Phenomenological: Qualitative Research and Research Methodology

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Chapter 4: Research methodology


Phenomenology is the science that studies truth. It stands back from our rational involvement with things and marvels at the fact that there is disclosure, that things do appear, that the world can be understood and that we in our life thinking serve as datives for the manifestation of things Sokolowski (2000, p. 185)



4.1.1. Introduction

In psychology research, few quantitative studies have definitively demonstrated the complexities involved in the process of psychotherapeutic change. Many researchers in the field are critical of existing quantitative research methods and argue that, in controlling and measuring variables, results, although statistically significant, are often clinically superficial (Giorgi, 1995; Yalom, 1995; Kotsch, 2000; McLeod, 2001). The shortcomings of quantitative research methods for investigating phenomena such as psychotherapeutic change are particularly evident when attempting to examine psychotherapeutic interventions such as ‘art therapy’. Art therapy involves the use of art images as symbolic communications in therapy. These images may reveal unconscious meaning systems that are inexpressible in words. Although an emotional experience in art therapy may be profound and life changing, it is not always immediately accessible or recognisable to the client on a conscious or cognitive level. It is often months (or years) later that the client may be able to put into words what has taken place on an unconscious level. This makes therapeutic change in art therapy particularly unyielding to research in general, but especially unyielding to the use of quantitative methods.

In contrast to quantitative methodologies, which focus on causal relationships explicated in terms of observational statements, verifications and predictions, qualitative methodologies (or qualitative inquiry) offer alternative ways of exploring human behaviour, thoughts and relationships in a manner more appropriate for studying phenomena such as therapeutic change (Maggs-Rapport, 2001).

Chapter 4: Research methodology


4.1.2. Qualitative inquiry as an alternative philosophy of science

It is not so much that phenomenology is against empiricism, as it is more than merely empirical. Giorgi (1997, p. 236)

Giorgi (1995) discusses what phenomenology can offer the science of psychology. He describes qualitative inquiry techniques as arising in reaction to a discrepancy between the natural scientific framework (adopted by psychologists as being the only scientific framework that is considered useful), and the essential characteristics of human phenomena as they spontaneously unfold in everyday life. He argues that because the definition of science accepted in psychology was initially the one defined by the natural sciences, psychology was placed in a dilemma: either it meets the scientific criteria as established by the natural sciences or it has to identify itself with the arts or humanities. Psychology as a science leaves many human phenomena (for example, creativity and freedom) without explanation, whilst psychology as an art is marginalised as not being rigorous and exact in academic circles. Phenomenological thought offers a way out of this dilemma by providing a better understanding of psychological phenomena as spontaneously lived, within an expanded idea of ‘science’.

Giorgi (1995, p. 27) reasons that the natural sciences developed on the basis of the nonconscious object as its model, in contrast to the human sciences that focus on human phenomena and the subjective acts of people that are directed towards aspects of their world. The phenomenon being studied is thus humans in relation to others and the world. Non-conscious objects exist in space and time and are subject to causal laws, whereas human perceptions cannot be subject to the same causal laws. The act of perceiving...
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