3. Doing the Study: Methodology
3.8 Credibility, Reliability and Trustworthiness
Following each interview and between phases of initial coding, I asked a peer group of two psychotherapists (all of whom were doctoral students and counseling psychologists in- training and conducting their own grounded theory research), to code randomly selected sections of the transcribed interviews (see Appendix XIV, p.182). Reliability checks were conducted with a focus on the emerging relationships between categories and subcategories and the good fit. These were again compared to selected transcripts in order to ensure groundedness and enhance credibility of the data. Transcripts and codes were sent to the participants who confirmed they were happy with the accuracy of the representation of the interview and neither added nor withdrew any data.
I maintained a journal, which archived, recorded and consolidated my experience and reflections of the research process over three years. The relevant content has been integrated into this methodology section.
Reflexivity: Use of Subjectivity
I recognized my personal views, attitudes, thoughts and feelings as having an unavoidable presence in the process of ‘gathering, interpreting and presenting’ the data (Tufford & Newman, 2010:p.81). Reflexivity aimed to heighten the usefulness of implicit and explicit autobiographical material and to ensure that it enhanced rather than hindered the trustworthiness of the process. Implementing reflexivity as a methodological technique involved acknowledging and exposing my presuppositions. I saw these as mitigating any undue influence my prior knowledge and experience might have on the research as well as facilitating a ‘deeper level of reflection across all stages’ (Tufford & Newman, 2010:p.81) including finding the topic, interviewing participants, gathering and analysing the data, constructing the theoretical model and writing up. Reflexive techniques involved personal therapy, journalling, field notes, memo-writing and holding an attitude of transparency with myself and my peers. These techniques allowed me to address my own ‘implicit beliefs and biases’ regarding my personal attitudes to gender, oppression and power, female sexuality and sexual/relational templates, and addiction, and to make these explicit to myself and to others (Luca, 2007). The literature mentions a reflexive approach to qualitative research as lending itself to a team approach and sees this as creating opportunities for ‘mutual monitoring of
biases and constant discussion of emerging theoretical formulations’ (Fassinger, 2005:p.164). While this was a single-person study, the individual and monthly group peer-checking process allowed for a critical and knowledgeable discussion about my perceptions and interpretation. I also sent sections of the early codes to participants in order to clarify that I had encapsulated their meaning and not represented my own.
I relied on the reflective practice skills developed in my training as a counselling psychologist and integrative psychotherapist and understood these as contributing to both the quality and rigour of the study as well as creating a rich and multi-layered result. I experienced this in- depth, reflexive involvement as drawing on both my ability for conceptualization and my capacity for using ‘hunches’ and saw this as allowing for greater sharpness of both thinking and intuiting. While I recognize that to fully know one’s implicit and unconsciously held material is impossible I believe that raising awareness of my preconceptions permitted both the mitigation and integration of my own experience and knowledge as it contributes to an understanding of the implicit and explicit processes embedded in the data. I was aware of my perspectives as being operationalized during interviews (Hall & Callory, 2001) and with this in mind heeded Schatzman and Strauss’s (1973) guidance that, as the researcher probes for detail, clarity, or explanation using nonverbal gestures and responses, this can shape and direct interviews toward the interviewer’s expectations. I consciously monitored the subtle and nuanced ways in which my inner thoughts and feelings might influence the research to meet my own agenda. I noticed female participants talking about men in a derogatory way and was aware that while I felt a pull to collude at times this needed to be monitored and managed in way that facilitated the interview rather than manipulating it. The same was true of managing my strong negative response to a male participant who clearly held strong biases about women and masturbation. Field notes (see Field Notes) helped to mitigate the projection of my own thoughts and feelings onto the interviewee and enhanced a sharpness of awareness that allowed greater preparation for further interviews.
Managing the relationship between my preconceptions and the emerging data and constructs with this degree of vigilance was in reality more of a challenge than I had expected. At a few points in the process of the analysis, I lost some sensitivity in relation to the data and noticed that the reflective space of the researcher had become contaminated rather than constructed by my own preconceptions. Several times I had to pause and scrutinize the validity of the coding and ask: was this researcher- or data-driven? I reflected on the tussle between achieving theoretical sophistication in the face of numerous episodes of tumbling back into what felt like theoretical tunnel vision (Charmaz, 1990:p.1171). However, over time I began to recognize a space in which the part of me that could experience the data and the part of me
that could observe the data had become more integrated and simultaneously held in awareness, thus creating new ground from which a deeper understanding of the data could emerge. For me, noticing my preconceptions as inseparable from the data took place in a millisecond of time and without experience was difficult to catch. Whilst this led to revisions several times, and certainly reinforced my belief in the need for an ongoing awareness of managing my presuppositions, I also understood that without the proper use of my own material I might have been slower to recognize the emergent categories and theory than if I had held no preconceptions or expectations (Scott, 2007b).
This demonstrated that the findings are not, perhaps, just about the theory construction, but equally about the immersion of the researcher in the research and analysis process. The deeper and more thorough my involvement became in terms of really feeling the data, the more it penetrated the layers of my own unconscious material. This methodological process, requiring a subjective pull to personal depths initially unimaginable, I believe also required a continuous and deepening commitment to self-awareness and personal reflectiveness.