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Qualitative research as a mental health promoting activity

June 4, 2013

2012-11-08I have mentioned before that people sometimes tell me that taking part in depth interviews for research projects can be enjoyable and can even feel therapeutic.

Now of course qualitative research does not have any therapeutic intent and (most) researchers are not trained counsellors or therapists.  However, depth interviews are person-centred in design and planned to meet the needs of respondents.  Specifically, they are:

  • Designed by a communications expert who knows how to plan a very natural, logical discussion which gently builds a rapport and engagement.
  • Facilitated by a trained listener who wants to make the respondent feel safe, comfortable and appreciated.

It is perhaps then no surprise that a high quality depth interview can have a positive impact on a respondent.

Now back in the day I was Head of Research at Scottish Development Centre for Mental Health, where I did a lot of research around mental health promoting activities.  These are activities that encourage people to have positive healthy behaviours and thought patterns, whether or not the activities themselves are inherently designed to do so.  So for example, mental health promoting activities for me are swimming, photography, going to the theatre, and scuba diving.  Basically I am talking about things that make a person feel good and enhance their wellbeing.

There’s plenty of research out there about the main types of mental health promoting activities, and what it is about them that makes them the positive experience that they are.  In fact, diverse mental health promoting activities have a lot of common characteristics.

And many of these common characteristics can be applied to the experience of taking part in qualitative research.  For example:

Personal impacts

  • Time for yourself: A session which focuses entirely on you and your thoughts, with no input from others or threat of contradiction or criticism.
  • Feeling valued: Enhanced self worth from the knowledge that you were chosen to be interviewed because your opinions were important to someone else.
  • Trying something new: Being led through a new experience in a safe environment.
  • Sense of achievement: Knowing that you successfully completed an important task.
  • Reduced isolation: The positive experience of meeting someone new and building a rapport.

Community focus

  • Volunteering: The positive feeling associated with knowing you are doing something for someone else or giving something back (especially if the client is a not-for-profit or the subject matter could benefit others).
  • Civic duty: The opportunity to link with business or organisations within the community.

Positive thought processes

  • Reflection: The opportunity for you to think back over your experiences or revisit your opinions.
  • Structure: The opportunity for reflection moderated in a logical and structured manner.
  • Reinforcement: The opportunity to reflect upon past successes and achievements, or positive experiences.

Positive behaviours

  • Discipline: Undertaking a task with time, venue and communications constraints.

I like to think that qualitative research is a mental health promoting activity, and I do my best to make it so.

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