Looking at Phenomenological Qualitative Research Methods

The research question that I decided to explore was one that I found very disturbing. However, with the use of a qualitative research approach, valuable research was attained. The research questions are: why would a student purposefully hurt themselves and why would they cut their own wrists, yet not be considered suicidal? The authors of the research, Len Austin and Julie Kortum used a phenomenological methodology in their case study of one girl.

Austin and Kortum chose a phenomenological methodology for their qualitative research because this type of research examines the human experience. This type of research deals directly with families, environments, and community.
Case studies in education are likely to be qualitative. A researcher will use a case-study design to get an in-depth understanding of the situation and the meaning for those involved. The interest is in the process rather than outcomes, in context rather than a specific variable, in discovery rather than confirmation. Insights that a researcher gets from case studies can directly influence policy, practice and future research.

While reading the background material associated with this case assignment, the only negative I found regarding case studies exists in the Introduction to Case Study by Winston Tellis. In his report he notes that case studies has received frequent criticism due to its dependence on a single case. He further noted that the conclusions become generalized because the case study lacks numbers.

It should be noted however, that not all case studies are limited to just one case. Multiple-case study designs are equally as effective although there must exist a clear distinction between replication and sampling.

The true purpose of qualitative research is to find out why? Qualitative research is searching for discovery through the eyes of another person. The conditions are meant to be natural, and the perceptions of the subject are supposed to be genuine. It is appropriate that the idea of “self” mutilation be explored through qualitative research through a case study of someone who has experienced this affliction.

Most case studies encompass five components of research design. These areas include: questions, propositions, units of analysis, linkage of data to the propositions, and criteria for interpreting the interview. Additionally, case studies may collect data by several means: documents, interviews, direct observation, participant observation, and physical artifacts.
The case study involves the experiences of girl. This girl, who at the time of the interview was 21 years old, reflects back on experiences with self-mutilation. The girl goes on to explain that her childhood was miserable. What made her childhood miserable was the way her parents treated her. She states that her parents disregarded her feelings growing up. Her parents showed her very limited emotion and because she craved purpose or acceptance, she found that hurting herself actually made her feel better. She continues to tell about the rapes she endured over a period of four years by her brother’s friends. Once again, her calls for help and acknowledgement went unnoticed. Her parents used terms like “phase”, “adolescence anxiety”, “childish”, and “habitually bad” to describe their daughter’s behavior. Each year this girl was screaming silently for help and found the only calming from the wounds she inflicted into her skin. This woman, who was once a girl, acknowledged that she had an addiction. This addiction led her to continue hurting herself well into her college years.
The authors of the research, Austin and Kortim, have discovered one distinct pattern between poor communication and children that injure themselves. People who hurt themselves share a lot of the same background and characteristics described in this case study. Austin and Kortim continue to speculate that when children don’t feel as if they have a voice, they create an inward voice that can result in self-mutilation. Self-mutilation provides a significant expression for the anguish they feel inside.

The overall goal of the case study is discovery. Discovery is another way of learning something new and valuable. Through the case study the data collected at the interview it has created a valid way to interpret self-injury.

The information collected at the interview can solidify previous journals on self-injury. For example, after the interview it was clear that sexual abuse could become the underlining foundation for injury. In fact, sexual abuse is considered as the primary diagnoses of self-mutilators.

The only appropriate way to research self-injury is through a qualitative approach. The type of qualitative approach used in this case study was phenomenological. Phenomenological is directly connected to one’s experience. In this case, it is the life of this terrified girl who hurt herself so she could feel better in her own mind.

I chose this case study because I am entering my first year as a guidance counselor at an inner-city junior high school. I have seen several students cut themselves. Not all of the students were female. This case study has given me valuable insight into the way to deal with these students. This case study has answered “why” this happens and what to do when it happens. Counselors need to open the lines of communication with these students; something they have probably craved their entire life. Does qualitative depict a true picture of this girl’s life? It may not. There may be many layers of fear of sadness the interviewer never uncovered. But that is the purpose of qualitative research, to seek rich, real, and deep data. Qualitative researchers seek to find the answers to why things happen? Why did this girl cut her wrists? The primary data collection instruments were the shocking and saddening experiences of a girl who only wanted to be recognized. The theory of sexual abuse and self-mutilation being connected evolved as the data was collected at the interview. The phenomenological research is to gain further insight into the experiences of the subject. However, I don’t think anyone will be able to completely feel the way the girl did in her experiences. Thank God.

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