The present research has as its aim the exploration of the therapist’s experience of working with a client whom talking is problematic. At this stage of the project two distinct methodologies present themselves for the researcher to choose from in order to carry out the present study: a quantitative or a qualitative approach. The researcher will first demonstrate why a qualitative approach is best suited to the context in which this research is taking place. Then the researcher will proceed by looking at the various existing methods within the qualitative approach and explore why the qualitative method of Empirical Phenomenological Analysis (EPA) developed by Giorgi (1985) appears to be the most appropriate methodological application for carrying out a research on the subject being studied.

3.1 Qualitative versus quantitative approaches

Quantitative methods subscribe to the positivistic paradigm based on the belief that there is one objective reality which is knowable through the use of scientific methods (von Wright, 1993). Quantitative methods aim at measuring and quantifying phenomena using mathematical models, theories and/or hypotheses so as to describe and ultimately predict their inherent dynamics of cause and effect (Oakley, 2003; Seal, 2003). In this approach the researcher is expected to gather data whilst adopting a detached and independent attitude (Elliott & Williams, 2001). In the context of the present research this type of approach would translate in a method using statistical models in an effort to measure, objectify and quantify insights, intuitions and perceptions so as to control the variables which make up the experience of a therapist in response to a client who is reluctant to talk. The researcher questions the validity of such proposition given that the aim of this research is not to define a verifiable theory that would accurately predict the causes and effects in relation to the therapist's experience of a client is reluctant to talk, but for the researcher to contribute towards an exhaustive and rigorous description of the phenomena in order to open up new possibilities for therapists who happen to find themselves in a similar situation.

Qualitative methods are built around the epistemological belief that consciousness is the basis of all experience and that reality isn't represented by one single truth but instead that there is a multitude of possible interpretations of it (McLeod, 2000). As Walsh (1996: 1) once put it “Rather than forcing a phenomenon into pre-established classes or reducing it to numbers, qualitative research explores experience in its unconstrained complexity”.

In this sense qualitative approaches are specifically designed to examine the construction of meanings in the experience while recognising that the primary researcher is an integral part of the data set and therefore part of the process (Grafanaki, 1996). For Polkinghorne (1989) the investigator does not simply use tools; he or she is the tool. Since the present research is concerned with investigating the therapist's subjective experience in relation to a certain situation the researcher chose to conduct the research using a qualitative approach.

For Marshall and Rossman (1995) the use of a qualitative approach has to be justified as well as the results, and so the researcher will now be examining and critic the existing methods.

3.2 Phenomenology

Qualitative methods use phenomenology as their basic analytical tool (Osborne, 1990; McLeod, 2000: 3-50) in order to ‘deconstruct’ and lay bare the diverse meanings at play within a phenomena. Phenomenology is the science of describing that which is perceived, sensed and made known to one’s immediate awareness and experience or as Merleau-Ponty ([1945] 1962: vi-xii) puts it “it is the study of essences”. First encountered in the writings of Kant and then developed by Hegel (Moustakas, 1994: 26) it was Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938) who, responding to the increasingly dogmatic scientific views of the Enlightenment, developed a phenomenological method the purpose of which was to unveil beyond ‘doubt’ the self-evidently true in a phenomena (McLeod, 2000: 39).

For Husserl consciousness always ‘reaches out’ towards something. It is 'intentional' in that the mind inescapably reaches towards something (Moustakas, 1994: 26). Also, every intentional experience is comprised of two correlates: the noema and the noesis. The noematic correlate is not the object that consciousness is ‘looking at’ but the features and meaning(s) that make it appear as it is. The noetic correlate describes the intentional process itself, or how it is that we are experiencing what we are experiencing (Moustakas, 1994: 28-31). In the context of this research it is argued that, although inter-changeably, the noema regroups the meanings attached to the experience of a client who is reluctant to talk while the noesis would represent the accompanying feelings and sensations. In turn the noesis would point to some other noematic meanings accompanied by their noetic correspondents, ad infinitum.

