to offer explanations can be individually
A theory can then also offer the possibility of understanding where we
are now. Do attitudes towards mental illness today reflect the history of
the way our s ociety and other societies dealt with this issue? Are there
drivers at work within our own society that are psychological or sociological in nature that determine how people react to the idea of mental
Last but not least theories should allow us to say what would happen
if? In other words, if there is a problem today in peoples attitudes
towards mental illness, can a theory or theories propose methods or
tactics that might help to make a change? Theories ought to be able
to help us get some insight into how behaviour might change in the
Part of the problem we have in dealing with theories about human
behaviour arises from the real difficulty we have, not in proving that a
theory might be c orrect, but in disproving it. Human behaviour is so complex that different theories might give explanations of behaviour that fit
the evidence, so it can be practically impossible to say that one theory is
conclusively proved wrong. This leaves us with a range of different theories that all seem in their different ways to be quite consistent with the
evidence that we have. The challenge for p
ractitioners then is to either
decide which theories they find most convincing or to take the view that
each theory has some value depending upon the particular context in
which it is applied.
Researchers face the same challenge. Which theory is the most appropriate, or which do they find most convincing?

Theories and skills


To sum up:
1 Theories should help us explain what happened in the past,
understand what is going on now, and to some extent predict what
might happen in the future.
2 There are many conflicting and complementary theories about
human behaviour that are relevant to the work of counselling. We
face the choice of either adhering to one particular theory that seems
most convincing, or of adapting our practice to different theories
depending upon how they seem to fit different sets of circumstances.
3 Researchers face the same dilemma, do they adopt a particular
theoretical perspective and pursue research in an attempt to support
that theory, or do they take a more pragmatic approach and use
such theories as seem to best suit a particular aspect of behaviour?
The point might be that theory is about thinking and is abstract rather
than directly practical. We might have a broad theory about how
people behave, but we need specific hypotheses that are informed by
and arise from the theory in order to carry out a practical investigation,
a piece of research. This helps us to get this point clear, hypotheses
are things we can empirically test and behind them lie theories that
give us a wider view of how behaviour might work.
Some research begins by trying to find evidence on which to build
theory. But something to remember here is that it can be argued that
all research is influenced to a greater or lesser extent by background
theories and by the choices researchers make about where they stand in
relation to theory.
Irrespective of how objective researchers try to be, we are all human
and we live within society, so inevitably there are certain views we have
of people that cannot avoid being affected by that simple truth. If a
researcher wants to determine whether or not a particular therapeutic
approach carries benefits for individuals and for society, they are
already committed to the view that, first of all, it is possible to measure
the effectiveness of a therapy, which by itself implies a theory of how
research operates, and secondly that there is a value in trying to do this
both for individuals and for society, and that too implies a viewpoint that
arises from our culture and society.


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

Theories about research

Very broadly we could view research in two ways:
1. it is about going out and accumulating evidence that then allows us
to build theories.
2. it is about testing theories to see if they are true or false. In
counselling research the aim is often to evaluate the degree to which
a particular therapy produces results, which can be viewed as another
way of asking if a theory works in practice.
Both views are flawed but the first in particular tends to be the general view
of how research works. Scientists set out to discover truths about things
and those truths allow us to make up theories and even laws that then
explain how things work. This kind of view leads to a range of real problems. Because the nature of research and the nature of science are often
misunderstood (theme two), then the outcomes of research are misrepresented and the kinds of valid c onclusions that can be drawn are ignored in
favour of either misdirected criticism or o
ver-optimistic interpretations.
Research can be and often is about discovering things we did not already
know. That, however, requires some theoretical perspectives that makes
it possible to make sense of what the data is telling us. Data by itself is
pretty m
eaningless u
nless we have the theoretical understanding that
allows us to see the s ignificance of what we have found. The history of
science is full of discoveries that were only recognised and understood
long after the original research was done and when the development of
theory caught up with the work. It is only possible to make discoveries
when we know how to ask the right questions, and that is only possible
once we have some idea of what the answers might be.
In other words, research can never just be about going out and collecting
data. There has to be some theory involved to some extent; the two are
interwoven and inseparable. Grounded theory research (which aims to
strip away pre-existing ideas and take understanding from discovery only)
is not so much an absolute abandonment of all theory in order to find
something new; it is more of a question of emphasis. The research involves
emphasising finding what is new and minimising the role played by theory,
but does not deny theory altogether.
Is it the case then that research involves taking a theoretical position
and going out to discover if the theory is right or wrong? This view too

Theories and skills


oversimplifies and can lead to misunderstanding the role of research. In

the first case we test h
ypotheses through research, not whole theories.
Even if a particular hypothesis was not s upported by data from research,
that would not necessarily and by itself show that the theory was wrong;
it would only show that there was an issue about the specific hypothesis
that might be because the hypothesis did not exactly or entirely reflect
what the theory proposed, or it might be that the particular research
exercise carried out was not done in a way that wholly or properly tested
the h
ypothesis. Research is rarely that conclusive, and researchers tend
to avoid talking in terms of proving something right or wrong because
it just is not that simple.

Dealing with the implicit

The point is to try to identify as far as possible what our assumptions
might be and at least consider how they might impact upon our work.
This is true whether we are thinking about practice or research. It is not
always easy to do this. Working in a particular context inevitably leads
to building up perceptions about behaviour and the world that are
necessary they help us to make sense of things and to know what to
do but those perceptions can also blind us to important issues and
colour how we understand behaviour without even being aware of them.
The challenge is to try to become alert to how assumptions develop
and make them explicit bring them to the surface so we can examine
them and understand what impact they might have in our work.
Take, for example, the idea of evaluating a particular therapeutic approach.
It is all too easy to become an advocate of an approach, so that rather than
properly assessing what the evidence is telling us, we shape our work in
a way that provides the assurance we want that the therapy concerned is
producing positive results. Remember, the nature of the questions we ask
can, at least to some extent, determine the answers we get. Unless we are
very careful, research can be designed and used in a way that merely confirms our existing views. Thinking about theories and discussing theories
with our peers can help with this, as considering different perspectives can
make us aware of our own preferences, can challenge notions that we hold
dear, and make us reflect about the positions we have adopted. It can also
identify for us the implications of ideas that we were unaware of and that
can be startling and sometimes painful.
Aside from the three ways that theories work explaining the past,
understanding the present, and predicting the future theories can and


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

do provide a very important benefit. As we become familiar with different

theories of behaviour the experience can force us to reconsider longheld views and attitudes, it can make explicit notions that were built into
our thinking without us even being aware of them, and can help us both
in our practice and in research to carry out work that is more authentic.

The research toolbox

Lyndsay is just starting postgraduate studies as part of her
professional development as a counsellor.
It was bad enough trying to get some of the first tasks done,
the literature search and then a statement about my prior
experience, but trying to make sense of how I do the research,
what methods Im supposed to use and what they all mean is
just making my head spin. I dont know where to start.
Lets start by trying to lay some foundations; by discussing how some
basic elements of research work. The aim is not to give a detailed
account of different research methods but merely to provide a broad
introduction that may give you a sense of the principal ideas behind
different methods.
Think of it this way, researchers can draw upon a variety of methods of
research, it is like having a box full of different tools, and the nature of
the task that has to be done determines which particular tool is appropriate. In order to both read and use research materials, and in order to
be involved in research at some level, it is important that you know at
least broadly what the tools are and how they should be used. Becoming skilled in the use of these tools requires development of your understanding beyond the scope of this text, and it also requires practice.

The classical experimental method

This most scientific method of research is one very often favoured in
psychology. It is a powerful and convincing way of conducting research,
but it does have important limitations. It is also useful to look at this
method as a way of establishing a benchmark; a standard against which
other forms of research can be and are measured.

Theories and skills


This method has a few essential components. We take a group of people

a sample from a population divide that group into the experimental
group and the control group. The control group provides a baseline
response that we can use for comparison; the experimental group is
the one we are going to subject to some change. The researchers then
manipulate one variable called the independent variable and see what
effect that has upon the dependent variable. To put it simply, the idea
is to measure the impact of making just one change to the conditions of
the experimental group and measuring what h
appens. We do this by carrying out a measurement on both groups before the changes take place
the pre-test, we then manipulate the independent variable and conduct
a post-test after the change has taken place. This a
llows us to know
exactly what impact the change has upon the group, and since nothing
has been changed for the control group then their response should be
unchanged allowing us to conclusively state that any change that has occurred is as a result of the manipulation of the independent variable.
We might say that we have clearly identified cause and effect but
researchers tend to be a little cautious about using these terms; it gets
complicated. In any case it means that we can be pretty certain that
changes to one variable are responsible for changes in the behaviour
or response of the experimental group.
This method does throw up a number of issues. For a start it is only
really possible in very controlled conditions and this gives rise to questions about ecological validity. Meaning quite simply, do people
genuinely behave in the way suggested outside of the controlled
conditions in real-life s ituations? To address this we can move the
experiment out of the limited environment of the controlled setting
closer to real life, in other words we can conduct our experiment in the
field or in a completely naturalistic setting; h
owever that in turn presents us with problems. First of all, the less controlled the e
the more that extraneous variables, the factors we cant control, will
play a part in shaping behaviour. The idea of the experiment is to, as
far as possible, eliminate other possible explanations for changes in
behaviour, but the further we move away from completely controlled
conditions to more natural settings the less control we will have over
these extraneous factors. Secondly, in many cases it is going to be difficult or even impossible to set up a control group.
Take the example we used before. If we want to measure the impact of
the use of a particular form of therapy, can we use the strict terms of the
experimental method to do so? In order to use the classical experimental


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

method we would need to put a group of people into a controlled environment in which the only change they would experience would be the introduction of the therapy, and we would need to establish a control group
that was not getting access to that particular approach. Clearly that would
be difficult and may indeed raise e
thical questions. In practice the best we
could do is look at a group of people u
ndergoing or about to be involved
in the use of a therapeutic approach and compare their progress against a
group that was not, bearing in mind the fact that all sorts of other factors
in the lives of the people concerned could also be having an impact that
we could not control.
These problems do not make the research invalid, but we would have to
acknowledge that the results of the research would not be as certain as
would be the case if all the extraneous variables were controlled or
excluded. In practice then, for many of the kinds of questions we want to
ask, the full-blown classical experimental method will not work. The problem is that, with some justification, it might be argued that much of the
research into human behaviour is compromised by the fact that we cannot
carry out proper experimental research.

A number of choices then present themselves. Researchers can, if the
hypothesis allows it, simply set up a situation that allows them to observe
how people behave and use the gathered data to address the research
question. The observation might be carried out at a distance, by camera
or some other means, or the researcher might directly interact with the
group, even to the extent of taking part in what they are doing in some
way. The participant observer becomes a member of a group, either
wholly or in part. This has the advantage that the researcher can do more
than just passively observe but can ask questions and can develop a
deeper understanding because they become involved and share in the
experiences of the group.
If people know they are being observed however, it does tend to change
their behaviour. The researcher might choose to conceal in some way the
act of observation in the hope of gathering more valid data. There is of
course an important ethical issue attached to covert observation.

The survey
Quantitative research can also utilise the survey. This can be carried out
in a number of different ways: by interview; by post; by telephone; or via

Theories and skills


the internet. The essential element of a survey is the creation of a set of

questions, a questionnaire, which can be used to gather data. The design
of the questionnaire then becomes an important matter, depending upon
the type of research questions being pursued and the method of survey
involved. A questionnaire that is to be used in the context of a one-to-one
interview is necessarily different from a questionnaire delivered by post or
by telephone interview.
The strength of the survey is the capacity it gives researchers to grasp the
overall picture. From the results of questionnaires a general picture can be
developed and that picture can be modelled using statistics or presented
graphically or in the form of tables, and this can give us a very clear set of
results. Does a particular form of therapy produce positive effects across
a group of clients? Q
uestionnaires designed to test the impact of therapies can give a clear answer to that question. Importantly the test can be
repeated using a different set of clients; ideally similar results should be
found giving very strong evidence for the efficacy of the method.
The difficulty can be that when we design a questionnaire we are in effect
identifying those elements of behaviour that we think are significant and
testing them. But what if there are other processes at work that lie outside the p
arameters we have chosen to focus upon? Because quantitative
work is always about building a general picture it can miss the detail and
may indeed fail to pick up on the unexpected. Many people who fill in
questionnaires will comment on their frustration over the fact that things
they think are important are not actually asked about, or that they want
to make different responses to questions than those allowed on the form.
The point is that quantitative research is about trying to simplify. Human
behaviour is complex and difficult, and in order to build up a general
picture it is inevitable that researchers have to reduce that complexity to
something simpler than can be tested and measured. That is not to say
that the value of quantitative research is compromised, rather it is about
recognising that by its very nature quantitative research has to be about
the general view rather than about the detail.
Now that we have arrived at the point where we have introduced the use of
quantitative methods, we need to turn our attention to the use of statistics.

So what about statistics then?

Some basic points about statistics: first of all, remember that statistics
areused to try to make difficult and complex aspects of behaviour


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

simplerso that we can study and understand them. Statistics is not about
making things difficult; in important ways it is about simplification.
The great advantages of statistical analysis are:
1. It makes it possible to summarise complicated aspects of
behaviour in relatively simple ways.
2. We can present the outcome of research in very clear and powerful
ways using graphs, tables and percentages and that can get across
a message about behaviour directly and simply.
3. Both the methods employed and the results found are very clear
and can be scrutinised to make sure that everything done is both
valid and meaningful.
4. Research work based on the use of statistical analysis can be
repeated by others to see if the findings hold true, making this
approach more robust and authoritative.
5. It is an objective way of conducting research; opinions, views and
prejudices that might affect the way that data is understood in
other forms of research are eliminated.

A note of caution
It is important to remember that statistical analysis is not immune to
being distorted or misunderstood. All research ultimately depends
upon the nature of the questions asked and that includes research that
uses statistics. The questions we ask will, to some extent, determine the
answers we get. Statistics can lend a degree of spurious authority to
analysis because it can seem powerfully convincing. We need to think
carefully about the questions asked and about how we interpret the
answers that arise.
At the same time it is all too easy to dismiss the results of statistical work
by describing it as distorted or biased. An evidence-based approach to
understanding human behaviour, to understanding the value and contribution that counselling can make, requires that a scientific and quantitative approach is both necessary and valid.

A starting point
Numbers come in different flavours. Each type of number has to be used
appropriately. Think of it like this:
Imagine a racetrack; athletes are about to run in a competition. In order
to make sense of how this works we need some data, some information,

Theories and skills


to organise and arrange things. In the first case, we need to know which
lane each athlete is running in, so we label each one. We might call them
lanes A, B, C and so on, but more usually we label them lanes 1, 2, 3, etc.
When we use numbers like this, we are really just using them as identifiers; they are not actually numbers that we can use in any other way. We
cant add lane 1 to lane 3 and get lane 4 that doesnt make any sense.
When numbers are used in this way they are called nominal numbers.
This is an important point there are some numbers that you cant use
for any kind of calculation.
Our athletes line up in their lanes and the race gets underway. At the finish line, one runner comes in first, then there is the second, the third, and
so on. Numbers give us a sense of the order in which the runners cross
the finish line. This gives us information about the order, or rank, that
each runner occupies. Some numbers are called ordinal numbers: that is
to say, they tell us about the rank of each result, or in our example, each
athlete. At this stage however, we only have results that relate each runner to every other runner. We dont have any detail: we dont know how
far apart they were or how fast they were running. Can we add, subtract
or multiply using this data? Obviously we cannot use ordinal data for
most ordinary arithmetic; it can be used in some specific ways, when we
are only concerned with the rank of each result, but it is limited. To go
further we need more exact measurement.
If we were to add the actual time it took for each athlete to run the race,
then we would be adding a scale of measurement that does not depend
on the lane they were in, or on the order in which they arrived at the
finish line. Using a scale, in this case minutes and seconds, we bring in
a way of knowing exactly what the distance is between each result and
that makes it possible to start doing some simple procedures with the
numbers that can help give a more detailed description of what took
place. We can work out the average speed at which the race was run and
we can determine exactly what the difference in time was between the
winner and the person who came second. Using a scale, we now have
interval numbers that make it possible to do things it was not possible to
do with numbers that carried less information.
It is also useful when analysing our race to think about how many runners
were involved. This takes us into new territory because when we simply
count how many items (or in this case runners) there are, numbers suddenly become usable for all sorts of calculations. Now there are no limits
to what we can do with them. These types of number are called cardinal
numbers and, of course, we use these all the time. We could ask, how many


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

races the winner of our particular race has won? We could take it further
and ask what proportion of all races that the runner took part in did he or
she win? That takes us on to percentages also called ratio numbers.
Being aware of the fact that there are different types of numbers at least
gives us a start in making statistical analysis more accessible. Ask yourself, when dealing with numbers, what kind or type of number you are
using. You might be surprised by the variety of numbers you employ on a
regular basis.
Try this take a specific day in your week and, over the course of a
morning, take note of all the times and occasions when you use numbers.
Then think about what kind of number you used on each occasion. You
might be surprised.
One of the basic ways in which statistics are used is aimed at describing
sets of results. In our race we used nominal, ordinal, interval and cardinal
numbers to help us understand what took place. In the same way, when
statistics are used to help get an understanding about behaviour, descriptive statistics give us an insight that is simple but often very powerful, and
give us a very useful starting point.
Think of it this way, we can use a range of simple statistical measures
to help d
escribe a sample. Lets say we wanted to get a handle on how
healthy a p
articular group of people were. There might be lots of ways
we could do this, but one simple method might be to carry out a set of
measurements. What is the weight of each member of the group and
what is the height of each person? That might give us a starting point
and once we had carried out the measurements we could work out the
average weight and the average height. But what if just one person was
extraordinarily tall or exceptionally slim? Well we are in luck because as
it happens there are three different measures of average that we can
use that allow us to get a sense of the central tendency; that is to say
the average of the group. We can use the mean, mode or median, or
all three.
The mean is just the arithmetic average and is straightforward enough.
Add all the data comprising the results of measuring height or weight
and divide by the number of people in the group (which is often just
abbreviated as N). The mode is simpler still it is just the number that
occurs most often in the group, and the median is derived from arranging all the results in a range from highest number to lowest and taking

Theories and skills


the one in the middle to be the mode. Now you have three results for
the average, you can look at them and see which number you think best
represents the average.
This also helps illustrate how the size of the sample can be significant.
A small group of people will have lots of individual factors at work that
might render the average less than useful, but if there are lots of results
then the tendency will be that individual factors become less important
and you get a better picture from the average. This is simple descriptive
statistics but it already provides useful information. We could take it a
step further and use a measure like Standard Deviation (SD). Standard
Deviation is a measure of how far individual results on average differ
from the average so we get a measure of dispersion, which is the degree
of variation in a set of results.
Measuring the dispersion, the degree of variation, in a set of results can
give us a useful insight into the nature of the data we have gathered;
the higher the SD the more variation there is in a set of numbers. If, for
example, we were to take a group of people and find out the age of
each individual, then calculate the SD of age, it might indicate to us the
degree to which there was an even spread of ages or if there were significant variations in age across the group.
Why does this matter? Think of it this way: if the results of a particular test
of behaviour were to fall within the normal or expected range of variation that could be found within a population, then we might be inclined
to regard the results as both predictable and uncontroversial. If results
fell outside of the norm then they may well be more significant. SD can
indicate to us whether or not other statistical measures are telling us
something of real interest.
So without going into the detail you can see right away that simple
statisticalmeasures which do no more than describe the sample to us can
provide valuable insights. To take it further we might think about a measure
of association that will make it possible to compare the way two sets of
numbers relate to each other. There are lots of ways of doing this, but one
simple method might be to draw a graph using the height as one scale, the
weight as the other, and plot on the graph where each persons height and
weight fall. This gives us what is called a scattergram that shows us if the
height and weight of members of the group relate to each other. It is not
hard to imagine that probably, for the most part, people who are bigger are
likely to be heavier so the graph might well show us an association, but this
does not prove a causal relationship, it just demonstrates an association.


