Maureen Coombs, Roses Parker and Kay deVries, who at the time of this study were researchers at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, explain the background to their longer article published in the latest edition of the European Journal of Palliative Care.
As clinicians, we have long known the importance of sitting with someone, being present and listening to another’s story. We know the benefits to patients and families of giving space at the bedside for them to talk about their experiences, their fears, and concerns. So is there a similar benefit for patients and families when they sit with researchers and talk about events, especially when it concerns what has happened at end of life or at the time of someone’s death?
This was the question raised when, as researchers in end-of-life care, we came together at a planning meeting for a recent research study. We became thoughtful about the patients and families we had interviewed over the years. We discussed how research participants often expressed relief that they could talk about their experiences, about a death, and about the deceased. We wondered whether talking with them during a research interview had actually helped them in any way. This became the stimulus for our paper.
To explore this idea, we undertook secondary analysis using qualitative interviews from three previously conducted end-of-life and bereavement studies from England and New Zealand. We re-analysed these interviews to identify whether there was any positive benefit for participants in being involved with qualitative interviews. We found that patients and families spoke about how being part of an interview and talking about death and dying brought them different types of benefits.
Participants made reference to how talking with researchers helped talk about distressing events surrounding the death, brought greater understanding of their own end-of-life experiences and knowing that, through the research, these would help others. Talking with the researcher also provided a source of comfort through being with another person after the death of their family member.
We are not claiming qualitative research interviews are providing counselling or psychotherapy: that would be disrespectful to the participants; to the skilled staff that provide such professional services; and to the research process and outcome itself. However, we are saying that those who consent to be interview for research purposes may find benefit in this process, and this is interesting given the usual concerns of research bringing potential to harm participants.
Clearly, ethical and practical safeguards are needed given the nature of what might be disclosed in research interviews. These should not only support the participant but also address potential risks to the researcher in the field. Some of these safeguards are very practical and, as detailed in the paper, focus on the set up of the research interview and includes how the research interview (and interviewer) can stay focussed, compassionate and research aware, and how interview closure is achieved.
This is clearly a small study in a developing area, yet in expanding our understanding of qualitative research interviews and the potential benefits to participants, we are moving to a more informed position. Risks to bereaved participants involved in qualitative research interviews are frequently cited. However, our studies demonstrate that when participants are interviewed by researchers with developed communication skills, the therapeutic benefits of engagement in qualitative research interviews with this participant group, outweigh the risk.
Read the full article in the European Journal of Palliative Care
This post relates to a longer article, Can qualitative research interviews have therapeutic benefit for participants in end-of-life and bereavement research? By Maureen A Coombs, Roses Parker and Kay deVries, published in the September/October 2016 edition of the European Journal of Palliative Care (vol. 23.5).
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Read more posts relating to articles in the European Journal of Palliative Care on the EAPC Blog.