Embracing Descartes’ idea that some ultimate truth can emerge from adopting an attitude of doubt (Moustakas, 1994: 43), Husserl saw to it that the enquirer should first of all approach the experience under investigation in what he called the 'epoché'. In it the researcher dwells meditatively and in contemplation of the phenomena, free of any analytical reflection and scientific explanations or as Sass (1988: 234) puts it: “one dispenses with all metaphysical, ontological, and epistemological assumptions and returns to 'the things themselves'”. The enquirer first puts 'on hold' his everyday and unexamined way of experiencing the world, also called 'the natural attitude' (Merleau-Ponty, ([1945] 1962: vii) in order to let freedom invite the phenomena to patiently show itself from itself, free from the enquirer's projections and desires.

The second phase in Husserl’s method is called the Transcendental-Phenomenological Reduction (Moustakas, 1994 34). At this stage the researcher is invited to describe the experience repeatedly and in as much details as possible both in terms of its noematic and noetic characteristics, while keeping an attitude of 'horizonalisation', or “never asserting that the meanings are what they present themselves to be” (Giorgi, 1985: 43). In the context of this research Husserl invites the enquirer to constantly leave 'open' the flow of his perception of meanings and feelings in connection with the experience of a client who is reluctant to talk, while never asserting that a particular view is more appropriate than another. The combined aim of epoché and reduction is to keep uncovering the various layers of meanings which constitute the experience, without ordering them into a hierarchy and until it has ceased to be what it is.

The last and final stage in Husserl's phenomenological method is called the Imaginative Variation (Moustakas, 1994: 33). This procedure has as its aim to arrive at “a structural differentiation among the infinite multiplicities of actual and possible cognitiones, that relate to the object in question and thus can somehow go together to make up the unity of an identifying synthesis”(Husserl cited in Moustakas, 1994: 35).

This phase, also called the 'eidetic intuition', describes the enquirer's attitude of imagining the phenomenon from different perspectives in order to retain its invariant properties, universal structure(s) or essence (Moustakas, 1994: 34). In the context of this research an eidetic reduction is meant to unveil the universal and irreducible components of what constitutes the therapist's experience of a client who finds it difficult to talk.


Here stops the purely transcendental-phenomenological method as originally conceived by Husserl. In an effort to appreciate more fully the research tools available to conduct this study the researcher is now going to be looking at the evolution of phenomenology.

3.3 Existentialism

Following on Husserl, Heidegger (1889 - 1976) claims that the noetic ‘I’ of intentionality cannot but bear an indissoluble relation with the world around it (Langdridge, 2007). For the philosopher there exists a clear distinction between the ontic and the ontological. The latter can only be revealed through a philosophical study of Being or existence, whereas the former refers to the particular facts of existence of Dasein, meaning 'Being-there' whose characteristics can effectively be uncovered through an empirical investigation (Langdridge, 2007: 29). Qualitative research has as its aim to uncover the ontic qualities of Dasein.

Encapsulated in the concept of Dasein is Heidegger's claim that all human experiences are inescapably lived from the point of view of a temporal, practical, pre-reflective, ideological, existential, social and ideological perspective (Langdridge, 2007). According to him the philosopher's task is therefore to ‘interpret’ the phenomena in terms of those characteristics (Giorgi et al, 1983).

Throughout his work Heidegger particularly emphasised the ideological, or discursive aspect of Dasein (Heidegger, 1971). According to him meanings form into clusters or discourses which, the philosopher argues, is a fundamental aspect which allows Dasein to relate to the world it lives in. Uncovering Being therefore necessary implies an examination of its discourses. This brings us finally to a notion central to qualitative research: hermeneutic.

3.4 Hermeneutic

Originally developed within the field of Biblical scholarship in order to help theologians interpret the meanings of scriptural texts, Heidegger combined hermeneutic with phenomenology in an effort to examine and 'interpret' the structure of the narrative through which the lifeworld is experienced (Moran, 2000; Langdridge, 2007). Starting from Heidegger’s position that “an interpretation is never a pre-suppositionless apprehending of something presented to us” (Heidegger, [1927] 1962: 191-192) it was Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900 – 2002) who then set out to explore the substance and essence of a phenomena in terms of its prevailing place and space, history and culture (Gadamer [1960] 1990). Since “one cannot step outside history” McLeod (1994: 23) hermeneutic claims that interpretations are the basic structure of experience. Gadamer sees the act of 'understanding' (Verstehen) as “less a subjective act than as participating in an event of a tradition” (Gadamer, 1984: 290) and ultimately the key to human existence through language and conversation (Langdridge, 2007: 42).