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

We cant go into great detail here, but hopefully this demonstrates
both that simple statistics can be very useful and that it doesnt take
a lot of skill or maths to use basic measures. Try it out for yourself.
Gather some simple data about a group, play around with the mean,
mode and median, look up the methods of calculating SD and draw
your own scattergram. Then see what you might be able to say about
a group just by using these straightforward methods.
Of course there are many, many complex and sophisticated methods of
statistical analysis. There are good statistical packages you can use on
a computer to calculate and analyse numbers, starting just with the use
of a spreadsheet. You should explore and experiment, play around with
numbers and discover for yourself just how powerful statistics can be.
Some good and useful introductions to statistics are listed in the Further
Reading section.
At the end of the chapter you will find some guides to finding the mean,
mode and median and an explanation of how you calculate Standard
Deviation. In order to get a clear sense of how these measures work and
what they can tell you, it can be useful to do a little practice.
There are many good, clear explanations of these measures available on
a range of websites. If you are in any doubt about how to use them and
what they mean, it is well worth searching for a relevant site.

Qualitative research
By contrast, qualitative research is about the detail rather than the
general picture. As a result we have to be very careful about being
tempted to generalise the results of qualitative research. On the whole
that is not what it is designed to do. This kind of research will involve
techniques such as the case study. This means studying in depth the
particular experiences of a small number of people, sometimes just a few
individuals, in their real living situation.
Qualitative research makes it possible to ask if the assumptions and
predictions of theory actually apply in the real situation of individuals. In
effect we can g
eneralise such research to theory, but we need to be very
cautious about trying to claim that it tells us something about human
behaviour in general.

Theories and skills


On the whole qualitative research tends to produce a lot of detailed text

about behaviour that needs to be scrutinised and analysed by researchers. Although there are increasingly sophisticated computer applications
that can help in that process, the analysis of qualitative data can still
come down to the interpretations of researchers. This is often perceived
as a problem, because it can be argued that the personal views and
attitudes of the researcher can affect how the data is interpreted. So it
is not as objective as quantitative research that generates numbers.
Quantitative research is therefore sometimes regarded as more reliable,
more transparent and more scientific than qualitative research. It can
certainly be much easier to understand and communicate because summing up aspects of behaviour by means of graphs and tables is easier
than having to read through interpretations and arguments based on
qualitative work.

Mixing the methods

Although in the past there tended to be a clear division between those
researchers who favoured quantitative methods and those who believed
that qualitative research was the only valid way of studying behaviour,
today there is a more relaxed view of the use of methods. Many
researchers and many research projects will draw upon both quantitative
and qualitative methods as required, giving a more rounded, complete
and detailed picture of behaviour than that possible to achieve using just
one of these methods.

Evaluating therapeutic approaches

There are a number of ways of doing this but randomised control trials
(RCTs) are sometimes referred to as the gold standard of outcome
research. (Dallos and Vetere 2005 pg 78).
This essentially amounts to randomly allocating respondents to different
groups to test the effectiveness of different therapeutic approaches. This
can also mean that a group in effect a control group does not get any
treatment. This can be done by looking at a group who are not currently
in therapy they are perhaps waiting for counselling sessions to start
rather than by denying access, which would be ethically unacceptable.
Assigning people through a random process helps to ensure that there
cannot be any selectivity on the part of the researcher; it helps to ensure


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

that the research generates objective data and does not reflect the
particular interests or perspectives of the researchers. Think of it this way,
in constructing a sample for research purposes we might focus on the
importance of trying to make that sample as representative as possible.
In other words we might want to include in the sample different groups
based on things like gender and age. But the more we exercise selection
in the make up of a group the more we are open to the accusation of
constructing the sample in a way that pre-determines the outcomes. If on
the other hand we construct the sample in a manner that is random, we
influence the sample and the outcomes less, so the results will be more

Key points
Theories play a vital role in helping us to understand human
behaviour. They are importantly different from what we would call
opinions, mainly because they are based on evidence gathered
through the use of recognised methods of research.
There are a variety of methods of research; each has its strengths
and its weaknesses. There is no one method that can provide us
with all the answers we need. Just because particular methods have
weaknesses does not mean that they are not valid and powerful
methods for generating understanding.
Quantitative methods, such as the classical experimental method,
give us a broad picture; they enable us to say something in general
about human behaviour. This method cannot tell us specifically about
what individuals do, but rather it tells us about populations.
Qualitative methods such as case studies enable us to get a detailed
picture of the real life situation of individuals. That makes it possible
to test some of the explanations and predictions that theories make.
However, we need to be very cautious about trying to generalise
the outcomes of qualitative research, as that is not really what it is
designed to do.
Many research projects today will use both quantitative and
qualitative methods in order to try to build up a more complete
picture of human behaviour.

Theories and skills


Activity: Procedures
1. The Mean: take a set of numbers results taken from one
question in a survey perhaps add all the results together, and
divide by the number of results (the value for N).
2. The Mode: find the most frequently repeated number in a set of
numbers. If two numbers occur with the same frequency then the
result is bi-modal. If there are more than two numbers occurring
at the same frequency, the mode becomes less than useful and is
not used. Of course, it is also possible to find a set of numbers in
which there are no repeats, therefore there is no mode.
3. The Median: arrange the set of numbers in order from lowest to
highest value. Find the middle value of the set: this is the median.
Calculate the Mean, Mode and Median for the following:
In a survey the age of respondents was recorded
17, 17, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 26, 30, 31, 32, 35, 38, 39, 75.
How good is each measure of central tendency? In other words,
comparing the results of your calculation of mean, mode and median
with the set of results from the survey, how good a measure of
average is each of the measures? Can you identify any problems with
these measures?
Now take the same set of numbers and work out the Standard Deviation.
To calculate Standard Deviation:
1. Work out the mean.
2. Now subtract the mean from each result.
3. Half of the results of step 2 will be negative numbers and half will be
positive. If we were to add them together the result would be zero
end of calculation! So to get round that we use the trick of squaring
(a negative times a negative is a positive) so at this step we find the
square of each result. That turns all the results into positive numbers.
4. Add them all up and divide by N1. Why N1? Because if we are
using data that is take from a sample of a population, there will
always be more variation in the population than we can capture
in the sample. By simply taking 1 from N (the number of results
in our data) it allows for a little bit more variation. Of course if
we are not using a sample, if instead our data was about a whole
population, then we would just divide by N.
5. Find the square root of the sum. That is our Standard Deviation.
Answers can be found on page 133 at the back of the book.


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

Further reading
Amis, K. (2011), Becoming a Counsellor: A Student Companion. London:
Bickman, L and Rog, D. J. (eds) (1998) Handbook of Applied Social
Research Methods. London: Sage.
Breakwell, G. M. and Fife-Schaw C. (Eds) (2000) Research Methods in
Psychology (2nd ed.). London: Sage.
Cooldige, F. L. (2000) Statistics: A Gentle Introduction. Thousand Oaks
CA: Sage.
Coolican, H. (2009) Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology (5th
ed.). London: Hodder Education.
Coombes, H. (2001) Research Using IT. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Dallos, R. and Vetere, A. (2005) Researching Psychotherapy and
Counselling. Buckingham: OU Press.
Dryden, W. (1996) Research in Counselling and Psychotherapy: Practical
Applications. London: SAGE.
Given, L. M. (2008) The SAGE Encyclopaedia of Qualitative Research
Methods. London: Sage.
Greenberg, L.S. and Pinsof, W.M. (eds) (1986) The Psychotheraputic
Process: A Research Handbook. New York: Guildford Press.
Heppner, P. P., Kivlighan Jr., D. M. and Wampold, B. E. (1999) Research
Design in Counselling (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove CA: Brooks/Cole.
Lapan, S. D., Quartaroli, M. T., Riemer, F. J. (2011) Qualitative Research:
An Introduction to Methods and Designs. New Jersey: John Wiley and
MacLeod, John (2003) Doing Counselling Research (2nd ed.). London:
McNiff, J. and Whitehead, J. (2010) You and Your Action Research Project
(3rd ed.). London: Routledge.
Merriam, S. B. (2009) Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and
Implementation (3rd ed.). New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.
Robson, C. (2002) Real World Research: A Resource for Social Scientists
and Practitioner-Researchers (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Salkind, N. J. (2000) Statistics For People Who (Think They) Hate
Statistics. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

Theories and skills


Sudman, S. and Bradburn, N. M. (1982) Asking Questions: A Practical

Guide to Questionnaire Design. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Banks.
Taylor, S. J. Bogdan, R. (1998) Introduction to Qualitative Research
Methods: A Guidebook and Resource (3rd ed.). Hoboken NJ: John Wiley
and Sons Inc.
Wisker, G (2001) The Postgraduate Research Handbook. Basingstoke:
Wright, D. B. (2002) First Steps in Statistics. Thousand Oaks CA: SAGE.

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Chapter 4

Identifying anxieties

So who is afraid of research then?

In this chapter we will be tackling some of the basic challenges that
can arise in trying to make sense of research. To do this we will be
considering some aspects of how research works, thinking about some
of the important terminology involved in research, and starting the work
of investigating the mysteries of the research article. By the end of this
chapter you should have the reassurance that comes from realising that
you are not alone!

High anxiety
Ian is starting out as a counsellor.
Look, first of all, research stuff is over my head, its all too
academic. Trying to get into that would take time and I have
enough to deal with in my work as it is. It seems to me that
research is something that other people do, it doesnt seem
that relevant to me. Besides, mostly it seems to be about
statistics and I just dont get numbers.
Ian raises a number of points.
1. Research material is too difficult and complicated to make sense of.
2. Trying to decipher research takes too much time and effort.
3. It adds to the burden of work. Making time to read or be involved in
research can be difficult.
4. Much of what research is about does not seem immediately relevant
or useful.
5. A lot of people (not everyone) get really anxious when they are faced
with having to deal with numbers.


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

Lets deal with these points one at a time.

1. Reading research material can seem difficult and complicated.
This relates to our first theme the language used in research
work. But actually once you start becoming familiar with the
language of research it is surprising how quickly you can adapt.
Most of the research that is conducted around counselling is
about questions that have a direct bearing on practice. Once your
interest has been caught, you might find that, first of all, none of
it is beyond your ability to make sense of. Secondly you might
discover that actually it is both interesting and very meaningful.
2. Investing some time on getting familiar with the language of
research can offer real benefits, and that investment can pay back
in a number ofways.
3. You might find that knowing about research offers the possibility of
discovering ways to make your practice more effective and that in turn
can actually help to reduce demands on time and overall workload.
So research can be the solution, rather than the problem.
4. Research is driven by curiosity and you will usually find that means
that it will be about things you are curious about too. Not all research
work will be of interest to you, but I guarantee that there ismaterial
out there that is going to be about things you are interestedin.
5. Many people who want to work with people and are fascinated by
the complexity of human behaviour are completely switched off when
they come across the use of statistics to analyse behaviour, but it is
simply another language issue. Numbers are just another kind of
language used to describe and help us understand human behaviour,
but it is a language that many of us dont know, and often what we
dont know can seem mysterious and difficult.

Identifying anxieties
1 Finding research
There is a lot of research out there and a lot of research papers that
could be really useful, but looking through lists of published work can be
bewildering and daunting.
this sprawling mass of literature may appear chaotic, structureless
and directionless
(McLeod 2003)

Identifying anxieties


Quick response
In every research paper there is an abstract at the start of the paper.
This is a short statement about the research that provides key points
about the work. By accessing and reading abstracts we can start to
identify those research projects that address issues and raise questions
that are of most interest. But there can be a problem about getting
access to research papers, so we will take that issue up later in the book.

2 Dealing with the language of research

Researchers use lots of jargon in their work. It is really hard
to follow what they mean when they use words and phrases
that are impossible to understand. Why does it have to be so
Even a quick glance at a list of research papers will turn up a selection of
titles that present real problems. For example look at this list of abstracts
When reading over the abstracts, are there any that seem to be particularly interesting? Any that seems to be particularly obscure or difficult?
For a specific example you might want to look at Brief Psychological
Therapies for Anxiety and Depression in Primary Care: Meta-Analysis and
Meta-Regression by John Cape, Craig Whittington, Marta Buszewicz,
Paul Wallace and Lisa Underwood. The whole article is available at:
This article presents some very interesting findings, but if you are not so
familiar with the use of statistical methods and terms, it could be difficult
to understand.
Often when we look at the titles of research papers, and when we start to
read and consider what the research entails, we come across terms that
can seem (and often are) quite complex and obscure.

Quick response
There is no short cut to becoming familiar with the language of research.
However, persistence, practice and patience does work. It can take time,


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

but if you work through the language, practise by using it in your own
writing and discuss issues with colleagues, then gradually, over time, you
will build up confidence and understanding.

Figure 4.1 Jargon

Remember that jargon is the use of unnecessarily complicated words or

terms that have particular meanings to some but not to all. For the most
part research does not involve the use of jargon. The difficult terminology
is there for a reason, not just to make things difficult!

3 Using research materials

We are often told that it is important to read and use research
and other published work, but why is it so important? And for
that matter, how are we supposed to use it?
When we find an article, research paper or review that presents information or argument that we find telling and powerful, then we should draw
upon that work as a resource. It can strengthen our own work, indicate to
others where we stand on important issues and make it clear that we are
knowledgeable about areas of significance. However, there are important
rules to follow in doing this, which by themselves can seem burdensome
and difficult. What are we supposed to do with research papers that we
have looked at? How do we handle data and argument that we find interesting? And why when we read research papers are there so many quotes
from other work?

Identifying anxieties


Quick response
There are web sites and books that offer full explanations of how to use
the published work of others in support of our own writing. In a later
chapter we will be dealing with some of these issues. But it is important
to say at the start, that using quotations and extracts from published
authors is important. Doing so provides evidence that other academic
writers support statements made in an article and it connects the
argument with the wider world of published material. It is one of the skills
that we should develop and practise.

4 Research papers are too academic

Research papers are written in a style that is too obscure
and academic, and are full of references to theory and other
published work, making them really hard to follow. It is very
discouraging when you turn to an article in a journal or online
that could be really interesting and useful, when reading it you
find that you are really struggling to make any sense of it. The
academic style of writing is unfamiliar and all the references
and notes make it seem over complicated.

Quick response
Yes research papers can be very academic in style and that can
make them less than engaging. There is an argument that academic
researchers have a responsibility to try to make their work as clear and
accessible as possible in order to communicate more effectively with
practitioners. At the same time academic writing is designed to try to
ensure that all of the significant elements involved in designing and
carrying out research are fully developed and explained. It is how we
ensure that research is rigorous and scientific in nature.

5 I dont do science
Research work is all about being scientific, and it can be
challenging to relate that to being a counsellor. Counselling
is not a science, it is an art and it is about caring. Science is
all about being objective and measurement. These are two
different ways of thinking and they dont immediately relate
well to each other.


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

Quick response
There is a debate here.
Much of counselling research today reflects a value base of economic demand, and a market place society in which scientific
paradigms of research geared to concrete outcomes are seen
to offer value for money. As a result, much counselling research
contains little of interest to p
ractitioners as it has moved away from
the everyday experience of practice.
(Hunt et al 2001)
There is a problem with what science is considered to be and what
we mean by being scientific in research. This relates to our second
theme the role played by science in research. Part of the difficulty lies
in not having a clear view of what science is. If policy makers and funding b
odies think that science means coming up with definitive answers
and concrete outcomes then they misunderstand what science is.
Fundamentally science is about using rigorous methods, basing theory
and practice on evidence, and engaging in a dialogue with other scientists. None of that is different from practices that all counsellors are
familiar with.

6 I dont do numbers!
If there is one thing that really makes it difficult to make sense
of what research means, it is statistics. All too often when
we look at a research paper it involves trying to understand
numbers. Graphs and tables are bad enough but then you get
research work that uses some obscure and complicated way of
analysing data that is just impossible to understand.

Quick response
Getting used to statistical analysis can seem really difficult and daunting.
However, numbers are used to make things simpler. Trying to analyse
behaviour presents many complex challenges, but numbers can reduce
some of the complexities to things we can start to understand. Remember
that statistical analysis is not about doing maths; it is about trying to
make some aspects of human behaviour measurable and in so doing
allowing us to work up some generalisations.

Identifying anxieties


7 The methods question

It seems that research is either all about numbers or it
involves really small scale stuff. What is the difference between
the two ways of doing research and how do I make sense of
what that means?
Broadly speaking research is either quantitative (all about number) or
qualitative (all about text). Appreciating what these two methods of
research are about is a key starting point for making sense of research.
There are advantages and d
isadvantages to both. Much of the research
work in counselling tries to incorporate both.

Quick response
Quantitative research is aimed at taking a sample out of a population
and measuring some aspect of behaviour through the use of numbers
so that it becomes possible then to generalise, that is, to say something
about behaviour in the whole population, which many would regard
as the most exact way of conducting research. This method has the
advantage that we can carry out research that tells us about behaviour
in general, but has the disadvantage that it only looks at that which
is measurable. It might be argued that there is a lot about human
behaviour that cannot be reduced to the measurable. Qualitative
research addresses this as it is about detail; about looking in depth at
the real situation of individuals. Because it focuses on specific people
and situations, it cannot be generalised. It has the advantage that it
does tell us about real people in real life situations, but because we
cannot generalise from qualitative data there are important questions
that cant be addressed using this method.
Some research projects use both quantitative and qualitative methods.
the majority of pluralist research is mainly based in one approach
and uses data from the other approach to fill in the gaps.
(McLeod 2003 pg 181)
The idea is to carry out research that is as complete and rich as possible.


challenges in couNselling: RESEARCH

Dont panic!
This chapter may have identified some common difficulties that people
experience when they have to deal with research materials, written or
statistical. It may not have removed all concerns about doing this, but
hopefully it has laid groundwork that we can build upon.

Key points
Everyone who comes to deal with research work has to take the first
steps in making sense of what it means.
Many of us find the prospect of having to read and understand
research materials daunting and difficult at least at the start.
Do not imagine that no-one else has found this process to be difficult
and complicated, research can be both, for the simple reason that
human behaviour is also difficult and complicated.
There are different kinds of research, using different methods. Getting
a handle on what they broadly are and how they work is a starting
point for building a better understanding.
Numbers do not have to be an additional difficulty; in fact they can
actually make things simpler. Again, knowing some basic things about
the terms, the language and the use of numbers can help to reduce if
not eliminate the sense of panic people sometimes have when faced
with the need to deal with statistics.

