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The Importance of Research for Therapists Part 9

The Importance of Research for Therapists Part 9

Ethical considerations in research

Quite apart from the professional relationship existing between therapist and the client, undertaking research involves delving and probing an individual’s core beliefs and then making use of the material gained either by way of publication or for private use.  Both uses of material collected by way of research demand the observance of certain ethical requirements.

Care must be taken to explain the rationale of the study, unless to do so would seriously confound the study aims.  In the event where any subterfuge is used, the reasons should be presented in the research report and the subject should be later informed by way of de-briefing in experimental studies and by way of explanation, verbal or written, for other methods of study.  In the main, it is unacceptable to be dishonest in any way with participants giving of their time for the purpose of social research.

In some studies, respondents will be unknown to the researcher.  Questionnaires will be sent out, for example, by the postal service and returned questionnaires will be unidentifiable.  Where anonymity has been extended, great care must be taken to ensure that no concealed markings or codes either on the questionnaire or on the returned envelope appear.  Anonymity, where offered by the researcher, must be strictly observed as must statements that information will be treated in confidence.  It is ethically indefensible to promise identity protection for a participant and then to breach trust by identifying that individual in any subsequent research report or to any third party.

There may be occasions when a researcher feels that, in order to gain the type of information she/he needs to address some research topic, she/he has to mask the true intention of questions that may be put to a participant.  Some areas of social research may be perceived as value laden by the participant and she/he may feel inclined to respond by giving what she/he believes are socially acceptable responses.  This can represent something of a dilemma for the researcher when determining how she/he should formulate the study in such a way as to make her/his research interests unknown to the participant.

In summary, therapists or students wishing to undertake research must, at all costs, actively protect the interests of the participant.  Specifically, they should make clear to the participant that:

  • The identity of the participant will not be disclosed
  • Strict confidentiality will be maintained
  • The material provided will not be misrepresented or changed
  • The study is to further knowledge and may be published
  • No conditions of physical, emotional or psychological harm are intended by the study

People perceived as authority figures can have a powerful influence and can thus easily gain compliance from participants.  Subjects agreeing to participate in research tend to act in a co-operative way and often adopt the role of participant quite easily.  In the interests of individuals and of the furtherance of knowledge through scientific enquiry, it is crucial that the ethics of research remain in the full awareness of the researcher at all times.


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