The value of qualitative research

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Dr Elysa Roberts was interviewed by NEDC about the value of qualitative research.

Dr. Roberts is a Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy within the School of Health Sciences at University of Newcastle. Her research focuses on the relationship between sensory features and eating disorders and the recovery experiences of individuals with bulimia and anorexia. 

When I learned the upcoming NEDC Bulletin would highlight qualitative research in the field of eating disorders I was thrilled. I was always drawn to disciplines that relied heavily on qualitative inquiry and methods in my studies; disciplines like anthropology and sociology.

Occupational therapy also embraces a tradition of qualitative research. However, within the climate of evidence-based practice over the last two decades, studying the lived experience could sometimes mean traveling a long and lonely road.

Therefore, it is exciting and reassuring to see the focus on the expanding research of the lived experience of those affected by eating disorders. This qualitative research trend suggests that within this truly multi-faceted field there are those who also value “a set of interpretative, material practices that make the world visible” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011, p3).

Making the complex, idiosyncratic and nuanced world of those affected by eating disorders visible is no easy task. I know this because I’ve been the researcher eliciting the story from a participant and I’ve been the participant telling her story of a lived experience.

The work to produce and publish a qualitative study requires art and science, compassion and neutrality, and faith and trust in the value of the in-depth view that the lived experience can offer.

Once shared through publication and/or presentation, the work is ours to read, discuss, reflect upon and apply the insights from the lived experience.

The value of qualitative research is that it gives a voice to the lived experience whilst allowing for practitioners to gain deeper insight into the unique experiences and treatment needs of individuals. Such insight can later be applied to further improve the management of eating disorders.

This interview was first published in an NEDC e-bulletin.

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