Further reading
Davis, S. F. and Smith, R. A. (2004) Introduction to Statistics and Research
Methods: Becoming a Psychological Detective Pearson Education. New
York: Pearson.
Forshaw, M. (2007) Easy Statistics in Psychology: A BPS Guide.
Chichester: Wiley.
Hunt, Kathy, Alred, G., Cook, P. and Robson, M. (2001) Counting the
Beans or Watching The Pot? How Should We Be Evaluating Counselling?
7th Annual Counselling and Psychotherapy Research Conference. BACP.
Lomax, R. G. and Hahs-Vaughn, D. L. (2012) An Introduction to Statistical
Concepts (3rd ed.). London: Routledge.

Chapter 5

Strategies for managing

Our strategy is simple: by looking in detail at how a research article
is constructed we will set out a model for making sense of such work
that will act as a guide to this and other forms of writing in research.
At the same time, by examining the issue of plagiarism and how to
correctly cite the work of others, we will ensure that all the appropriate
academic standards are met.
So as a strategy for cracking the code of research, we should do just
that take a specific research article and dismantle it to see how and
why it is constructed as it is.
To help with this, we will be:
examining a specific research paper
considering how to use resources appropriately
thinking about citation, the use of quotations and extracts, and the
construction of the bibliography
By the end of this chapter you should know:
what the main elements of a research paper are and how to use
that model to understand writing in research
about the issue of plagiarism and how to avoid it
the importance of using academic references in research work

Reading research
Typically a research article will include these headings:

Data Collection


challenges in couNselling: research


We are going to take each section of the research article in turn and
discuss why it is there, how it adds to our understanding and what the
contents of each part are. This will fully explain the reasoning behind the
construction of the research article making the implicit, explicit. By the
end of the exercise you will fully u
nderstand the research article and will
be able to apply that understanding to any articles you want to read.

Lynn is studying to be a counsellor and as part of her studies she
is required to draw upon published research materials. There is
a specific research project that would be useful in her work; one
that used a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods. The
challenge for Lynn is to make sense of the research article concerned
and to consider how best to use it in her own work.
I came across this project when I was doing some research of
my own for a presentation I had to do, but Im not confident
about using it. For a start Im not sure I fully understand what
it is all about, but besides that, what do I do with it? How am I
supposed to use this report?

We will look at one specific research article, try to identify the elements
involved, and then say something about how Lynn might make use of it
in her own work.

Anatomy of a research paper

Lets take a specific example of a paper and (with the generous
permission of the authors) take each part in turn and try to get a sense
of how to go about reading and using research. We will take the article
A thematic analysis of young peoples experience of counselling in
five secondary schools in the UK by Rosemarie Lynass, Olga Pykhtina
and Mick Cooper published in 2012 in the Journal of Counselling and
Psychotherapy Research Vol 12: No. 1, and look at the way the article
is constructed. This will give us a practical example of the way in which

Strategies for managing anxieties


a research article works, and allow us to discuss the reason for each
element included, why it is presented in the manner that it is and how we
might appropriately use material from a piece of published research.

1. The abstract
In a previous chapter we discussed the abstract. Now here is an
example of one.
Aim: To investigate young peoples views on the effects of schoolbased counselling, and what they found helpful and unhelpful.
Method: Eleven semi-structured interviews were conducted
and thematically analysed. Findings: Participants expressed
predominantly positive views of school-based counselling with
changes in three main domains: emotional, interpersonal and
behavioural. Participants viewed these changes as having had an
important effect on their lives. The most commonly cited helpful
aspects of counselling were related to talking or getting things out,
and counsellor qualities. Conclusions: School-based counselling is
viewed positively by those who have experienced it, and appears to
be an appropriate and valuable intervention for young people.
(Lynass et al 2012)

The abstract is a short summary of the whole research project, from start
to finish. The purpose behind it is to provide a quick and clear guide to
the content of the article so that the readers can be sure that the work
is relevant and of interest to them. There are many, many professional
and research publications, so it is important to students, academics and
practitioners that they are able to find those pieces of work that are best
suited to their interests and purposes.
This particular abstract gets straight to the point, which is what it should
do. We have a clear statement of the purpose of the research and a
statement of the aims of the project. Then we have an explanation of the
methods employed to carry out the work and a quick summary of the
findings. Note that when research m
ethods are used they will generate
primary data but that data then needs to be a
nalysed. Having presented
a summary of the findings the author then gives us the core of the interpretation, that is, the results of the analysis, in a statement of the conclusions drawn from the research.
Abstracts are very valuable when reading research. For those carrying out
a literature search they provide a guide to what is relevant to their own


challenges in couNselling: research

work. They can also be a useful exercise for those involved in research
because the abstract requires the reader to focus on the key elements of
the work.

2. The introduction
In the next section of the article the authors give an introduction to their
own work. We might be used to regarding the introduction as being no
more than a short opening statement or a set of questions that the piece
then addresses, but in a research article the introduction is much more
than that. It provides the background, the theoretical context for the
research, so in a research article you will find that the introduction can be
lengthy and detailed.
An important element of the introduction is the use of quotations,
extracts and references to other published work. These lay out where
the author or authors stand in relation to previous research and debate
regarding the area of work that they are pursuing. For example:
School-based counselling has been the focus of increasing research
in recent years. Coopers (2009) recent meta-analysis showed that
it is associated with considerable improvements in psychological
wellbeing in young people, with approximately 50% of clients showing
clinical improvement following counselling, and some evidence of
sustained effects at three month follow-up (Fox and Butler, 2003).
Studies have also used self-report measures to gauge clients
perceptions of how much they have benefited from counselling.
These client evaluations have shown counselling in a very positive
light. When completing post-counselling questionnaires, the majority
of clients consistently rated counselling as being helpful or very
helpful (Loynd, 2002; Cooper, 2006b), or as helping them a lot or
quite a lot (Sherry,1999; Cooper, 2004; Cooper 2006a). Additionally,
when interviewed, the majority of clients reported that counselling
had been helpful and described their experiences in a predominantly
positive way (Fox & Butler, 2003; Cooper, 2004 & Cooper, 2006a).
Only a very small minority of clients described counselling as
unhelpful. Teachers and pastoral support staff have also indicated a
belief in the helpfulness of school counselling services (Cooper, 2009;
Cooper, 2004; Cooper, 2006a; Loynd, 2002).
(Lynass et al 2012)

You can see that in this short extract the authors have made no more than
14 references to published material, in some cases citing an article more

Strategies for managing anxieties


than once. This really makes it clear what the introduction is doing; it is
relating the purpose and content of the research to the already published
literature, making it clear to the reader where it sits in relation to other
published work. At the same time it indicates what the main theoretical
arguments are that have helped shape or influence the research. Sometimes authors want to make it clear when they disagree with previous
work, the gaps or shortcomings they hope to address in the research, as
well as indicating which particular arguments or research evidence they
find convincing. It is a road map to the literature that is important and
relevant to the current work.
The introduction then gives the reader some information about the
purpose and nature of the research project, having established the
background content. For example:
The present study investigated further the views of young people
on what they found helpful and unhelpful about the counselling they
received, as well as adding to limited literature on what they felt had
changed for them since having counselling.
(Lynass et al 2012)

This statement, made towards the end of the introduction lets us know
the direction that we are going in and leads directly to the description
of the methods used in the research. In a research project, the introduction is where the author/s start with their own account of their literature
The literature search makes it possible for researchers to establish where
they stand in relation to established theory and evidence and to uncover
what they find convincing in terms of theories and in terms of the evidence
that has been generated through research. The next step is to consider
the methods that will be employed, including the design of the work.

3. The method/s
This study adopted a pluralistic method; quantitative data are
presented alongside qualitative data to provide as full a picture of
the clients experience as possible. The fundamental aim of the
study was to gain an understanding of young peoples experience of
counselling. The research took the form of a semi-structured interview
using a standardised interview protocol.
(Lynass et al 2012)


challenges in couNselling: research

Here we have a clear statement of the methods employed in the research.

This particular project involved the use of both quantitative and qualitative
research methods. The researchers have chosen to use both in order to
try to present a fully rounded picture. Semi-structured interviews employ
some pre-set and specific questions that can provide quantitative data, but
also leave space for the respondents to broaden their response, to choose
for themselves what they offer as information during the interview, making
their response more qualitative in nature. In this case a specific interview
form was used, a standardised interview protocol that helped to give
these interviews greater validity.
Having made it clear how the research was carried out, the article then
gives information about the respondents, those who participated in the
research. This then allows the reader to get a sense of the degree to
which the research might be considered to be representative or informative about either a p
opulation or a small group of clients. In this case,
The participants were aged 1315. Three were male and eight were
female (Lynass et al 2012). Now we know exactly the scale of the project
and some significant information about the participants.

4. Data collection

Figure 5.1 Data collection

Next we are provided with highly detailed information about the way the
research was carried out, including questions that were employed in the
This study used a modified version of Elliotts (1996) Client
Change Interview which was adapted for use with young people

Strategies for managing anxieties


(Supplementary Information available online). Elliotts semi-structured

interview schedule has been designed for use at the end of therapy
as a tool to help explore clients experience of counselling and, in
particular, what has changed for the client since beginning therapy
and what aspects of counselling they found particularly helpful or
unhelpful. The semi-structured nature of the Client Change Interview
enabled the researcher to focus on relevant areas of client experience
while, at the same time, allowing enough flexibility for the research
to respond to clients comments and explore aspects of clients
experience as fully as possible.
(Lynass et al 2012)

This enables us to get a real sense of the areas the research focused
on, the kind of data that would be developed as a result and how a
quantitative and a qualitative element to the research could be utilised.
Another way of thinking of this is to see that a research article starts
with discussion that is general in nature, linked to the wider issues and
debates around the aims of the research, then moves steadily to a
more specific discussion until we are only dealing with the details of the
Next we move on to the procedure; the details of how the research work
was carried out.
The interviews were semi-structured and, as such, interviews were
carried out in an in-depth, qualitative manner. The interviews were
recorded for later transcription by the researcher.
(Lynass et al 2012)

Recording interviews is a method often employed in qualitative research

because it gives the researcher the opportunity to carry out an in-depth
analysis of the nature of the responses that were given, including aspects
such as cultural references and the nuances of the language employed by
the respondent.
Given that this project used young people as respondents it was particularly important to consider the ethical implications of the work. Of
course in all research work, irrespective of the nature of the respondents
involved, ethical considerations are fundamental. At this stage in the
article the authors outline the steps taken to make sure that appropriate
standards were met.


challenges in couNselling: research

Ethical approval for this study was obtained from the University Ethics
Committee of the University of Strathclyde, and informed consent
was obtained from all participating young people. Researchers
involved in the study followed standardised guidelines on dealing
with risk and worked within child protection procedures set out by
participating schools.
(Lynass et al 2012)

It is important to note two things here: first that all academic research
has to be approved by ethical standards committees established in the
institutions involved. These committees demand of researchers very
detailed and carefully constructed justifications of each element of the
research and explanations of how the data, developed from work with
respondents, will be handled. Secondly, when external funding agencies
support research these bodies also conduct their own review of the work.
Researchers often have to meet very exacting standards applied by not
just one ethical standards committee but by a number of different ones
depending upon the scale and nature of the research.
In a recent study of how research was regarded by psychotherapy trainees one significant concern was raised. The trainees felt that research
is an ethically dubious activity (Widdowson 2012 pg 181). Practitioners
often take the view that conducting research on clients is ethically questionable and may indeed be harmful. But it is worth considering that
clients can also benefit (directly and indirectly) from being involved in
The important principle of informed consent (which is key to carrying
out this kind of research) is deliberately highlighted in the text. This is
done to make it clear that the respondents were given all the information
necessary to ensure that they fully understood what their participation
would entail.

5. Analysis
Having laid out the details of the research the paper then moves on to
discuss what was discovered and how the research team interpreted
it. To begin with the authors explain the manner in which analysis was
carried out.
the interview data were read and re-read in order to provide
the principal researcher with a strong sense of the content of the
interviews. Interviews were then coded and themes were identified.

Strategies for managing anxieties


Analysis was conducted by the first author and later audited by the
papers second author. Statistical information relating to themes (i.e.
frequencies) was also recorded and is presented.
(Lynass et al 2012)

Now we have a clear idea of how the data was handled for the purposes of
carrying out analysis. Complications, any issues or problems with the data
are identified at this stage, along with some information about the researchers involved. This all helps to give a clear understanding of the process and
context of analysis.

The authors now present the details of the data that emerged. Since
the project involved both quantitative and qualitative techniques, the
findings are presented in the form of text, explaining the outcome of
the qualitative elements of the work, and in the form of supplementary
tables that give us the quantitative data. Very often when qualitative
work is being done, authors include evidence of what respondents
stated in the form of quotations from the interviews that were carried
out. This lends weight and credibility to the claims being made by the
This section allows the reader to get a real sense of the data that was
developed, although of course it does not present all the data, and that
is not the purpose here. It is about presenting some key elements. It is
possible for the reader to reflect on what was found and decide for themselves how convinced they are by the data gathered and ultimately by
the interpretations offered by the authors.
This gets to the heart of what research articles are for, why they are
constructed in the manner that they are, and how they are used. By
giving a detailed, thorough and specific account of a research project the authors are making it possible for others to grasp all the elements of the process. The reader can critically evaluate what has been
done, how it has been done and what the outcomes are. This enables
the reader to make some judgements about the value of the work to
them and how best to take account of the work in relation to their own
understanding. None of the elements of the article are accidental; every
part is there for a specific purpose, to clearly inform the readers about
the whole e
xercise so that they can then make sense of every element of
the process and the reason behind every outcome and element of the
analysis of the data. The readers can then decide for themselves how


challenges in couNselling: research

significant, relevant and meaningful the work is in relation to their own

understanding of the specific elements addressed in the work.
Having presented the essential elements of the data the authors then
move on to discussion, giving an interpretation of what might be taken
from the work.

The findings of this study indicate that the young people who
received counselling expressed largely positive views about it. Even
those who felt that little had changed for them described counselling
in positive terms. This reflects previous findings where the majority
of clients have reported counselling as helpful and generally positive
(Sherry, 1999; Loynd, 2002; Fox& Butler, 2003; Cooper, 2004; Bondi
et al, 2006; Cooper, 2006a & Cooper, 2009).
(Lynass et al 2012)

As we have seen, the article begins by putting the research work in context, presenting, in the introduction, a general background to the project
by linking it to other published research and theoretical argument. As the
article proceeds it begins to be more specific, moving on to deal with the
details of how, in p
articular, this research was conducted and giving specific information about the data developed. Here at the discussion stage,
research articles move back to relate the specifics to the more general
context, so the authors now show how the outcomes of the research
relate to the wider literature.
In the extract above we see the authors once again introduce references
to other published work in order to demonstrate the relationship between
their work and the body of published material. This can make clear the
extent to which the research either continues and supports the findings
of other research or where there might be differences; where the research
might contradict or conflict with other studies giving us insight into where
the new research sits in relation to what has been established already.
So for example:
Whereas some previous studies have found that guidance, advice
or specific techniques have been identified by young people as
particularly helpful aspects of (primarily humanistic or psychodynamic)
school-based counselling (Cooper, 2004; Bondi et al, 2006), this was
not the case in the present research. However, this does not indicate

Strategies for managing anxieties


that these therapeutic methods were experienced as unhelpful, as

they may simply not have been offered to the young people.
Consistent with previous research, young people voiced few
criticisms about school-based counselling. However, as in previous
research (Cooper, 2004, 2009), a small minority of clients did express
a desire for a more active, advice- and guidance-giving style of
counselling. This issue, of whether guidance and direction are valued
by young people in school-based counselling, remains a key one for
future research in the field.
(Lynass et al 2012)

In this extract we can see where the authors feel that the results of the
research complement previous work, but also where there might be some
important differences. Further to that they then point out where further
additional research might be valuable.

8. The conclusions
A brief statement of the key conclusions of the research is then offered
in the article. Short and to the point, it serves to emphasise the key
elements of the outcomes of the work in a way that makes it clear what
we can take from the study. The article is then rounded off by giving
some supplementary information, including the list of other published
work referred to throughout the piece, plus the tables of quantitative
data that were mentioned at an earlier point.
Additional supportive material that might not be directly relevant to the
content of the argument in the article is included in appendices. The purpose here is to provide the data a reader might be interested in, without
cluttering up the main point of the argument with unnecessary detail.

Using research
Our strategy is about analysing a research article in order to build an
understanding of how and why the elements of such writing are arranged
and presented as they are. Having done that you should now have a clear
grasp of the reasons behind the construction of the research article that
will act as a guide to this kind of writing and you will be able to use this
approach to any research work you have to read.
Now follow up on some of the abstracts you looked at before and see if
you can find one that interests you, which is relevant to something you


challenges in couNselling: research

are involved in or are curious about. Find the whole article and read it
through. As you are doing that, think about the following:

1 Do you see the value in being able to read over abstracts to help
find those articles that are of particular interest to you?
2 Are you confident that you now appreciate why the research
article is constructed and laid out in a particular way?
3 Do you think that understanding the logic of a research article
helps you to make sense of what the research is about?
4 Are there any specific tactics you might employ now when looking
for and reading research material?
Now that we have dissected an article to see how it is constructed, the
next step is to consider how to use such material appropriately. That
brings us on to the knotty problem of plagiarism.

Using the text

A key element of using published material to support your own work is to
ensure that you follow the correct, professional procedures.

Martin is a student working to achieve a qualification in counselling.
He was asked to put together an essay for his studies, but he
struggled with some aspects of the work.
I did a search online and found a couple of sites that are really
good. One of them was exactly what I was looking for, it was
all about the topic I was working on, another site had a load
of quotations from other people that were really useful. The
trouble was that when I read the article on the main site, the
way they had put over some points, I couldnt think how to put
it better, so I just used a couple of paragraphs from it. And I
wasnt sure where the quotes on the other site had come from,
so I just used them but when I handed in my essay my tutor got
really upset and tore a strip off me for plagiarism. But what I am
supposed to do? I thought the whole idea was to do a search,
get some resources and then use them in the essay what was
so wrong about what I did? I dont get it.

Strategies for managing anxieties


Martin was in the wrong, and his tutor was quite right to be upset but
lets take this a point at a time.
1. Yes, students and others should by all means search online to find
relevant source material for their work.
2. If you find something relevant, you can come across text that deals
with difficult points in a way that seems difficult or impossible to
improve upon.
3. Can you use chunks of text from material you find online? No, you
cannot do that because it is someone elses work.
4. If you find sites that give quotations from other sources can you use
those in your own work? No, you should not do that.
5. Even so, are you supposed to use sources in your own writing? Yes,
you are it comes down to how you use those resources.

Searching out online material

What if Martin had found some text online? Finding resources by carrying
out an online search using a browser can be quick, efficient and effective.
However, we do need to be aware of some of the important limitations of
working this way.
Not all of the sites we might find online are reliable.
In the first case you need to be sure that when you access and use
resources taken from a web site, that the web site concerned is authoritative and reliable or peer reviewed. Look for information about who
the writers are and what organisation or institution is associated with
the site, and try to make sure that you are using a site with some recognised status. Ask yourself:

Do the writers have some professional standing?

Is the site based in an academic institution?
Is the site supported by a professional body or institution?
Do the writer/s make use of references to other published academic
Is there some specific information about the credentials about the

Asking these kinds of questions about an online site can ensure that you
are using material that is reliable and authoritative. But do not forget that
research journals and textbooks are still important and you can have confidence that such resources are reliable as they are peer reviewed.


challenges in couNselling: research

Remember also that if Martin had found some text online that seemed
useful he would still have to cite the source properly. The same rules
apply, we must acknowledge the original author of any work we want to
use and give all of the relevant detail.

