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Doctoral Thesis: My experiences of narrative research

There’s little out there on the experiences of psychologists using a narrative inquiry approach. This account may help other EPs considering this methodology with children and young people.

Why I chose a narrative approach

Within my professional practice I try to ensure the voices of young people are heard and placed at the centre of decisions made about them. I often use Personal Construct Psychological methods to enable their perceptions to be uncovered and communicated.

My perceptions of the values of narrative research also seem to fit well with my own values and so it seemed right that I would use this methodology in my research to explore the experiences of teenagers who were missing education.

I found it a little nerve racking starting the interview process without preformed questions. To help I considered alternative methods for encouraging expression if communicating verbally seemed difficult for the young people I worked with. During the interviews though I was surprised at how much the young people wanted to say – and how much someone asking to hear their experiences seemed to mean to them; young people who might be considered ‘disengaged’.

I enjoyed the process and experience of listening to their views. I was all too aware, however, of my own feelings and thoughts in response to their accounts. If communicated these may have influenced what they chose to discuss and as such I tried to respond as objectively as possible to what they shared.

Presenting a narrative and ‘I poems’

During my own reading there didn’t appear to be one way of portraying the young people’s narratives. Whilst this allowed for creativity I wanted to follow a semi-trodden path as doing it all ‘my way’ felt a little anxiety provoking. I found Brown and Gilligan’s (1993) approach of ‘The Listening Guide’ resonated with how I thought the young people’s views should be portrayed. I especially liked the idea of creating ‘I Poems’ for each participant. Here, phrases starting with ‘I’ are taken from their transcript to create a poem representing their views or their feelings.

I took their ‘I poems’ back to them to keep them as involved as possible in the process. I was a little anxious about this due to the power of the accounts but the young people really connected with how their experiences had been portrayed and thought their experiences had been captured.

The power of listening

In a follow-up interview I asked the young people how they found the process: talking about their experiences, having someone listen and then being able to read their accounts. Their responses were both insightful and interesting. They suggested being able to talk while someone listened had helped them to make sense of their own experiences and understand themselves better.

Two of the young people said they’d never felt listened to by adults before and the research process made them feel their opinions “actually mattered”. This highlighted to me the importance of adults actively listening to young people without portraying preconceived agendas.

Making a narrative a force for change

The information from these follow up interviews really started me thinking about how to support young people who feel disengaged from school systems and disconnected from adults.

The process of using a narrative approach helped me to consider an approach to support young people missing education – to encourage adults to empathise with young people, to enable them to make sense of their experiences and to feel ‘actively’ listened to.

I hope that other young people missing education will have access to the ‘I poems’. The aim of this is to create a sense of understanding and peer support as young people outside of school systems often feel isolated from their peers. I’m also in the process of creating a model for adults to support their direct work with young people who are at risk of missing education. This considers:

  • the process of actively listen to young people
  • empowering children missing education
  • working within a problem solving approach

I’m pleased that I chose Narrative Inquiry as a methodology and I’d encourage other trainee EPs to consider this approach to research as it is both interesting and empowering.

Kate will be presenting her research at the DECP TEP Conference 2017 on Wednesday 11th January.

2 Comments so far:

  1. Susan says:

    Really lovely to read this Kate.
    I am currently in the third year of the course and writing up my thesis. I have also decided to take a Narrative approach and can relate to your feelings of being ‘a little anxious’ at times.
    Good luck with the conference.

    Best wishes,

  2. Simon Rowe says:

    I love the respectful non-judgmental stance. So difficult when we are under pressure to achieve results – but essential.

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