My job as a psychologist and researcher is to help people understand people. Organisations are able to have better and more productive relationships with the people they work with if they can understand them better, if they can see the world from their perspective, if they can understand how their own behaviour impacts on them, and if they can communicate with them more effectively. The kinds of questions I answer are: What do people think about this? Why do people do this? What is it like to experience this? If we wanted to change this – what should we do? I answer these questions for different types of organisations, but most of my work is done on behalf of the government.
How does a researcher understand other people?
Researchers have a variety of tools that they can use – questionnaires, observation, semi-structured interviews… My work often requires more than a ‘surface level’ understanding of my participants, so I use in-depth qualitative interviews.
What’s different about my approach?
I specialise in carrying out research on sensitive topics with vulnerable people. My approach to my work is based on my training as a psychologist, my training as a counsellor, and my experience of working in the criminal justice system. The key aspects of my approach to understanding people are:
- I use a narrative approach – which means that I want to hear my participant’s story in their own words. I don’t bombard my participants with a long list of questions because I don’t assume that I know what the ‘right questions’ are.
- I don’t assume that my participants have ready-made, coherent, or considered stories about themselves. The stories I hear may be incomplete or fragmented – it’s my job to work with my participants to build the best story we can.
- My experience as a psychologist and counsellor has taught me to look beyond the words that my participants are saying. I consider wider issues in my research such as how they seem, what they are not saying, their tone of voice, and how I am responding to being with them.
- Depending on the nature of the project I like to conduct some of my data analysis with my participant’s help. If my job is to understand their story, then my analysis of their story should make sense to them. In an ideal world I like to meet with my participants at least twice – once to collect my data and a second time to check whether I have understood their story correctly.
- My experience has taught me that one of the biggest barriers between me and an in-depth understanding of my participants is… me. In addition to keeping field notes of my responses and reactions throughout the project I meet with a supervisor for all of my in-depth qualitative work. My supervisor is an experienced researcher and a chartered clinician – together we try to ensure that I know when my own biases are seeping into my work.
- The data I collect often relates to very powerful human stories. It is important to tell these stories in a way that does them justice. Whilst I am able to produce peer-reviewed academic journal articles or internal reports for my clients I am also able to work on film or illustrated content so that these powerful stories can be told using a powerful platform.