Using the text

Lets take an example from the text we were looking at earlier.
The semi-structured nature of the Client Change Interview enabled the
researcher to focus on relevant areas of client experience while, at
the same time, allowing enough flexibility for the research to respond
to clients comments and explore aspects of clients experience as
fully as possible.
(Lynass et al 2012)

The extract here involves terms that are technical. It communicates important points and you might struggle to come up with ways of expressing the
ideas in your own words.
There are two important things to note:
1. Even if it is a struggle to cover the content in your own words, you
cannot under any circumstances either use the text in your own work
without explaining where it came from or just alter a word or two and
use that. To do either is plagiarism, which is regarded as intellectual
theft. This is not acceptable no matter what the circumstances.
2. You can and should use quotations or extracts in your work. That is
absolutely fine and indeed necessary, but you should be clear about
why it is necessary. Referring to other published work takes us right
back to the literature search. It provides evidence that you are aware
of the important work of writing and research that is going on in your
own field. It establishes your own credibility and ensures that your
own work is authoritative.
Students working towards a counselling qualification that include quotations from published work make it clear to their tutor the extent and
nature of their reading by doing so. It indicates some breadth and
depth in their studies and lets the tutor know the extent to which they
are becoming familiar with the literature of the profession.
These are all key points. So if we are struggling to express an idea, by
all means use a quotation from a source to help. As long as we properly

Strategies for managing anxieties


identify the source material, there is no problem. That of course does

not entirely let us off the hook, because we then need to say something
about what the quotation means to us and why it is important in the context of our own work.
So quotations or extracts from published work, such as articles in journals, do a number of things for us:

They provide evidence. Referring to or using quotations from

authoritative sources makes clear that we are not simply relying on
our own opinion but we actually have evidence that supports our
They indicate that we have read and are familiar with the literature
associated with the topic we are working on. At the same time they
show that we are familiar not only with the published work in the field,
but also that we know how to work in a professional and appropriate
They assure tutors, colleagues and other professionals that we are
able to work in a way that is exact, demonstrates our knowledge of
the subject matter and lends real authority to what we have to say.

Remember, we will only use quotations and extracts from published work
that we have read. It is not enough to pluck them from various sources.
You have to read and understand the work you are using so that you
can be confident that what you use accurately reflects the content of the
source material. Do not use excerpts from material that you have not
read and understood. If you do that, then you can seriously misrepresent
the work concerned.
In our example Martin quotes from a site without knowing much about
the original sources. Never do this; it is too easy to use such quotations in a way that is inappropriate. The point is that we have to read the
source material. Using extracts without reading and understanding the
source can lead to using the material in a way that is inappropriate or just

Citing the source

The principle here is a simple one. When we use material from a
published work, we need to clearly indicate where the material came
from, who wrote it and when it was published. This includes any material
we find on websites. The reader needs to be able to find the source and
that means find the actual page in the source where the quotation comes


challenges in couNselling: research

from. At the end of this chapter are details of how to find out in detail
about two standard methods of citation, the American Psychological
Association method (the APA system is used as a standard method in
counselling) and the Harvard method, a standard academic method of
citation. It is useful to have information about these methods to hand
whenever writing, just to make sure that sources are cited correctly. It
is also possible to get access to software that will do this work for you.
Personally I prefer to do it myself, because then I can be sure that it is
correct and appropriate.
The fundamental principle is that, in order to avoid being accused of plagiarism, we must identify all the sources we use and give clear directions
so that a tutor or colleague who wants to follow up material and look at
the original source is able to find it without difficulty.

Can you use too many quotes?

Yes you can. Do not drown out your own argument by stuffing your work
full of material from other sources. Quotations and references should be
used carefully, to support what you have to say, rather than substituting
the words of others for your own.

Go back to the abstracts referred to earlier. Look at some of the
published articles linked to the abstracts and try to get a sense of
how quotations and other references are used to support the main
points of the authors.

Key points
Knowing how and why research articles are constructed as they
are provides a basic strategy for making sense of any writing in
The research article has a specific structure for good reason. Each
element of an article does a specific job and helps to build a complete
and exact picture.
Knowing how research articles work will help to make sense of, and
provide a guide to reading, research. The strategy is to know how the
language and methods of writing in research operate so that you can
always unlock the sense of what is being said.

Strategies for managing anxieties


Take note of how references and citations are used in research work.
There is a standard method of doing this: in counselling it is usually
the APA system. For your own work (be that as a student on a course,
a practising counsellor engaged in professional development or
working in research) you need to learn how the system works and use
it appropriately.
Be very wary of the pitfalls of plagiarism. Make every effort to
ensure that whenever you write for a course or for publication, you
supplement your writing with material from other published work but
you make it clear when and where in the text you are drawing upon
the work of others and use the appropriate method of citation.

Further reading
The American Psychological Association system

APA Publication Manual

REFERENCING GUIDE BSc - Birmingham City University

There are many more web sites and books that will give you detailed
information about the APA system.

The Harvard system

General works

C. (2011) A Guide to APA Citation. Academic Resources Centre.


C. (2006) Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles. Chicago:

University of Chicago Press.


H. P. (2010) APA for the Modern Student: A Practical Guide for

Citing Internet and Book Resources. Anaheim, CA: Minute Help Press.

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Chapter 6

Possible impact on
There are a number of important issues associated with the
experiences the client might have as a result of being involved in a
research project. In this chapter I will be looking at:

The risks:
1. Informed consent
2. Exposure to the researcher
3. Exposure to the wider audience
4. Impact on therapy
5. Ethical issues
How clients might benefit (from research)
A note on data and how it should be handled
Key points

The risks
In a survey of psychotherapy trainees, researchers asked what concerns
they had about being involved in research. In the first case the learners
felt that research might adversely impact the client or negatively affect
the dynamics of therapy.
They would only be willing to participate in research under strict conditions:
They felt they would need to feel confident that the risk of negative impact was minimal, and that researchers had considered this
before agreeing to participate in research.
(Widdowson 2012 pg 183)


challenges in couNselling: Research

This goes to the heart of the concerns that practitioners have about the
potential impact of being involved in research. If there is any risk that
clients might suffer from involvement then practitioners will not want
to participate. In other words, because of the experience of being interviewed and used as a source of data or because the therapeutic process
might in some way be compromised, p
ractitioners can be reluctant or
refuse to take part in research. Of course, given that practitioners will
always put the interests of the client first, then any s uggestion of a possibility that there might be adverse effects will be enough to stop them
taking part.
It is important to say that whilst there might, at least potentially, be risks,
there are also a number of important potential benefits. But to be clear
we will set out the risks that might be involved for clients and try to address each one in turn.

1 Informed consent

As a participant-researcher I was asked to help ensure that
all the clients involved in the research were fully informed
about the implications of being involved in a research project.
The research team produced a letter, after consultation with
various ethical committees and I took the letter to each of
the clients, got them to read it and asked them to sign it to
give their consent to being involved in the project. That was
fine, most of the clients agreed to participate and we went
ahead. But a few weeks later I realised that some of the video
footage that was taken of counselling sessions of my clients
were being circulated among the research team. I knew that
this was going to happen, it was discussed and agreed, but
even so knowing that it was going to happen and seeing it
actually happen were quite different. It made me wonder what
informed consent from the clients was really about. Do clients
really fully understand what they are consenting to?
Margaret raises a very important question. The principle of informed
consent is very important in research work. However, it is valid to ask the

Possible impact on clients


question do clients really know and understand what it means to be

involved in a research project?
This comes down to two related issues:
a Are clients fully aware of how involvement in research might affect
them and what it might mean?
b Are clients aware of the extent to which confidential information
about them might be used both in the course of research and at the
end of the process when material is published?
c The only way to be fully aware of what the experience of being
involved in a research project will mean, is to be involved in a research
project. For the most part this is not at issue, clients will discover
for themselves what it will mean, and usually the explanations given
at the start will accord pretty well with the experience. However,
for some clients the reality will feel importantly different from any
explanation. As long as they have had every opportunity to express
any concerns and issues this should not be a problem. Even so,
sometimes it is a problem for clients, and they need to understand
that they have a perfect right to withdraw from a project without it in
any way prejudicing their relationship with the therapist.
d The ethical requirement for informed consent extends to full
disclosure of the way in which data gathered in a research project will
be used. Any information used in publications, web sites and video
footage must be subject to the consent of those involved. Anonymity
should be guaranteed, to the extent that information that might make
it possible for someone to discover the identity of those involved
by direct or indirect means should be withheld and not disclosed. If
someone, for example, in a particular area of work was a respondent
in a piece of research, any information that might make it possible
for work colleagues to identify the person concerned should not be
published in order to ensure complete anonymity.
Even so when someone takes part in a research project without any prior
experience of what it might be like, they are not really in a position to
judge how that involvement will impact upon them and what it might
mean for them after the work is completed. Informed consent is an important principle but r esearchers and practitioners involved in research
need to remain sensitive to the impact that involvement can have for
clients even if they have consented to the use of data about them.
Ethics committees and researchers are not unaware of the limitations
to the idea of informed consent. Great efforts are made by all those


challenges in couNselling: Research

involved to try to get this right. The essential approach to this is about
honesty. To have a real and constant dialogue with all involved to try to
ensure that everyone, and above all the client, appreciates all of the implications that participation can have.

2 Exposure to the researcher

Clients (and participant-researchers) can feel a real fear about being
exposed to the evaluation of others. Another person, the researcher, is
involved in a relationship that was supposed to be only about the client
and the practitioner. Inevitably there is a feeling that they might be judged
by this third party and that can create a new dynamic which, potentially
at least, might be damaging to therapy. The practitioner might feel
very nervous about the quality of their work being judged and found in
some way inadequate. This is one of the issues that can be important in
conducting participant-research in particular. Practitioners might actually
feel obliged to change aspects of their approach to clients in order to
meet what they imagine to be the standards that researchers expect. In
doing so they may well actually limit their work by focusing on what they
think the researcher expects rather than focusing on what the client needs.
The researcher should aim to encourage a real dialogue about the perceived power-relations between those involved. Make the issue explicit
rather than implicit. Discussion that is aimed at reassuring the practitioner about the importance of their role, the value of their contribution
and the degree to which they are in charge of the process can help to
reduce the impact of their fears. But lets be clear about this, practitioners can and do feel a certain degree of fear about being involved in
research. Researchers need to be aware of this and do all they can to
address the issue.

3 Exposure to the wider audience

Data about clients will be published in a variety of ways. Even if the
client has given informed consent they may feel different about their
involvement when they begin to fully realise the extent to which
information about their situation may become part of material that
is available to a much wider audience than just the therapist and the
researcher. When it comes to the realisation that the detail of their
experiences may well form part of published researcher papers, books, or
even video material how they feel about their involvement can materially
change. Again this is about ensuring that the client is empowered, that
they have the right to limit the degree to which information about them
is put into the public domain (no matter how anonymous that material
might be).

Possible impact on clients


When publishing material according to the ethical guidelines of the

4. The researcher takes into account that communication of the
research outcomes may conflict with the obligation to protect
personally sensitive information about identifiable individuals. The
nature of these challenges and the safeguards required may vary
between audiences. Audiences who know the identity of practitioners in the research can be particularly challenging as they are
often well placed to deduce the identity of other people, especially clients, who would otherwise remain anonymous. D
disclosure of the identity of participants is a hazard of this area of
research and one that can cause considerable distress.
(Ethical Guidelines for Researching Counselling and Psychotherapy
BACP 2004)
Note: you can access the full details of the ethics guide used by the
BACP at:
As long as the researcher and the therapist (and of course they might be
the same person) make it clear to the client that they have control over
what is used and how it is used the client should feel both entitled and
able to impose limitations on what is published.

4 Impact on therapy
Research might involve some degree of monitoring therapy sessions.
Clients may be asked to reflect and comment on their experience in
interviews or by filling in a questionnaire. Researchers might want to carry
out some kind of observation, either in person or by using video systems.
Again although the client might well consent to these methods, when
it comes to the actual experience of carrying on therapy under these
circumstances there may be ways in which the therapy is affected. Clients
might feel constrained and may not be as honest or open because they
know that sessions are being monitored in one way or another.
At the very least the idea that sessions are no longer just about the client
and the therapist but someone else, some other is now involved, can by
itself have at least potentially a negative impact. Will the client put on
a show? Will that mean that the genuine dialogue between therapist and


challenges in couNselling: Research

client turns into something different with a different meaning and impact?
Could it actually lead to clients opting out and giving up on their therapy?
There are no, nor can there be any, guarantees about this. Yes, some clients might find the actual experience (as opposed to the idea of the experience) sufficiently daunting and difficult that they will not want to continue;
that they might feel obliged to pretend to be something that they are not
because they fear being judged. All the practitioner can do is try to be as
honest and open about the process as possible and to try to ensure that
the client feels fully empowered to say no at any stage of the process.
It is worth adding that there is another side to this, clients can feel both
valued and important because they are part of a research project. They
can feel that what they have to say and the experience they have had or
are having are more meaningful and significant precisely because some
other wants to record information about them to use in research. In fact
because both client and p
ractitioner have actually more opportunities to
reflect on and discuss the e
xperiences and situation of the client it can be
that rather than the t herapeutic process being hindered or limited in some
way, it can actually be enhanced because of the involvement in research.

5 Ethical issues

Figure 6.1 What happens when a client feels used?

What happens when a client feels used in some way because of involvement in a research project, or for that matter if a practitioner feels that
their clients were being used? The history of research is dotted with
examples of research p
rojects that used people in ways that would no
longer be acceptable, such as the Stanford experiment for example (there

Possible impact on clients


are many sources available on the Stanford experiment. Here is a link to

one recent reference It does not do to be complacent about these matters; we
cannot just assume that all research lives up to the r equirement to be
fully and appropriately ethical in dealing with clients. Rather it is the case
that every research project must actively demonstrate that the interests of
clients have been fully taken into account.
Even so there is, or should be, a presumption that if a client feels used
in some way then that is a valid issue and something that has to be addressed, even if it might be argued that they are not actually being exploited in any way. Good practice in research work is about ensuring that lines
of communication are kept open which in practice is not always as easy or
straightforward as it might sound. Any fears or issues that clients experience should be expressed openly, and they should feel that they could
openly discuss their concerns. Equally, participant researchers should feel
able to discuss their concerns with other members of the research team in
order to ensure that everyone involved is treated with respect.
The difficulty that can arise with this comes down to the power relationships of the research project. There is an almost automatic assumption
that academic r esearchers are in charge of the process, that they know
exactly what they are doing and that they have the right to dictate how
the research should proceed. It is important that practitioners who get
involved in research projects with a
cademic researchers recognise that
they are, and will be regarded as, the e
xperts when it comes to dealing
with their clients and should not in any way need to feel inhibited or limited in expressing their concerns. Academic r esearchers will listen and will
engage in an honest dialogue with practitioners if there is any suggestion
or sense that the rights and interests of clients are being compromised,
and that will be taken seriously and addressed.
In the chapter on ethics some of these issues will be further explored.

How clients might benefit

There are two major ways in which clients can directly benefit from being
involved in research.
1. Being part of a research project, rather than compromising the
therapeutic process has the potential of actually enhancing it.
Willingness to explore the meaning of the research for both


challenges in couNselling: Research

researcher and participant adds an important dimension to therapy

research. (McLeod 2003 pg 192). But arguably it also holds out the
possibility of enriching the experience of therapy for all involved.
2. Directly or indirectly, research feeds into practice. In other words
research can and does:
a. inform us about what is working and potentially, why.
b. help to develop and refine existing therapeutic practice in ways
that make those practices more effective.
c. help to develop the skills and practices of the practitioner, it is part
of enhancing professional development and that can only benefit
the client.
d. provide an evidence base that can give practitioners more
confidence because they know that the therapies they are using
are based on something real and concrete.
e. help to develop new therapeutic approaches, which in turn can
only add to the range of ways in which clients can be supported.
On the one hand we have some legitimate and perfectly reasonable concerns; practitioners are right to have in mind the potential impact upon
clients and should not lose sight of their interests. On the other hand we
have an important set of potential benefits from research and equally
we should not lose sight of how important research can be for the client,
the practitioner, the development of the profession and so ultimately for

A note on data and how it should be

We should be aware of the importance of the Data Protection Act 1998.
The terms of the Act are laid out in the government web site.
Data means information which:
(a) is being processed by means of equipment operating automatically in
response to instructions given for that purpose;
(b) is recorded with the intention that it should be processed by means of
such equipment;
(c) is recorded as part of a relevant filing system or with the intention that
it should form part of a relevant filing system;
(d) does not fall within paragraphs (a), (b) or (c) but forms part of an
accessible record as defined by section 68; or

Possible impact on clients


(e) is recorded information held by a public authority and does not fall
within any of paragraphs (a) to (d).
Note: for the full details of the terms of the Data Protection Act go to
So information held on clients in any kind of database or filing system is
covered by the terms of the Act. The data should be:

Fairly and lawfully processed.

Processed for limited purposes only.
Adequate, relevant but not excessive.
Not kept longer than necessary.
Handled in line with subjects rights.
Kept in a secure place.

Organisations can be required to have a designated person responsible

for ensuring that data is correctly and legally handled.
When involved in research practitioners should be aware of their
responsibility to handle any data about clients they have on record
in accordance with the requirements of the law. It is easy to forget or
overlook the fact that even fairly trivial information (or what might be
thought of as trivial) about clients is protected under the terms of the
Act. Of course clients can give consent for information to be used as
part of a research project, but that consent should be recorded and
kept safe in order to ensure that no questions can be raised about the
use of their personal information. Any information about a client that
does not need to be kept should be securely disposed of, that is to say
any paperwork should be shredded and destroyed and any information
held electronically should be disposed of with care. It is not enough
to simply delete information on a hard drive as such information can
be recovered. So when a computer or hard drive is being d
isposed of
that was used to hold personal information it should be processed by
a recognised and licenced company that can ensure that the drive is
securely disposed of.
Every practitioner involved in working with clients is aware of the importance of confidentiality. The Data Protection Act gives a legal framework


challenges in couNselling: Research

to that principle. However, confidentially can and does go beyond the

requirements of the law.

In any organisational setting you might be working within,
see if you can locate and read the data protection policy and
procedures documentation.
What other policies and procedures that might be directly
relevant to your practice can you locate?
Can you identify any issues or challenges that these policies and
procedures present for you?

Key points
Research in counselling will inevitably and inescapably involve
working with clients and practitioners.
There are valid concerns as to the extent to which the interests of
clients might be compromised in the course of research work.
However, strenuous efforts are made to try to ensure that good and
ethical practice is employed when research is undertaken.
This does not alter the fact that everyone involved in research needs
to be alert to the possibility that the interests of clients could be
affected. There is no room for complacency about this. But it is fair to
say that academic researchers and practitioners should and do make
every effort to ensure that all aspects of the research process are open
to scrutiny in order to do everything possible to protect the rights and
interests of those involved.
It is vitally important that everyone involved in research is aware of
the importance of correctly and appropriately handling the data
developed in the course of research work.
The potential benefits of research work are many but perhaps the
most important benefit comes from the simple fact that in order to
both evaluate existing therapies and to develop new approaches to
supporting clients, research is essential.

Further reading
The Data Protection Act

Possible impact on clients


Ethical Guidelines for Researching Counselling and Psychotherapy. BACP

Widdowson, M. (2012) Perceptions of Psychotherapy Trainees of
Psychotherapy Research. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. Vol
12: No.3, 178186.

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Chapter 7

Professional challenges

In this chapter we will be looking at:

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

The research gap
Relationships the researcher, the practitioner and the client
Who is in charge?
The practitioner as researcher
The issues
The client comes first
The role of the practitioner
Key points

The counselling practitioner is well placed to carry out research. A rich

source of data is to hand in the form of the sessions with clients and the
records of how clients have responded to therapy. So cohort studies,
which track changes in clients from the beginning to end of therapy
(using, for instance a measure like the CORE-OM (Cooper, 2011) may
be one way in which practitioners could carry out meaningful research
work. The CORE measurement tools are described as a 34-item generic
measure of psychological distress which is pan-theoretical (i.e. not associated with a school of therapy) (Further information as well as a
articles about the use of the CORE system can be found at http://

Continuing Professional Development

There is a close association between research and Continuing
Professional Development (CPD). Many professions now require of
practitioners that they undertake developmental work that helps to


challenges in couNselling: research

maintain the currency of their qualifications as well as disseminating and

encouraging good practice. Counselling is no exception.
The BACP recommends that, post qualification, counsellors
should undertake at least 30 hours of activities a year which contribute to their professional development.
(NHS Standards Framework for Counsellors and Counselling Services 2005).
Involvement in research work can be a legitimate way of undertaking
professional development. Moreover, being a reflective practitioner is
another key element of being a counsellor, which again research can and
does contribute towards.
Post-graduate degrees are an important stepping-stone into counselling and can also be part of CPD. Study at this level involves research
work. Broadly speaking there are two ways to undertake a post-graduate
degree: there are taught degree courses that involve taking classes
(including modules in research methods); or the degree can be pursued
through research.
Taught post-graduate degrees involve working through the stages of a
research project with the support and input of supervising tutors. Much of the
work has to be carried out independently but classes in specific areas help
to support and develop the work and ensure that the necessary research
skills and practices are developed. Working towards a degree by research
means that a research project has to be identified and with the support of
a supervisor carried out. Both paths are challenging in different ways.
The point here is that research work can and does play an important role
in p
rofessional development, whether carried out as part of a post-graduate degree or pursued independently. It underpins important aspects
of counselling practice by challenging existing perspectives, maintaining
theoretical k nowledge and developing awareness of current issues and
challenges in counselling.
When undertaking post-graduate research it can be useful to bear in mind
an outline plan of the process. This is called the Research Cycle because
research work is a continuing process. The Research Cycle consists of:
1. The literature search which serves to establish the theoretical basis
of research.

Professional challenges


2. Formulation of a hypothesis research generally involves the

construction of specific hypotheses that can be empirically tested.
3. Submission of the research proposal including detailed hypotheses as
the primary research questions.
4. Considering methodology the decisions about the appropriate
research methods that need to be employed.
5. Conducting the research using the methods to generate data.
6. Collating results organising the data in order to begin to
understand it.
7. Analysis of results looking in depth at the data in order to discover if
there is evidence to support the hypotheses.
8. Presenting the results generally research will lead to outcomes that
should be shared through publication which then in turn becomes
part of the body of literature that can inform future research hence
maintaining the cycle.
The Research Cycle can be a useful guide but it is not definitive, research is
not always as neat or well defined as it might suggest but it can provide a
basis for broadly understanding the process and how you might plan your
own research work. We could add to that the fact that as part of a research
project you would be expected to submit the proposal to examination by
an ethics oversight committee. That committee would have to approve the
project before it could proceed.

The research gap

One of the big issues in counselling is the gap between those who carry
out research and those who practice counselling. This problem is by
no means unique to counselling. Many professions live with a divide
between researchers, the outcomes of their research and the practice of
the profession. It seems to be difficult to close that gap. The outcomes
of research percolate slowly across the divide and often are importantly
changed in the process, so that the lessons that might be taken from
research become something rather different when translated into
Even so, It is generally accepted that a serious research-practice gap
exists, despite the attempts by a number of leading researchers to communicate with practitioners (McLeod 2003 pg 184). One of the issues
related to this gap is the perception that research is not relevant or
practical in its implications. Another is the relationship between the three
main actors involved in research.


challenges in couNselling: research

Eileen is a practising counsellor.
Putting aside the big ethical questions, I mean I know that
research these days does involve being very careful that
ethical matters are carefully considered, but maybe there
is another issue that concerns me sometimes. First of all, it
seems to me that when academic researchers are carrying out
research, they are very much in charge of how that process
goes. Is that the right way to do this? Should it not be the
case that the client comes first? Practitioners who get involved
in research projects have to be careful that they dont get so
caught up in the project that they lose sight of what is really
important. I dont imagine that they do, but they have the
problem that researchers are the ones with the real power in
that relationship, it could be very hard to go against what they
want. I think its really important that we think about how the
relationship works between the client, the practitioner and the
This is a valid and important question. Inevitably when research projects
get underway the relationship between those involved is part of the process and academic researchers carry with them a certain kind of authority.
Lets take the questions raised by Eileen.

Consider these questions:
1. Is it right, or necessary for researchers to be in charge of the
research process?
2. Is it not the case that the client always comes first?
3. What is the role of the practitioner in a research project?
4. Are there other ways to conduct research that gives the client and
the practitioner more significance in how research is conducted?

Who is in charge?
There are different models of pursuing research work. However, the
academic researcher is presented with a difficulty if they aim to fully

Professional challenges


engage with practitioners and clients because whether they want it or not,
they are perceived as the experts. That accords them a certain degree of
power which can negatively impact on their work. First of all practitioners
can be resentful of that authority and reluctant therefore to be fully
involved. Secondly, it can mean that practitioners hand over responsibility
to researchers for conducting and interpreting research, which can be
contrary to the purpose of research and the aims of researchers.
This relates to the question of research design. If the research is quantitative and focused on specific issues, the degree to which the client and
practitioner can play a constructive role may be limited. But a genuine dialogue is very important. However, once we move towards more qualitative
research work then the roles of client and practitioner can be significant in
making the content and findings richer and more meaningful.

The practitioner as researcher

Action research, along with other forms of qualitative research, can
involve the practitioner as the researcher. Action research is conducted
by practitioners who regard themselves as researchers (McNiff and
Whitehead 2010 pg 17). Now there is no separation between the
researcher and the practitioner they are one and the same.
Counselling practitioners are in the position of having a rich source of data
ready to hand such as the records they keep of the counselling process
(the CORE-OM data for example); a data source that can, very readily, be
used for qualitative and quantitative research. In this respect counselling
practitioners are very well placed to conduct their own research.
Practitioners who are aware of ethical standards, and are aware of how to
use research methods appropriately can carry out useful research on specific
areas of counselling work. All it takes is for the practitioner to be confident
enough to draw upon the varieties of resources available that provide insight
into the use of methods.

The issues
1. Cultural differences
There are inevitably differences in the culture, values, priorities and
attitudes of academic researchers and practitioners. Even if academic
researchers have a background in practice, working within an academic
setting makes a difference. Bridging the gap between practitioner and


challenges in couNselling: research

academic can be challenging. This can be quite a subtle matter. The

very manner in which research is discussed, the small things that can
be overlooked or assumptions that are made can bring the differences
into focus.

2. Language differences
Academic researchers use a different system of language from
practitioners. Again this is inevitable and inescapable. It can raise
difficulties over effective communication. Sometimes both parties can
think that what they say is clear and direct, but much can be lost in
translation. Equally both parties can learn from each other as they work
on establishing a flow of communication and focus on different priorities.
This relates to our first theme the issue of language, and maybe I
should point out here that the difficulty is not one way. I remember
having a conversation with an academic researcher about work I was
doing, and suddenly realising that she was looking completely mystified,
as I rattled out yet another acronym. Every profession has its own code
and language system, and indeed often researchers find that language
can be a barrier to understanding.

Figure 7.1 Language differences

3. Being judged
The idea of exposure of what, and to whom? And whos doing
the scrutiny?
(Henton and Midgley 2012 pg 209)

Professional challenges


When practitioners get involved in research projects they can find themselves being monitored by academic researchers and become nervous
about their practice being judged. Will the research project show that
the practitioner is somehow at fault or inadequate in some way? Fears of
this kind can be very inhibiting and are perfectly understandable. Suddenly there is a third party around, watching, noting and scrutinising.
That can be unsettling for a
nyone; it can mean that practitioners take
a defensive stance, feel reluctant to c ontribute and get nervous about
The value of involving the practitioner in research is about the way in
which insights into the counselling process can be achieved when a
genuine and enriching dialogue develops between all those involved.
For the most part we have assumed that the academic researcher and
the practitioner are completely distinct. But many academic researchers are also practitioners and many practitioners are researchers. For the
sake of simplicity we have treated these roles as distinct. Even so there
is a difference between the academic researcher/practitioner and the
practitioner. This alone has an effect upon the language, the culture and
the mind-set of those involved. The approach to both counselling and
research is importantly different. By that I do mean different; not better,
not worse, just different.

The client comes first

Yes of course, researchers cannot lose sight of the fact that the issues
and difficulties that face the client in their living situation cannot be
ignored or overlooked. The responsibility to do no harm still exists,
which ethical frameworks, such as that of the BACP, clearly state. That can
and does extend to the point that clients should not be refused access
to forms of counselling that could provide benefit simply because it is
part of the aim of a research project. Avoiding harm is more than just a
negative statement, it also implies the positive; practitioners must act in
the interest of clients in order to avoid harm, just as much as they might
refrain from action that could cause harm.
The practitioner has an ethical responsibility to strive to mitigate
any harm caused to a client even when the harm is unavoidable or
(BACP 2010 pg 3)


challenges in couNselling: research

The practitioner who is involved in research is responsible for remembering

the interests of the client. Part of their role is to be their advocate. However,
as long as the principle of informed consent is completely applied, there
may be circumstances when the consideration of the client is set aside.
The practitioner needs to ask is it the case that the long-term interests of
a client might best be served by involvement in research that in the shortterm could involve some compromise? There is no simple answer to that

The role of the practitioner

The practitioner has many roles in research and can play a vital part. The
practitioner is the clients advocate, a source of valuable insights based
on experience of the practical issues involved in counselling and an
independent researcher, and can be pro-active in research design. The
practitioner can be much more than the respondent in research.
The potential benefits to the practitioner from involvement in research
are significant. Involvement in research can bring important insights into
practice that carry the potential for real benefits to clients. Practitioners
can widen their theoretical understanding by their involvement, and they
can see new ways to develop and improve practice. Research can and
does play a vital role that p
ractitioners can draw upon. It is not something
that others do but a process that holds out the potential for enriching the
work of counsellors.

Activity: Reflection
Try to identify some examples of research in which practitioners have
taken an active part.
What did the practitioners bring to the research that was valuable
to the work?
What might be the advantages and disadvantages for
an organisation that employs a counsellor who is involved in
What might be the advantages and disadvantages for an
individual counsellor that gets involved in practitioner research?

Professional challenges


Key points
The relationship between the client, practitioner and researcher
needs mutual respect and each plays a distinct role in developing
In managing research projects academic researchers need to
emphasise the importance of the role that practitioners have in the
research process. Practitioners need to recognise that their input is
valuable and valid.
Practitioner research is a vital area of research. The expertise that
practitioners can bring to the process offers the potential for keeping
the research grounded, valid and meaningful for practitioners.
The interests of clients come first, and an important role is ensuring
that their interests do not get sacrificed in the interests of research.
Fears about the impact that research might have on clients are
probably overstated. Researchers are often practitioners themselves
and do appreciate that it is crucial to be aware of the rights and needs
of clients.
Practitioners do have a lot to contribute to the research process if
they can get past the fear of being judged by researchers. That fear
can limit their contribution, which is unfortunate and unnecessary.

Further reading
Gelso, C. J. (1979) Research in Counselling: Methodological and
Professional Issues. The Counselling Psychologist. Vol 8: No. 3, 735.
Henton, I. and Midgley, N. (2012) A Path in the Woods: Child
Psychotherapists Participation in a Large Randomised Controlled Trial.
Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. Vol 12: No. 2, 204213.
Maheu, M. M. and Gordon, B. L. (2000) Counselling and Therapy on the
Internet. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Vol 31: No. 5,
McNiff, J. and Whitehead, J. (2010) You and Your Action Research Project
(3rd ed.). London: Routledge.
Remely, T. and Herlihy, B. (2009) Ethical, Legal and Professional Issues in
Counselling. Indiana: Prentice Hall.

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Chapter 8

Ethical challenges

Ethical issues can present us with some very difficult questions. This
chapter will not necessarily resolve those questions, but will at least
raise the issues and sharpen awareness of what they can mean for us.
It may be stating the obvious, but when conducting research
important ethical questions arise. Broadly speaking the areas of ethical
concern are:

the manner in which clients are involved in and experience research

the manner in which research is conducted

In order to explore ethical questions in research it might be worth

starting by establishing some fundamental points about ethics and
ethical positions.
This chapter will include:

Ethical principles
Ethical debates
Virtue ethics
Absolute moral rules
Taking account of circumstances
Existentialism and morality
Making it difficult
The ethics table
Ethics and research
The interests of the client
Moral responsibility
Key points


challenges in couNselling: Research

Jocelyn has just started working for the NHS.
The NHS puts a lot of emphasis on ethical practice, and I
know it is really important but surely as long as you remember
that there are ethical standards you have to apply in your
practice you cant go wrong.
When carrying out research there are certain issues about research that
are important to be aware of, partly because in the past some research
was carried out with little regard for the impact it had upon the respondents. For example the famous (or infamous) Milgram experiment (for
details go to:
Lets look briefly at some of the principles behind ethical positions and
then consider how ethical standards operate in research work.
Before we go on, it is important to note that professional bodies provide
full statements about ethical standards - available here

Ethical principles
The ethical standards we operate by come out of a long debate about
moral issues. They are related to other aspects of our society and
culture and arise at least in part out of the history of research and
clinical treatment. Experiments such as Milgrams (mentioned above)
helped to stimulate a debate about ethics and research. To begin
with lets make a few basic points that can help to clarify some of the
difficult questions associated with this important area.
The terms ethics and morality historically meant the same thing. The word
ethics derives from an ancient Greek term that meant the culture or v alues

Ethical challenges


of society. The word morality is derived from a Latin word that means
you guessed it the culture or values of society. Today there is some
difference in how these words are used. You might say that while morality
relates to the general standards of behaviour in society as a whole, ethics
tends to be used with reference to particular sets of standards applied
within a profession or discipline. So morality is about how we behave in our
daily lives within society, whilst ethics is about the particular rules we apply
to our professional practice. But for the most part both are very similar.
There are perhaps three main positions that we should be aware of that
guide thinking on ethical matters.
1. We should live and work by absolute moral rules.
2. There are no absolute moral rules, rather we need to take each
situation on its own merits and apply the idea that we should never
do harm, and we should always act in a manner that benefits the
individual and society.
3. It is not about any kind of rules rather it is about our attitude. As
long as our practice is guided by important moral principles then we
cant go wrong.
Ethics are often regarded as culturally specific. Different cultures and
societies can and do have different standards of behaviour, and different
moral systems. The moral standards of people in Britain have changed
over time and will probably change in the future. It may well be that what
we consider to be important standards currently in terms of practice and
research will be thought unimportant in the future. Ethical standards and
moral principles are also historically specific; they alter over time. We
hope that means that they improve but in order to make sure that this is
true every practitioner and researcher has a responsibility to be part of
the debate about ethics in counselling.
One definition of ethics is - the rules by which people are committed
because they see them as embodying their values and justifying their
moral judgements (Barnes and Murdin 2001 pg 9). But virtue ethics (see
below) is more about who you are, rather than being about adopting sets
of specific rules.

The ethical debates

Each of the broad perspectives on morality and ethics has a long
history. A whole branch of modern philosophy is dedicated to the study


challenges in couNselling: Research

of morality. We will avoid, as far as possible, getting caught up in the

complications of that debate here, but we do need to know something
about the three main positions outlined above because they do
underpin many of the ethical codes that are important in professional

Virtue ethics
This is the idea that morality is not about having specific set rules that
are always applied, but rather that you have an attitude of mind, a set of
broad ideas about how you approach moral issues and these attitudes
or virtues determine how you think. This position goes back to the
ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (yes, it is that old) but for a long
time virtue ethics were more or less disregarded. More recently this
perspective on morality has gained ground again and has become very
important once more.
Morality then is about a range of behaviours; there are extremes we
should avoid and instead try to find a balance point between those
extremes. We might want to say that there is a rule, we should never
break the principle of client confidentiality, but actually it is more
complicated than that. Virtue ethics would take us to a middle ground
rather than taking adopting the absolute rule of never breaking a confidence. There may be occasions when we should break a confidence
because that is the moral thing to do.
Virtue ethics is not a relativist position, it is not about circumstances
dictating how we should behave, rather it is about adopting principles
of behaviour that remain the same. But those principles can give rise to
different behaviours in different circumstances. Taking the principle that
we should do no harm can be interpreted differently in different circumstances. The principle does not change, but it can give rise to different
actions for different clients in particular sets of circumstances.

Absolute moral rules

By contrast it can be argued that there are clear and unchangeable
rules that we must apply no matter the circumstances. The philosopher
Immanuel Kant laid down immutable rules that he felt people had
to apply in their lives, which should never be compromised. Certain
fundamental laws of behaviour determined these rules. Without

Ethical challenges


going into detail, Kant put forward the argument that we could always
determine the right way to behave by applying what he called the
Categorical Imperative. Whenever faced by a decision we should
ask ourselves if our action could be applied universally. That is to
say, would our action be acceptable if applied to everyone in every
situation? So circumstances no longer play any part in determining
how we act.
So for example, if we are faced with a situation where data about a
client might be used in a research project, and we are concerned that
the person involved may not have appreciated the extent to which they
might be exposed as a result, we should universalise the issue. Would
it be right, in all settings and circumstances to expose such data about
a client to a wider audience? If the answer is a simple no then we do
not use the data. Universalising the question gives us the correct moral
He also took the view that we should never take into account the consequences of action, but rather consider our action only terms of its moral
worth. This position is sometimes described therefore as non-consequentionalism as opposed to other moral positions that take a direct
view of the outcome of actions, which are consequentionalist moral
theories. Universalising moral questions about research does not mean
thinking about consequences it means thinking about what is right. Put
another way, even if we might justify research decisions on the basis of
the potential benefits, such consequences cannot affect our moral judgement. The ends do not justify the means. Allowing personal data about
clients to be used in a research project might lead to important benefits,
but that does not justify or excuse using such data in a manner that is
ethically or morally wrong.
This perhaps needs some illustration in order to clarify the issues. Lets
say for example, it is wrong to lie. If in a given set of circumstances,
telling the truth might be painful, cause all sorts of problems and have
unpleasant consequences, do we apply the absolute rule, or do we allow
ourselves an easy life by telling what we sometimes call a white lie?
Right away the decision becomes muddied in that we can ask, are
we telling the white lie in order to avoid hurting others or because
it makes life easier for ourselves? That ambiguity actually makes the
situation clear. We should always apply the absolute rule because if we
ask ourselves the question, would it be right in all circumstances and


challenges in couNselling: Research

to every person to lie? Then we have to concede that it would not be

right. In other words, applying the principle taken from the Categorical
Imperative of universality of testing the moral worth of an action by
asking if it would apply in all circumstances, tells us that lying has to be
the wrong thing to do.
Do we tell a client a white lie in order to protect their feelings or
avoid an u
npleasant truth? Are there circumstances when lying to a
client is the right thing to do? An absolute moral position would not
allow us to lie because of the rule of universalisation. In research too,
the rule must be that lying is wrong and can never be right no matter
the circumstances.
Applying absolute moral rules does not let us off the hook in the way that
other moral positions might. The strength of this position is its consistency and the fact that it ensures that our behaviour is always up to standard,
never compromised and never driven by self-interest. Even so, it is a difficult standard to work to.
This position in morality is proscriptive as it tells us what we ought to
do, rather than saying anything about how people actually behave. But
perhaps that is the point, is it not the case that in our professional behaviour we need to work to higher moral standards than we would live by
in our ordinary lives? We may well be faced with situations in which we
must do the right thing irrespective of consequences. Indeed doing the
right thing can in fact be painful and lead to painful outcomes for those
An example of this might be the rule of informed consent. In conducting research we must ensure that the respondents in a study know exactly what they are committing themselves to, we cannot lie about the
research or misinform about what might happen and the extent to which
they might be exposed to risk of any kind.
Could or should researchers ever compromise that principle, even if it
made it possible to carry out research that would be of enormous benefit
to others?
This perspective on morality is sometimes called the deontological position. Deon is the ancient Greek word for duty. This does clarify matters;
this perspective amounts to the view that we have a duty to do that which
is moral in all circumstances.

Ethical challenges


Taking account of circumstances

A third perspective on ethical standards might be one informed
by utilitarianism. In the nineteenth century a view on morality was
developed out of the work of Jeremy Bentham. Benthams position was
deeply influenced by the work of the Scottish philosopher David Hume,
who argued that things could only be regarded as real and meaningful
when they were supported by empirical evidence. Take the idea that
people have rights for example. Hume might ask, where is the physical,
empirical evidence for the existence of rights? Well it simply does not
exist. We do not have empirical evidence that rights exist. Since there
is no physical evidence then rights are merely a habitual way of thinking
that has no basis in anything real.
Bentham took this principle, the idea that everything needed to be
based on real evidence rather than on what we would like to believe, and
argued that the only valid basis for morality was about asking the question, what do people actually do? Never mind great principles or what
profound thinkers have argued, instead lets look at how people actually
behave and strip away all the fanciful notions about how they ought to
If we do that we are left with two simple observations. On the whole
people tend to act on the basis of what maximises their situation, what
gives them the best outcome. People act on the basis of weighing up
the potential cost to themselves of an action and the potential benefits.
At times they might also ask themselves, what is the cost and benefit
to a wider group; family, friends and ultimately society as a whole. This
became the central notion to what came to be called utilitarian philosophy. Based on how people actually behave rather than upon the notion
that we should proscribe how they ought to behave, we arrive at two
broad p
rinciples: what became known as the felicific calculus, the idea
that people weigh the cost and benefit for themselves in an action and
tend to do that which they perceive to be best for them; and the greatest happiness principle, that is the view that we should generally do that
which will benefit the majority.
This might seem to be a selfish and cold approach to ethical issues, but
it is practical and can be important when dealing with difficult issues. For
example, if the NHS has to decide whether or not to devote resources
to a particular form of treatment that is very costly but carries only minimal benefits for the few that need it, when actually the resources used
could be employed elsewhere to benefit many more, how is that decision


challenges in couNselling: Research

made? The utilitarian approach to such a difficult question has to be part

of the way we think about the matter. Do we benefit the majority or the
minority? Do we take on a cost with minimal benefits or do we seek to
maximise the benefits for many?
You can see that utilitarianism is all about the consequences and that
is not at all unreasonable. In dealing with a difficult situation it makes
sense to ask the question, what consequences will my actions have on
those involved? Can we afford to ignore what the results of our actions
might be?
On the other hand, we could also then argue that if a piece of research
carried the potential for great benefits for the majority but in order
to get there a small group or even an individual might have to suffer
unpleasant consequences does that mean that we simply say, well as
long as the majority will benefit it is the right thing to do? Or do we say,
the cost versus the benefits for the individual or individuals concerned is
too high, therefore we should not do the research? The problem is that
a strict utilitarian approach does not readily supply an answer to such
Indeed we might also ask, what do we mean by the majority? Who determines the nature and range of this group? Do we mean for example,
the majority of people of a certain age, race, gender or social class? It
is all too easy with this approach to lose sight of what this term majority actually means and how this can be put to the service of particular

Existentialism and morality

An important dimension of a discussion of morality has to be the degree
to which people are responsible for their actions. If we accept that either
nature or nurture importantly determine our behaviour then we might
conclude that the degree to which people are morally responsible is
limited or even that there is no such thing. Moral responsibility requires
free will.
John-Paul Sartre argued that we are condemned to be free. In other
words, even if there are elements in our society or even in our biological
make up that push us towards particular actions, it does not alter the fact
that when we act we make choices; we are responsible for what we do.

Ethical challenges


So we carry full moral responsibility for our actions no matter what the
circumstances might be.
Existentialists take the view that there are two levels of ethical or moral
behaviour: on the one hand there is the generally accepted social idea of
what constitutes e
thical behaviour (and indeed there are formally constructed sets of ethical g
uidelines developed by professional organisations); and then there is the individuals own view of what is morally and
ethically right. Since we are all individually responsible for our actions,
we cannot blame others. We cant claim; for example, that because a
particular act was sanctioned by the ethical standards of the organisation
we work for or the society in which we live, that is enough to justify what
we do. In order to be authentic, that is, a fully realised human being, we
need to satisfy ourselves that what we do is right, and we need to accept
the consequences of our actions.
In research terms existentialism focuses on the meaning of experience
for the individual. For this reason it is often about qualitative research
that explores the nature of individual experience and the meaning taken
from that experience rather than looking at the general picture.
So when we engage in research, we have to accept that each of us carries responsibility for what we do. It does not matter, ultimately, if some
authority or system requires an action of us that changes nothing. It does
not reduce our personal responsibility. This presents us with the challenge of having to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong
when we conduct research, and it means that we cannot blame anyone
else for our own actions.
In some respects then existentialism is a harsh perspective; we cant
claim refuge in absolute moral rules and we cant excuse actions (or lack
of action) because of circumstance. We are left with the view that every
action a person undertakes is a product of free choice and the consequences, good or bad, must be accepted for what they are.
In practice that can mean that when we undertake research, when we,
for example, explain to respondents that information will be published
about them or that being observed may in some ways be uncomfortable,
the choice is theirs to participate or not. But if the outcome is negative in some way, we cannot avoid the responsibility that we carry. Being


challenges in couNselling: Research

authentic carries the responsibility of being honest with others and with

Making it difficult
We have looked at a range of ethical or moral perspectives, but it is
only fair to add that the positions are perhaps somewhat more complex
than has been outlined here. Important thinkers in the history of moral
philosophy are inconveniently complicated. Whenever major moral
positions are laid out inevitably they are to some extent simplified.
Utilitarian morality, for example, has been around for a while and has
been importantly refined and modified. Even so, there is a value in laying
out the basic elements of different moral positions, which is what we have
done here.
It is also fair to point out that applying very broad moral theories to specific examples is not always helpful. The real complexity of moral views
can mean that when it comes to particular situations, interpreting them
through the lens of these perspectives is more complex than we can detail here. This is just a starting point.
Looking at different moral perspectives does not make things simpler
for the practitioner or researcher. But what it does do is help to alert
us to some of the important issues we face and it raises our awareness of the complications and difficulties that can and do arise in the
course of our professional practice. Moral theories may not present us
with answers, but they do help us to think about what the important
questions are, and that does have great value in shaping our thinking
and action.
Perhaps it is an important point to make that irrespective of what we
think about ethics and morality, the important thing is what we do. In carrying out research it is perhaps less significant to construct justifications
for action and more important to consider the nature and impact of our
It might be useful to sum up the main points so far. See Figure 8.1.

Ethical challenges



Virtue ethics


Utilitarian ethics:
Work out the
costs and the
benefits of an

Adhere to key
moral principles
or attitudes
such as have
respect for others

There are absolute

moral rules such
as do not lie that
we must not break

Its all about the

Do not ignore
but be consistent

We should never
allow circumstances
to change how we

You need to think

about what is best
for people and
society in a given

You need to
apply the right
moral attitudes in
order do the right

Never do that
which you could
not do in all

Realistic deals
with what people
actually do
Practical can
be a way to think
clearly and make
difficult decisions

Morally consistent
behaviour without being
limited by over-rigid and
prescriptive ethical rules
Flexible and allows for
judgement about what
is acceptable in different

Clear moral
guidance, we know
what we must do
at all times
Consistent our
behaviour is
always the same

Does not give clear
moral guidance
Can seem cold and
ruthless to determine
actions on the basis of
what benefits the

How do we know which
are the correct moral
principles or virtues?
What do you do when
two principles clash?

Very rigid set of
Takes no account of the
cost of actions on the
individual or society

Figure 8.1 The Ethics Table


challenges in couNselling: Research

Existentialism has been omitted from the chart (above) because it does
not really lend itself to a neat summary.

Ethics and research

Lets look at some ethical principles that guide and determine the actions
of researchers in conducting their work.

When I was doing some qualitative research for a project I
was working on I interviewed a client as part of the work. The
interview was open-ended, I was just supposed to listen and
let the client talk about their experiences of counselling, but
I found it very frustrating. The client was saying things that
I knew were not true. The whole value of their counselling
experience was ignored. As a result the information I got from
the interview was really useless and I wanted to ignore it or
carry out an interview with someone else to get better data,
but can you do that? Is that ethical?
Research often throws up data that is in various ways inconvenient. More
often than not, the results of interviews and for that matter surveys do not
accord with what we expect or want. Can we simply ignore data that does
not agree with our view?
To some extent scientists have always done this. When results do not
confirm our expectations it can be positive, it can make us re-evaluate,
change views and question theories. Sometimes however, it is merely
about the issues that are thrown up when we carry out research in the
real and messy world.
The object of research in counselling is the person; the human being and
human beings are (as we have noted before) complicated. Research can
often be about recognising the difference between what people say and
what people do. How a client internalises and conceptualises their experience can be different to what actually happened. If, in the course of

Ethical challenges


carrying out qualitative research, a client provides a response that does

not seem to accord to the reality of the situation the researcher can:

discuss the content of the interview with other members of the

research team to evaluate how useful or relevant it might be.
compare the data provided in the response with other information
provided by the client.
consider the extent to which the data is useful and meaningful in
relation to the research questions being asked in the project.
set aside the data from an interview if it does not seem to be valid or

The question raised by Christine is based on the view that research must be
honest, unbiased, objective and rigorous. That being the case, researchers
should not reject evidence just because it does not accord with the views
of the researchers. However, when data is gathered, particularly when using
qualitative methods, it is also legitimate to interrogate that data by examining the response to ensure that it is honest and complete. Just because a
respondent said something, this does not mean that it is accurate or meaningful, sometimes it is neither.

The interests of the client

In the chapter on the impact on clients we discussed the importance of
principles such as confidentiality and informed consent. Lets look at the
principle of confidentiality through the lens of different ethical perspectives.
A deontological approach that is to say one that starts with the view
that the rules of moral behaviour can never and should never be compromised would lead us to conclude that the confidential nature of the
relationship between counsellor and client can never be breached. It is
absolute, no matter the consequences. Of course we raised the issue
earlier that the difficulty here can be over what to do when two moral imperatives clash. What does the practitioner do when a client reveals information that they have done something illegal (and immoral)? Which moral
rule should be followed? One version of Kants rule is that any action that
is contemplated should be the right act no matter the c ircumstances.
We should subject our decision to the principle of u
niversalisation and
ask, would it be right to do something in every potential situation? Is it,
for example, always and in every situation the right thing to do to maintain the rule of confidentiality when a client has revealed that they have
done something illegal and immoral?


challenges in couNselling: Research

If you are uncertain about the answer to that question then there is a
problem. Remember, for the deontological perspective there are no grey
areas, you must do the right thing no matter what the consequences
might be of doing so. It might be useful to look back at some of the ethical codes mentioned earlier.
What about virtue ethics? Here we do not necessarily have a simple or
direct path to follow. As a counsellor we might take the view that we have
the guiding moral principle that the interests of the client should come
first and if we take a person-centred perspective, we might have to face
the uncomfortable necessity of doing nothing.

Moral responsibility
When it comes to involvement in research the practitioner can face
difficult moral questions. Knowing about different moral theories does
not necessarily simplify the matter. However, discussing different moral
perspectives should also make it clear that it sometimes is not enough to
just fall back on the accepted ethical codes and standards set out for the
profession. At the end of the day the counsellor must work out what they
think is the right thing to do and adhere to their ethical framework. But
that can be challenging.
Are counsellors morally responsible for what happens to clients during
the course of a research project? Clearly because of the professional role
that counsellors have in relation to clients there is an important degree of
moral responsibility to ensure that good practice is followed. At the same
time, as long as the principle of informed consent has been followed
properly in the course of initiating research work, clients must also share
a degree of moral responsibility. It is up to them how much they get involved and what they choose to share with researchers.

Activity: Check your understanding


What is the difference between the terms ethics and morality?

What are the three basic positions on morality?
What does it mean to take an existentialist position on morality?
Look at established ethical codes for counselling. What kind of
moral theory informs those codes?
5. What do you think are the key ethical positions that must be taken
in relation to research in counselling?

Ethical challenges


Key points
There are different perspectives on morality and ethics that are useful
to know about.
We have identified three moral theories: the deontological view,
the utilitarian view and virtue ethics. We have also included a brief
discussion of existentialism and morality. Knowing about these
different views on ethics and morality may not make matters any
easier, but it is important to be aware of alternative perspectives.
In terms of research, it is important that researchers are honest, treat
respondents with respect and operate on the basis of informed
Practitioners do carry a degree of moral responsibility for the manner
in which clients are treated in the course of research projects, but as
long as clients are fully informed and consent to be part of a project,
they too must carry a measure of responsibility for what they choose
to do and to reveal during research work.
Everyone involved in research needs to remain aware of potential
ethical issues and try as far as possible to ensure that every effort is
made to adhere to accepted ethical standards.

Further reading
BACP Ethical Framework
Barnes, F. and Murdin, L. (2001) Values and Ethics in the Practice of
Psychotherapy and Counselling. Buckingham: Open University Press.
British Psychological Association (BPA) (1994) Code of Conduct, Ethical
Principles and Guidelines. Leicester: BPA.
BPA Ethical Framework
Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland; Ethics and Code of Practice
Gabriel, L. and Casemore, R. (2010) Guidance for Ethical DecisionMaking: ASuggested Model for Practitioners. Lutterworth: BACP.

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Chapter 9


So far we have taken a trip through some of the issues and difficulties
involved in getting to know how research works, and along the way
I have tried to argue that getting involved can be a very positive
experience. In this chapter I am going to put together a check list of
points that are worth thinking about for:
1 the trainee counsellor
2 the practitioner who is considering being involved in research
This chapter will include:

Research questions: the kinds of questions that tend to be pursued

in counselling research
Some examples of current research
Accessing research the issues involved in getting hold of research articles
Thinking about the audience communicating research
Summing up: checklists of points
Themes: language, science and the importance of research
Key points
Additional resources

Research questions
Broadly speaking research projects in counselling are about:

evaluating current therapeutic approaches.

discovering if the predictions and explanations offered by theories
actually work and if evidence supports them.
finding new perspectives does research throw up new ideas and
provide insights that might lead to new theories or therapeutic


challenges in couNselling: research

One way of pursuing these questions is by looking at work that has already
been done. It is not uncommon for research to involve gathering a range
of e
xisting research to see if collectively they support new perspectives on
therapy or provide evidence that challenges existing views.
It makes sense when reading research work to think about:

what kind of questions are being asked.

what methods of research are being used (bearing in mind both the
strengths and the limitations of those methods).
what the implications might be for practice.

It is worthwhile to note that although a lot of research has focused on

evaluating the impact of different therapies, approaches and systems
used in counselling, there has also been a substantial amount of research
into the ways in which IT can be used in the context of counselling. New
technologies and the more efficient use of established technologies have
opened new possibilities for conducting counselling. Research into the
issues associated with, for example, online counselling has been a growing
area of interest. For example, research projects such as Rating CounsellorClient Behaviour in Online Counselling (Bagraith, K., Chardon, L. and King,
R. J., Psychotherapy Research, 2010, Vol 20: No. 6; 722730) have been
providing evidence about the potential benefits of these developments.

Some examples of current research

A good place to start is Counselling in the Workplace: A Comprehensive
Review of the Research Evidence (McLeod, J., 2nd ed., 2008, London:
BACP) which gives an account of both quantitative and qualitative
research. McLeod only uses research material that is generally available
and therefore straightforward to access.
Of course the BACP journal Counselling and Psychotherapy Research has
lots of information about research work currently underway. If you are not
a member, you should be able to get copies in a library. You might want
to look for Understanding the Online Therapeutic Alliance Through the
Eyes of Adolescent Service Users (Hanley, T., Journal of Counselling and
Psychotherapy Research, 2012, Vol 12: No. 1, 3543). This article deals
with a number of things we have touched upon, uses a mixed methods
approach and A grounded theory approach to data analysis was used.

Research 115

Another piece of research that takes a grounded theory approach is

Counselling Strategies for Bereaved People Offered in Primary Care
(Payne, S., Jarret, N., Wiles, R. and Field, D., Counselling Psychology
Quarterly, 2002, Vol 15: No. 2, 161177). The research involved the use of
semi-structured interviews that were recorded for analysis. Interestingly
the research indicated that often practising counsellors were working
with theoretical assumptions that were perhaps not fully examined or
The journal Therapy Today can also provide you with interesting
and useful material. So, for example, RCTs: A Personal Experience
(McArthur, K., Therapy Today, 2011, Vol 22: No. 7, 2425) provides a
useful account of the experience of being involved in an RCT trial, and
some interesting points are raised, such as why should qualitative inquiry
be considered any more capable than quantitative measurement of
determining truth in any context? (McArthur 2011 pg 25).
As an example of testing hypotheses, the article The Relationship
Between Therapists and Client Hope with Therapy Outcomes (Coppock,
T. E., Owen, J. J., Zadarskas, E. and Schmidt, M. Psychotherapy Research
2010, Vol 20: No. 6, 616626) is an interesting read. Not least because
this was a naturalistic, descriptive field study without a randomized
sample or manipulated variables. (Ibid). This journal article uses
statistical analysis which some might find challenging, but it is worth
working through the material and try to get a sense both of what the
data is telling us and how it is interpreted.
Of course there is a wealth of material out there. Go and explore, see
what you can find, track down journals, articles, and books and start the
process of discovering just how interesting and challenging research
can be.

Accessing research
One simple issue that arises when trying to build familiarity with research
is that of getting access to relevant material. Unless you are a member
of a professional body, taking a course at a university or college, or
subscribe to a professional journal, finding whole research documents
can be problematic. It is often assumed that research can be found
online, but actually access can be limited.


challenges in couNselling: research

Figure 9.1 Do not underestimate how useful libraries can be

Do not underestimate how useful libraries can be. Joining or accessing

the library of an academic institution will offer access for someone
conducting their own research. If a library does not have a particular text,
the system of interlibrary loans can be used. Library staff can advise you
about this system. Discuss what you are trying to do with a member of
the library staff, explain what you are looking for and they will help you
with indexes, systems and advice.
Any library can be a starting point, but college and university libraries
in particular will help you to find relevant material. Talk to the staff, tell
them what you are interested in and they will help you to find what you

Thinking about the audience

For the most part when academic researchers write about research the
audience, those who will read the material, will be academics as well.
Their work will be judged and evaluated in terms of the requirements, the
standards and the language of academia. I remember presenting a paper
during a conference in Edinburgh many years ago and being stopped in
mid-flow by a member of the audience who angrily complained that he was
not following what was being said because he was not an academic. It was
a fair point. I had to acknowledge it and amend how I was speaking. I have
tried to argue throughout this book that there are two sides to this. Access
to research would be helped if research work was written and presented

Research 117

in a form that was more accessible to practitioners. But researchers do

have to meet stringent standards that require that they use technical
terms and forms of language that the academic and scientific community
will find acceptable. As a result, practitioners have to learn the language
of research, and whenever possible academic researchers have to make
their work more accessible to their key audience: the counsellors who are
working with clients.
A good example of doing that, of making research accessible without compromising on standards is Silently Stressed: A Survey into Student Mental
Wellbeing (2010).
The NUS have published a piece of work that is quantitative but
presented it in a way that is very clear, detailed and accessible. A PDF
file can be accessed that gives all the findings of the report. It is worth
looking at to see how quantitative research findings can be presented in
a form that is very digestible to practitioners and clients alike.

Summing up: checklists of points

For the student, working on a counselling course:
1. Focus look for answers to specific questions.
2. Methods read about and learn some specific aspects of research
a. The different strengths and weaknesses of qualitative and
quantitative methods.
b. Observational techniques.
c. Using survey methods.
d. Case studies.
e. Interview techniques.
f. Sampling.
3. Carry out your own desk research looking at published material in
libraries and online.
4. Identify any terminology that seems difficult learn the language of
5. Learn and practise how to cite and reference works using the APA


challenges in couNselling: research

Identify the specific questions you want to pursue. This might be
evidence that supports the value of particular therapies. Then look for
research work that provides that evidence.

Be aware of the difference between qualitative and quantitative methods
and develop a clear understanding of what it means in terms of the
kinds of research that you will encounter. Arm yourself with books that
detail information about research methods, such as Doing Counselling
Research (McLeod, J., 2003, London: SAGE). Bear in mind that there are
a lot of good, well written and very clear accounts of research methods
out there. Sample them, by reading a few pages, or see if you can get an
extract online. Sometimes particular books speak to you and can seem
more accessible while other works that may be in many respects just as
good simply arent as interesting or engaging.

Do your own research

Looking into the vast range of material involves you doing your own
research. Narrow the focus; dont try to read everything, just look at what
is relevant to where you are. Remember that even if you are sitting at a
computer or in a library to look at material you are in fact conducting
your own research. Research is not something that other people do, it is
what counsellors do, all the time and we should try to be just as rigorous
and careful as any scientist when we are doing it.

Learn the language

Often research will use a language that is dense and difficult. We cant
avoid that sometimes it just means that we have to do our best to
make sense of it. Dont dismiss research by describing it as being
jargon. Get used to the idea that human behaviour is often very
complex, so to study people you have to cope with complex language.

Learn how to use research

A key element of studying is being able to cite research in your work.
To do that you need to know how to use the accepted methods of
citation and referencing. There are many good websites that will give you
detailed instructions.

Research 119
There are also some applications that you can use which will do the job
for you like Citefast ( or EasyBib (www.easybib.
But really the best way to do this is just to learn the system, use it, and
practise it until it becomes almost automatic.

The practitioner
1. Research is important to you make no mistake it can help in lots of
2. Focus Dont drown in all the research work that is out there;
pursue the questions and issues that seem most important and most
interesting to you.
3. Do research even if only on a small scale try using the data that
you have or gather some data, then organise it and try to make sense
of it. Doing research is one of the best ways to learn about research.
4. Dont panic often when practitioners get involved in research as part
of their professional development the first thing that happens is that
they look at what they have to do and are overwhelmed by a sense
of panic. Remember that lots of other people have gone through the
same experience and felt the same way. Even so they succeeded, and
so can you. No honestly, there is nothing special or peculiar about
people who do research, they are just like you.

Research matters
Learning about research work is part of Continuing Professional
Development (CPD), and it may provide insights and challenges to your
current practice, so there is no getting round it, you do have to put some
time and work into building your familiarity with research.

There is a lot of research material, so think about the areas of practice
that really interest you and the questions you have that emerge from
working with clients and try to find research work that is relevant to
those interests. See if you can find answers to your questions or at least


challenges in couNselling: research

research articles and papers that address the areas you have concerns
about. You may not find direct answers to problems but you will certainly
be better informed and empowered by developing your understanding
of the issues in specific areas. Use lists of abstracts as a way of getting
into the literature as a start at least.

Do research
Even if only on a small scale, try to get involved in doing some research.
It will build your confidence and may surprise you by presenting data
you didnt expect or by supporting work you have done by providing
evidence. Books like The Good Research Guide: For Small Scale Social
Research Projects (Denscombe, M., 2nd ed. 2003, Buckingham: Open
University Press) can help with this. You might want to look at Developing
a Research Tradition Consistent with the Practices and Values of
Counselling and Psychotherapy: Why Counselling and Psychotherapy
Research is Necessary (McLeod, J., 2006, London: Routledge).

Dont panic
If you are already involved in working on research as part of your
professional development, maybe undertaking further qualifications
and trying to manage that work alongside your practice, the prospect of
trying to get to grips with the demands of research can seem daunting.

We started out by identifying three themes.
1. Language
2. Science
3. The importance of research
Lets take a last look at these themes and see where we have arrived.

I have tried to argue that the problem of getting past the barrier that
language can present is not about academic researchers setting out
to make things difficult for practitioners by adopting obscure terms
and deliberately making it difficult to get a start on reading research
materials. Any profession is going to have its own language, including
counselling, in the sense that particular terms are adopted that mean



something in context that to outsiders will be obscure. Researching

human behaviour is difficult and complex and throws up a lot of issues
about how we do the research and what it can mean. This requires that a
fairly complex and precise language must be used.

There is a debate about how we do or how we should do research and
the extent to which research in counselling can or should be scientific
in nature. I have argued that being scientific really comes down to being
part of a community in which work is closely scrutinised, challenged and
criticised to ensure that rigour and method are robust and that claims
and research outcomes are fully examined and discussed. Practitioners
can and should be part of that process of discussion because they can
bring valuable insights to the debate based on their experience of

The importance of research

I hope by this point I dont really have to say anything about this. It
should be clear that research is not an optional extra in professional
practice, it is important to all of us. We should all care about what is
going on in the world of counselling research and make the effort
to build our knowledge and understanding of that world. If you take
nothing else away from this book, you should put it down with a sense of
excitement about research and a desire to know more.

Key points
Getting access to research work can be problematic. There are a
number of initiatives on the go that are trying to make research
material available to more people, but right now you might find that
it is difficult to get access to some research work. You have to be a
member of a professional association or be prepared to pay for access.
But libraries are a great resource, they can and will provide access to
material that otherwise might be difficult to get hold of.
Get involved. Read some research articles, there are some cited here
in the text, more in the Further Reading section. Pick up some copies
of books on research, read a few pages and see if it speaks to you.
Then go and do some research; you will be surprised by how much
you enjoy it.
Dont be daunted by the language or by the idea that science
is something that other people do. Learning the academic and


challenges in couNselling: research

research language might be a bit of a challenge sometimes, but

persist, be patient and master it.
Research is important for counselling as a whole, but it is also
important for you. Continuing professional development is part of the
requirements we all face in our work, and that will involve getting to
know about research at some point. But actually it comes down to the
fact that often in dealing with clients questions are raised and we want
to find answers to those questions that only research can provide.
Remember research is fun. It is about curiosity; the need to know.
Find what really interests you and what questions you want to answer,
search for research in that area and think about what research you
might do or get involved in some that would provide some answers or
maybe raise other even more interesting questions. Do that and you
will be hooked on research welcome to the club!

Further reading
Bagraith, K., Chardon, L. and King, R. J. (2010) Rating Counsellor-Client
Behaviour in Online Counselling. Psychotherapy Research. Vol 20: No. 6,
Cooper, M., Rowland, N., McArthur, K., Pattison, S., Cromarty, K.,
and Richards, K. (2010) Randomised Controlled Trial of School-based
Humanistic Counselling for Emotional Distress in Young People:
Feasibility Study and Preliminary Indications of Efficacy. Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health Vol 4: No. 12.
Denscombe, M. (2003) The Good Research Guide: For Small Scale Social
Research Projects (2nd ed.). Buckingham: Open University Press.
McArthur, K. (2011) RCTs: A Personal Experience. Therapy Today Vol 22:
No. 7.
McLeod, J. (2008) Counselling in the Workplace: A Comprehensive
Review of the Research Evidence (2nd ed.). London: BACP.
McLeod, John (2006) Developing a Research Tradition Consistent with the
Practices and Values of Counselling and Psychotherapy: Why Counselling
and Psychotherapy Research is Necessary. London: Routledge.
Payne, S., Jarret, N., Wiles, R. and Field, D. (2002) Counselling Strategies
for Bereaved People Offered in Primary Care. Counselling Psychology
Quarterly. Vol 15: No. 2, 161177.

Glossary of terms

A short summary statement of the content of an article or similar

document which should include enough information to get a sense
about the purpose, methods and conclusions involved.
Action research

This is a form of research in which practitioners, that is actors within

particular fields, take on the work of research rather than that work being
carried out by external academic experts. It aims not just to examine
some aspect of practical work but also to learn of and to some extent
deal with problems within practice. There is not a claim to be objective
in the way that other kinds of research might be, rather it starts from
the real situation of individuals and focuses upon their experiences and
issues. At the same time it offers the possibility of insights into situations
and behaviour that might not be accessible without the participation of
those involved. It is practical and immediate, raising the possibility of
dealing with issues of practice, and it offers the potential to develop a
better understanding of and shape theoretical perspectives.

A list of all the text referred to or used in some way in a written article
or exercise. In the APA system this list is called the References and is
usually included at the end of a document. There should be enough
information included for each title to enable the reader to find the
specific document concerned. Refer to the APA guide for more details.

Specific quotes, extracts or references included in a text should be clearly

identified so that it can readily be understood that the material included
is the work of a particular author.
Classical experimental method

The classical experiment method is a scientifically rigorous method

of research, often used in psychology to explore aspects of human
behaviour. It involves setting up an experimental group and a control
group and manipulating the independent variable to measure the
impact of change upon the dependent variable. However, it is often the
case that when attempting to research human behaviour this method
simply cannot be used, either because it is not possible to set up a
control group or because it is not possible to identify and manipulate an
independent variable.


challenges in couNselling: research

Control group

In an experiment the control group is set up in conditions similar to that

experienced by the experimental group with the exception that they are
not subject to any manipulation of the independent variable. The point
being that there would be no significant change in behaviour so the
pre-test measure and the post-test measure would be unchanged. This
then allows the researchers to claim that any change in the behaviour of
the experimental group was the direct result of the manipulation of the
independent variable.
Covert observation

Observational research carried out in a condition where the respondents

are not aware that they are being observed. The point of this research is
to genuinely observe behaviour without the respondents modifying or
altering their behaviour because they know they are being observed. This
does raise ethical questions, such as is it legitimate to carry out research
without respondents being fully aware of what is being done? Having
said that, many valuable insights have been gained as a result of such

Figure 10.1 Covert observation

Deontological ethics

This is an ethical system that insists that people have a duty to behave
in an ethically correct manner irrespective of the consequences of their
action. This perspective on morality takes the view that the context or
setting cannot and should not affect behaviour. In fact it is sometimes
argued that the more painful or difficult the outcome of behaving morally,
the more moral and right it is to do so.

Glossary of terms


Dependent variable

In an experiment the dependent variable is the aspect of behaviour that

is measured by the researcher. So, for example, in an experiment on
reaction time, a group of people, all experiencing the same conditions,
are divided into the experimental group and the control group. A pretest is carried out to measure the reaction time of people in both groups.
Then the independent variable is manipulated for the experimental
group; so for example if the experimental group were given some
alcohol but the control group were not, we could then determine
whether or not the consumption of alcohol has an impact on reaction
time. After sufficient time has elapsed, the dependent variable, in this
case, the reaction times of both the control and the experimental group
is measured again, showing that there is a change, as respondents in the
experimental group demonstrate a reduced reaction time.
Ecological validity

One concern involved in the conduct of an experiment is the degree to

which it can be related to a real-life situation. For example, carrying out
an experiment on some aspect of behaviour under the controlled
conditions of a laboratory might lead to very different results for the
same experiment carried out in real-life situations. Ecological validity
concerns the degree to which claims made about behaviour based on
research carried out under very controlled conditions can genuinely tell
us about behaviour in the messy conditions of real life.
Empirical evidence

Empiricism is the position that all knowledge is based upon experience.

That is to say, we learn about ourselves and the world about us
through our experience of it, and as a result only evidence gathered
through experience is regarded as both reliable and meaningful. All
science involves gathering evidence through experience; the scientific
experiment is one particular and exact way of experiencing how things

It is not easy to give a short statement about existentialism. For a

start, it is a system of thinking that has a complex history, although it
is usually associated with John-Paul Sartre, other philosophers before
and after his work contributed to the evolution of existentialism. A basic
version of it might be that existentialism is both a philosophical and a
cultural movement that focuses on the nature of the experience of the
individual. Each person subjectively interprets the world, makes their
own sense of the experience of being and ultimately faces the reality of
their own mortality. At the same time, we have this odd capacity to both


challenges in couNselling: research

visit our past and imagine the future, so we are aware of time and what it
means to us. Even so we can only really live in the moment, the now, the
past we conjure up is no more than a mental construct so it is always how
we feel now that matters. Our actions in the now are always therefore
under our control. We choose to make of our past what we want, so
past events cannot determine our behaviour, our actions are always a
product of our own choices. We are, as Sartre put it,condemned to be
free. Existentialism focuses on how we exist now and insists that we are
authentic, accepting that our actions have consequences and that we
must live with those consequences and accept that they are a product of
our own actions and nothing else.
Experimental group

The particular group of respondents in an experimental setting which

experiences a change in one variable (the independent variable) leading
to some measurable change in another variable (the dependent variable).
A pre-test is carried out on the experimental group. The independent
variable is then manipulated in order to see and measure the impact that
change has upon the experimental group, which is then checked by a
post-test measurement. A control group is maintained under the same
or similar conditions to that experienced by the experimental group,
but the independent variable is not manipulated for the control group.
This supplies a base line; a basis for comparison so that any change
that takes place in the experimental group can be directly related to the
manipulation of the independent variable.
Extraneous variables

Research often aims to directly link aspects of behaviour to causal

factors. Because x happens, we get y as a response. In order to
make that kind of claim, research has to try to eliminate other factors
that might also lead to y as a response. These factors might act
independently or in concert to produce y. Therefore to be sure that x is
related to y we need to try to limit or exclude other variables that could
have an impact. These extraneous variables might weaken any claims
made on the basis of research. The difficulty is that the more we try
to conduct research in real life situations, thereby gaining ecological
validity, the less control we will have over extraneous variable. There is a
trade-off so to speak.
Grounded Theory

This is a qualitative approach to research that sets aside the aim of

generating a hypothesis and instead focuses upon being receptive to
all the variables that might be important in order to discover through a

Glossary of terms


process of continual analysis of relationships and interrelationships found

through the research process. Think of it this way, in quantitative research
the researcher identifies a set of variables that theory and the extant
literature suggest are important and sets out to measure those variables.
In grounded theory the researcher sets out to find the significant
variables without preconceived notions of what is important. This, it is
argued, means that theory is derived from the research, rather than the
theory determining what is important, keeping the research grounded
(hence the name) in the real situation of people. However, one difficulty
might be that we cannot genuinely dispense with all the pre-existing
discussion, debate, societal values and of course theories that influence
our thinking. Even so, this approach does challenge our ideas and
encourages us to be more open-minded in the conduct of research and
the construction of theory.

A proposed explanation, or a kind of educated guess, based on what a

theory tells us. A hypothesis has to be something that can be empirically
tested. For example, if an astrologer tells us that we are going to meet a
tall dark stranger, we cannot really test that statement. After all, sooner
or later it is likely that every one of us will meet someone who is relatively
tall, dark and not known to us already. Not to mention that all the
elements of the statement are too vague to be securely tested. For it to
be a proper hypothesis it has to be something that we can properly test
or measure; something about which we can gather empirical evidence.
So if I were to state all swans are white then that is something that is
testable through evidence, although interestingly it would be possible to
disprove the statement (we only have to find one black swan to know it is
not true) but proving it true would be very difficult. Potentially we would
have to look at every swan in the world not a very practical proposition.
The point being that the potential to disprove a hypothesis should exist
in order for it to be genuinely scientific in nature. The problem is that
when dealing with human behaviour that is not always entirely possible
because there are so many ways we can argue that a particular test does
not conclusively disprove the hypothesis.
Independent variable

In an experiment, the variable that is manipulated with a view to

measuring the impact it has on the dependent variable.

A term that usually implies that a document or speaker obscures

meaning by the over-use of technical terms in a way that may exclude or
create problems for anyone less familiar with the language of the subject.


challenges in couNselling: research

Literature search

A literature search or review is an account of the relevant texts available

for a particular field or topic. It acts as a guide to the text a writer
considers to be important in relation to the subject they are researching
or writing about. It therefore also indicates the reading that they have
carried out in relation to the work that they are doing and it identifies the
range and scope of work carried out as a background to their own work
and the extent to which their work is connected to the work of others in
their field.
Mean, Mode and Median

All measures of central tendency that is ways of understanding the

average results of a set of numbers. The mean is the arithmetic mean
derived by adding all the results together and dividing by the number
(N) of results. The mode is the result that occurs most often in a set of
numbers. The median is simply the middle value when a set of numbers
are put together in ascending or descending order.

This is a neutral or value-free approach to a topic; one that does not

allow personal prejudices or opinions to interfere with the interpretation
of data. Arguably when dealing with human behaviour and society this
is an aspiration rather than an established stance, because taking a truly
objective view stripped of the influences of society and pre-existing
perspectives may in effect be impossible. Even so, it is perhaps even
more important as a result that those studying human behaviour and
society struggle to be as objective in their analysis as possible.

This is a method of conducting research in which the researcher watches

and records behaviour in a systematic manner. Observation can be carried
out in a number of ways, either in a laboratory setting or in the field. The
researcher can be an observer only with no contact with the respondents
under study. Alternatively the researcher can participate to some degree
with the respondents, either completely joining with them and sharing
some activity or interaction, or they can be part of the group without
actually contributing to their activity. The advantage of being detached
from the people under study is that the researcher does not interfere
or change the dynamics under study; the disadvantage is that it is then
only possible to record what the respondent happed to do: the research
cannot interact or raise questions. On the other hand, if people are aware
that they are being observed as part of a research exercise, they are likely
to change to some extent how they behave. Observation can therefore be
carried out covertly in order to minimise the impact of the observer but

Glossary of terms


that carries its own problems, not the least of which are ethical concerns.
This does not alter the fact that observation can and is a powerful means
of researching behaviour.
Participant observer

The researcher participates in the activities or actions of a particular

group in order to observe behaviour. The degree of participation can
vary: sometimes a researcher will aim to become a complete participant,
indistinguishable from other group members; at other times the degree
of participation will be limited. At the same time the researcher can be
overt, clearly identified as someone there to record aspects of behaviour,
or they can be covert, pretending to be nothing more than a member
of the group. In such a situation recording data can be problematic, and
of course ethical considerations will play a part in determining how far
their participation will go. One factor that can be important in participant
observation is the extent to which the observer can remain objective,
as membership of a group can exert a degree of influence over the
perspective of the researcher.

Research conducted with the active participation of practitioners in a

given field such that the practitioner becomes the researcher, part of the
research team, and takes on an important role in leading and shaping the
research in order to ground that work in the real experience of practice.

A method or set of methods employed in the examination of human

behaviour that involves the use of the written word to describe and
understand the real life situation of individuals or small groups. A
variety of qualitative methods can be used to develop an in depth
understanding of a particular situation. The emphasis in qualitative work
is upon how the individuals involved make sense of and take meaning
from their situation.

A method or set of methods employed in the examination of human

behaviour that involve the use of numerical measurements of
behaviour. Quantitative methods usually involve the construction of a
sample taken from a population which is then tested, and the results
of the measurements are then extrapolated back to the population
giving some indication of how, in general, that population will behave.
Statistical analysis is used to help build a picture of behaviour in the
sample which in turn can tell us important things about behaviour in a


challenges in couNselling: research


The person or persons in a research project that provide the data that
respond to the research questions.
Semi-structured interview

An interview technique involved most usually in qualitative research

where the researcher may have a set of questions often used to establish
some descriptive data about the respondent but also includes openended or unstructured questions that simply allow the respondent to talk
about the area being researched without any restrictions or conditions.
Standard Deviation (SD)

A measure of dispersion, SD is a measure of the average distance

between each result in a set of numbers and the mean. It allows us to
get a sense of how much variation there is in a data set. A relatively high
value for SD will indicate a lot of variation; a low value will indicate that
there is little variation in the set.
Standardised interview protocol

A method of conducting interviews as part of a research exercise in which

the interviewers follow an established and pre-determined set of steps
so that each interview conducted follows the same procedures to ensure
that there is consistency in the way the interview is carried out, and that
therefore the data is gathered in a manner that guarantees important
similarities of outcome.
Utilitarian ethics

The term utile simply means useful so utilitarian philosophy is the

philosophy.of usefulness. Starting with the view put forward by Jeremy
Bentham (17481832) that rather than focusing upon what ought to be
we should begin by what is. In other words, a system of political and
moral thinking based on actual behaviour, utilitarianism is summed up by
two statements: That each person weighs up the costs and benefits of
any action and does that which carries more benefit than cost (sometimes
called the felicific calculus); and more generally that it is a sound idea to
do that which benefits the majority (the greatest happiness principle).
Utilitarianism is therefore all about the consequences of our actions. Will
an act carry more benefit than harm to the individual, will it be of benefit
to the majority; these are the questions that matter.

At its most basic, validity is about ensuring that the measures used
in research lead to the conclusions drawn from research. In other
words, that the conclusions derived genuinely arise from the methods
employed. Sometimes in research work the term warrant is used to

Glossary of terms


indicate that there is a clear connection between specific items of data

and the stated conclusions; also called conclusion validity. Validity can
be internal, meaning that we can ask if a research exercise genuinely and
properly implemented the methods that were to be used, and whether
those methods measured what was intended to be measured and
produced evidence of a genuine link between cause and effect. If we are
happy that there is validity in the research work then we can also explore
the possibility that the outcomes of the research can be generalised;
moving from considering the internal conditions the manner in which
the research has been conducted to external concerns is it correct
to claim that some elements of the research can be held true for a
whole population? An important limitation of quantitative work can be
the sample size. If the sample is too small to enable generalisations to
be made, then it would not be valid to make claims about the general
behaviour of the population based in the research carried out in the
sample. The idea of validity is that we examine both the methods used
and the conclusions drawn in order to try to ensure that any claims that
are made genuinely and clearly arise from the conduct of the research
and that the methods employed in the research are used appropriately.

All cultures and societies develop and maintain certain values that is to
say a cluster of beliefs and ideals which is generally considered to be
important and central to the identity and nature of the particular
societies concerned. Members of the society tend to have and share
these values, and they in turn influence how they think about society and
human behaviour. However, when attempts are made to scientifically
explore and understand human behaviour and society, existing values
may distort or influence thinking in ways that could limit understanding
and prejudice analysis. For that reason scientists aim to try to conduct the
exploration of human behaviour with (as far as possible) a
value-free approach, so that existing ideals and beliefs do not influence
thinking, or at least their impact is minimised.
Virtue ethics

An ethical system that starts with the view that there are certain qualities
or virtues, held by individuals, which can be the basis of their moral
perspective rather than some list of rules or established standards of
behaviour. Whilst other ethical systems might be about people being
moral by observing standards, virtue ethics is about a person having
certain virtues, certain characteristics, that will then enable them to
behave in a moral fashion. So in a sense it is not so much that morality
is about acting correctly according to some ethical system within a
particular context, but rather that in all aspects of a persons life moral
virtues will shape how they behave.

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Appendix: answers to
standard deviation

Mean: 29.6875
Mode: bi-modal 17 and 26
Median: 26
Results can be distorted mean by one high number (75)
Standard Deviation: 13.9

Workings SD
17, 17, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 26, 30, 31, 32, 35, 38, 39, 75

16 numbers (value of N)
Sum of all the numbers: 475
475 divided by 16: 29.6875
Take the mean away from each result: 12.6875,12.6875,10.6875,
8.6875,7.6875,6.6875,5.6875,3.6875, 3.6875, 0.3125,1.3125,
2.3125, 5.3125, 8.3125, 9.3125, 45.3125

Each result squared: 160.97265625,160.97265625,114.22265625,

75.47265625, 59.09765625, 44.72265625, 32.34765625,13.59765625,
13.59765625, 0.09765625,1.72265625, 5.34765625, 28.22265625,
69.09765625, 86.72265625, 2053.22265625

Sum of all the differences: 2919.4375

Divided by N-1:


Square root: 13.9509557617629

SD is 13.9


challenges in couNselling: research

Working out the measures should have provided some insight into the
limitations of the measures of average. The mean can be distorted by
results that do not really fit of course you might choose to simply omit
from the calculation results that seem to be out of line with the bulk of
the data. It always pays to try to think about the actual results and how
the measures work in relation to those results. The mode can be very
useful if only because it is not distorted by high values in the results,
however it can also be less than useful. If, in our example, there had
been just one mode and that had been 17 would that have been an
accurate measure of the average age of our respondents?
Standard deviation gives us an indication of the degree of variation in our
data set the higher the value for SD the greater the degree of dispersion in the results. An SD of 13.9 tells us that there is a fair amount of
spread in our data which makes sense when we look at the numbers

absolute moral rules 1002, 107, 10910,
abstracts 18, 51, 5960, 678, 123
accessing research 11516, 117
see also finding research; literature
felicific calculus 1034, 130
moral worth of 1012
outcomes of 101, 1034, 130
personal responsibility for 1046
action research 91, 123
advocacy 94
American Psychological Association (APA)
72, 73, 117, 123
analysis (research articles) 645
anonymity 77, 79
anxieties regarding research 2, 89, 1718,
academic nature of research 53
and the burden of practice work 49, 50
fear of science 534
fear of statistics 49, 50, 51, 54
finding research 501
irrelevant material 49, 50
language of research 512
levels of time and effort involved
the methods question 55
overly difficult/complicated information
49, 50
practitioner 119, 120
strategies for managing 5773
using research materials 523
appendices 67
Aristotle 100
assumptions 8, 334
audiences, research 11617
authenticity 1056, 126
average 402, 45, 128, 1334
barriers to understanding 2, 3, 5, 10, 92,
benchmarks 34
Bentham, Jeremy 103, 130
bi-modal 45
bias 7, 334
bibliographies 19, 123

British Association for Counselling and

Psychotherapy (BACP) 88, 114
ethical guidelines 79, 93
cardinal numbers 3940
Categorical Imperative 101, 102, 109
cause and effect 35, 131
CBT see cognitive behavioural therapy
central tendency 402, 45, 128, 1334
citations 19, 702, 117, 11819, 123
American Psychological Association
method 72, 73, 123
Harvard method 72, 73
classical experimental method 346, 123
Client Change Interview 623, 70
client-practitioner relationship, impact of
research on 7980
client-practitioner-researcher relationship
anonymity 77, 79
benefits of research to 812
data issues 824
exploitation 81
exposure to wider audiences through
research 789
feeling used 801
impact of research on 7584
interests of the 934, 10910
prioritising the 934
risks of research to 7581
cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) 16
cohort studies 87
common sense 78
community of scientists 17
conclusion validity 131
conclusions (research articles) 67
confidentiality issues 77, 834, 100, 10910
confirmatory bias 33
informed 64, 758, 94, 102, 110
for the use of client information 83
consequentialism 101, 107
Continuing Professional Development
(CPD) 19, 879, 119
time commitments 88
control groups 356, 1236
Cooper, Mick 5867


challenges in couNselling: Research

Coppock, T. E. 115
CORE-OM 87, 91
Counselling and Psychotherapy Research
(Journal) 114
Counselling Strategies for Bereaved
People Offered in Primary Care
(Payne et al, 2002) 115
Counselling in the Workplace: A
Comprehensive Review of the
Research Evidence (McLeod, 2nd ed.,
2008) 114
covert observation 36, 124, 1289
CPD see Continuing Professional
criticism 20
and ethics 99
limitations of 7, 8, 131
and practitioner-researchers 912
appendices 67
definition 823
findings 656
interrogation 1089
issues regarding 824
meaningfulness of 32
data collection (research articles) 624
Data Protection Act 1998 824
degrees, post-graduate 889
deontological position 102, 10910, 124
dependent variables 35, 123, 125, 126
desk research 117, 118
discussion (research articles) 667
dispersion 41
doing research 119, 120
doing science 67
duty, moral 102
ecological validity 35, 125, 126
Elliott 623
empirical evidence 6, 103, 125
empiricism 125
ethical debates 99106
absolute moral rules 1002, 107, 10910,
existentialism 1046, 108
taking account of circumstances 1034,
virtue ethics 107, 110, 199
ethical guidelines, BACP 79, 93
ethical issues 634, 801, 97111
client interests 10910
and covert observation 36, 124

cultural influences on 99
defining ethics 99
ethical debates 99106
ethical principles 989
ethics and research 1089
individual views on 105
informed consent 77
making it difficult 1068
societal views on 105
virtue ethics 99, 100, 107, 110, 131
ethical standards committees 64, 76,
empirical 6, 103, 125
using published text for 71
evidence base, of counselling 15, 22, 82
evidence based perspectives 8
existentialism 1046, 108, 1256
experience 105, 125
experimental groups 356, 123, 125, 126
experimental method, classical 346, 123
expert practitioners 81
expert researchers 91
exploitation 81
to researchers 78
to the wider audience 789
extracts 523, 60, 702
extraneous variables 35, 126
felicific calculus 1034, 130
field experiments 35, 128
finding research 501, 5960, 6771,
11520, 128
focus 117, 118, 11920
findings (research articles) 656
focus 117, 118, 11920
free will 1045, 126
funding research 1417
external agencies 64
private funding 1415
public funding 1415
generalisability 15, 16, 42, 54, 55, 131
gold standard 43
government funding, influence on
greatest happiness principle 103
grounded theory 32, 11415, 1267
Hanley, T. 114
harm, avoidance of 93
Harvard method (citations) 72, 73
honesty 78
Hume, David 103

Index 137

definition 127
formulation 89
proving false 16
testing 15, 16, 28, 31, 33, 115, 127
and theories 28, 30, 31, 33
impact of research (on clients) 7584
benefits to the client 812
data issues 824
risks to the client 7581
importance of research 1, 3, 223, 121
independent variables 35, 1237
individual experience, meaningfulness of
individual responses to therapy 1617
information technology (IT) 114
informed consent 64, 758, 94, 102, 110
interests, client 934, 10910
interval numbers 39, 40
Client Change Interview 623, 70
open-ended 108
quotations from 65
semi-structured 613, 115, 130
standardised interview protocols 62, 130
introductions (research articles) 601
jargon 4, 10, 51, 52, 118, 127
journals 11415
judgmentalness 923
Kant, Immanuel 1001, 109
language of research 1, 3, 56, 910, 502,
92, 11618, 1201, 127
see also jargon
libraries 116
literature searches 5961, 6871, 88, 128
lying 1012
Lynass, Rosemarie 5867, 70
majorities 104, 130
making sense of research, challenges to
McArthur, K. 115
McLeod, J. 15, 50, 55, 114
mean 401, 42, 45, 128, 130, 1334
median 401, 42, 45, 128, 133
method/s, the (research articles) 612
Milgram experiment 98
mistakes, making 7
mode 401, 42, 45, 128, 1334
morality 98107, 124, 130, 131
absolute moral rules 1002, 107,
moral duty 102

moral relativism 107

moral responsibility 1046, 110
moral universalism 1012
National Health Service (NHS) 98, 1034
new developments, uptake 23, 82, 113
non-consequentialism 101, 107
cardinal 3940
interval 39, 40
nominal 40
ordinal 39, 40
ratio 40
objectivity 67, 31, 109
definition 128
and participant observation 129
and private funding 14
and qualitative research 43
and randomised controlled trials 44
and statistics 38
observation 36, 79, 1289
covert 36, 124, 1289
participant observation 36, 1289
online material, searching for 6870
ordinal numbers 39, 40
participant observers 36, 1289
and ethical issues 81
and exposure to the researcher 78
and informed consent 76
Payne, S. 115
perceptions 334
person-centred perspectives 110
personal development 17, 201
perspectives 334
evidence based 8
plagiarism 57, 689, 70, 72, 73
Popper, Karl 16
post-graduate degrees 889
post-tests 35
power-relations 78, 81, 901
practical matters, and research 4, 10
practice-research gap 234, 89
practitioner-client relationship, impact of
research on 7980
practitioner-research 212, 913, 129
and cultural difference 912
and judgmentalness 923
and language difference 92
advocacy role 94
benefits of involvement in research


challenges in couNselling: Research

and the client-practitioner-researcher

relationship 901
and data handling 83
and doing research 119, 120
expert 81
and exposure to the researcher 78
and the language of research 11617
reflective 88
research for 19
and the research gap 89
role in research 94
skill development 82
using research 11920
see also professional challenges
pre-tests 35, 125, 126
preconceptions, challenging 8
prejudice 8, 128, 131
prioritisation skills 1819
private funding 1415
agendas of 14
professional challenges 8795
Continuing Professional Development
practitioner-research 913
prioritising the client 934
relationships 901
research gap 89
role of the practitioner 94
professional development, continuing 19,
879, 119
professional stagnation 23
projects, research 20
pseudo-sciences 16
psychoanalysis, as pre-science 16
psychological distress, measurement of 87
public funding 1415
agendas of 15
Pykhtina, Olga 5867
qualitative research 423, 55, 11718
accounts of 114
action research 91
and the client-practitioner-researcher
relationship 91
definition 129
and ethical issues 1089
example 613, 65
and existentialism 105
and quantitative research 43
see also grounded theory
quantitative research 15, 17, 55, 11718,
accounts of 114

and the client-practitioner-researcher

relationship 91
definition 129
example 613, 65, 67
and qualitative research 43
and sample size 131
and simplification 37
and surveys 367
questionnaires 37
from interviews 65
and original sources 71
over-quoting 72
and research introductions 601
using 523, 689, 702
randomised control trials (RCTs) 434, 115
ratio numbers 40
RCTs: A Personal Experience (McArthur,
2011) 115
record keeping 19
references 601, 11719, 123
reflective practitioners 88
Relationship Between Therapists and
Client Hope with Therapy Outcomes,
The (Coppock et al, 2010) 115
relevant research 1819, 5960, 6771,
11520, 128
reliability of research 69
research articles
abstracts 5960, 678
academic nature 53
analysis 645
anatomy 5873
appendices 67
conclusions 67
construction 5773
data collection 624
discussion 667
ethical considerations 634
findings 656
headings 578
introductions 601
the method/s 612
project aims 59
reading 5767
research methods 59
statistics 65
using the text 6872
research audiences 11617
research base, for counselling 15, 22, 82
Research Cycle 889
research design 91

Index 139

research examples 11415

research gap 89
research materials 6, 523
research methods 114, 117, 118
choosing 89
classical experimental method 346
mixing 434
observation 36
qualitative research 423
in research articles 59, 612
research toolbox 3443
surveys 367
research methods question, the 55
research questions 11314
research toolbox 3443
observation 36
qualitative research 423
statistics 3742
surveys 367
and the client-practitioner-researcher
relationship 901
expert status 91
exposure to 78
power-relations of 901
respondents 6, 22, 94
anonymity 77
definition 130
and ethical challenges 98
and randomised controlled trials 43
and semi-structured interviews 62
responsibility, moral 1046, 110
risks of research, to the client 7581
sample size 41, 131
Sartre, Jean-Paul 1045, 125, 126
scales 39
scattergrams 41
school-based counselling 5867
science 1517, 121
definition 6, 54
doing 67
fear of 534
role in research 1, 3, 67, 54
community of 17
thinking in a different way 4, 10
SD see Standard Deviation
semi-structured interviews 613, 115, 130
settings 1325
importance of research 223
personal development 17, 201
and practitioner-researchers 212

private funding 1415

public funding 1415
research funding 1417
solo research 1719
team research 20
Silently Stressed: A Survey into Student
Mental Wellbeing (2010) 117
simplification 37, 38
social sciences, as pseudo-sciences 16
solo research 1719
stagnation, professional 23
Standard Deviation (SD) 41, 42, 45, 130,
standardised interview protocols 62, 130
Stanford experiment 801
statistical packages 42
statistics 3742
advantages of using 38
anxiety regarding 49, 50, 51, 54
caution regarding 38
and research articles 65
students, using research 11719
surveys 367
team research 20
terminology 56
theoretical context, and research
introductions 601
theories 2745
about research 323
building 32
defining 289
development of new 113
and hypotheses 28, 30, 31, 33
and the implicit 334
and mixing research methods 434
and predictions regarding the future 29,
30, 31
and the research toolbox 3443
testing 32
understanding the past through 2930,
understanding the present through 29,
30, 31
therapeutic approaches
development of new 82, 113
evaluation 434
impact of research on 7980
therapeutic effectiveness 16
therapeutic process, benefits of research
to 812
Therapy Today (journal) 115
truth, the 7, 8


understanding, barriers to 2, 3, 5, 10, 92,

Understanding the Online Therapeutic
Alliance Through the Eyes of
Adolescent Service Users (Hanley,
2012) 114
universality, moral 1012
using research 6772
texts 6872
utilitarianism 1034, 106, 130
validity 38, 1301
conclusion 131

challenges in couNselling: Research

ecological 35, 125, 126

internal 131
value-free approach 7, 128, 131
see also objectivity
values 99
dependent 35, 123, 125, 126
extraneous 35, 126
independent 35, 1237
virtue ethics 99, 100, 107, 110, 131
volume of research 17, 1819
Widdowson, M. 75