Gadamer also claims that an authentic interaction with a text or a person, as the case may be, invites for an exchange of ideas, or ‘fusion of horizons’ (Lawn, 2006), the underlying dynamic of which would lead to 'a true knowledge of the experience' (Moustakas, 1994: 9). Gadamer ([1960] 1990: 267) writes:

“It is necessary to keep one’s gaze fixed on the things throughout all the constant distractions that originate in the interpreter himself. A person who is trying to understand a text is always projecting. He projects a meaning for the text as a whole as soon as some initial meaning emerges in the text […] Working out this fore-projection which is constantly revised in terms of what emerges as he penetrates in the meaning, is understanding what is there”.

The name of ‘hermeneutic circle’ was chosen to describe the dialectical relationship that exists between the whole and its parts, the reader and the text. Understanding arises in a dialectic between one’s knowledge and what already exists ‘out there’. The result is a change or fusion of perspectives which ultimately creates further knowledge in turn ready to be compared and subsequently transformed (McLeod, 2000: 143). For Gadamer meanings are time, context and tradition specific and therefore constantly changing as McLeod (1994: 245) quotes Gadamer as saying “The focus of subjectivity is a distorting mirror. The self-reflection is only a flicker in the closed circuit of historical life”.

3.5 Selection of a qualitative method for the research

Several qualitative methods were examined in view of conducting the present research. In the context of this project it is understood that a hermeneutic approach would see the researcher’s own horizon ‘fuse’ with the participant’s in an effort to ‘construct’ the meanings inherent in the experience being studied.

However, Fink (1996: 9) quotes Lacan as saying “Other people’s views and desires flow into us via discourse [...] Desire is the desire of the Other”. According to Lacan individuals respond in function of what the other wants or desires to hear. Based on this implication the researcher questioned to what extent any accounts of a participant engaged in a dialogue would tell what he wished to hear. It seemed that adopting a hermeneutic approach would unavoidably invite various and perhaps irrelevant discourses to alter the validity of the enquiry. In the same vein McLeod (2000: 153) quotes Haraway as saying that at its worse hermeneutic can be seen as a means to reinforce the power inherent in some social discourse. On the basis that according to Lacan some ulterior motives would automatically be generated as part of the interaction with the participant ,the hermeneutic approach was rejected.

Since the method of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) places hermeneutic at the centre of its approach (Smith et al, 2009), it was rejected on the basis of the arguments advanced above.

The method of grounded theory was initially considered by the researcher on the basis that it offers a clear set of explicit guidelines to follow. Grounded theory is best suited for producing theories from research questions requiring processes and actions (McLeod, 2000). It requires the researcher to organise the participants' understandings of their phenomenal world into themes and categories in order to produce a theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1999). However, the method of grounded theory was rejected on several basis. On the one hand and as stated earlier, it is not the aim of the researcher to produce a theory which invites for actions but to expand the therapist's awareness of a certain experience in order to open up possibilities in the context of the situation being studied. On the other hand the mechanism of interpretation inherent to a grounded theory reflects a fundamentally hermeneutic approach (McLeod, 2000) whose validity had previously been rejected.

A heuristics approach requires the researcher to use his own self in order to explore the nature and meaning of human experience (Moustakas,1994). This research method was also rejected on the basis that, according to the researcher, its design would presumably yields findings which might reflect too closely the primary researcher's own views and biases and therefore prevent new knowledge to emerge.

Finally discourse analysis is an approach to the study of meaning influenced by semiotics and at times psychoanalysis (McLeod, 2000). Its method reflects the assumption that language constructs reality in the performative sense that 'we do things with words' (McLeod, 2000: 90). The researcher reads and re-reads the transcript until he founds the passages he thinks are relevant for another closer analysis. Once those extracts have been identified the researcher then inspects the text for other form of categorizations, articulations, and discourses or other passages which will confirm or disconfirm the 'candidate hypothesis' (McLeod, 2000: 92).

It seemed that this approach would not allow any positions for the enquirer to adopt in order to derive any new knowledge and therefore on this basis discourse analysis was rejected.

3.6 Merleau-Ponty and Giorgi's method of qualitative research

While agreeing with Heidegger that it is not possible to adopt a "God's eye view" of phenomena which presumes that the enquirer can adopt a detached view of even its own intentionality, the researcher contends that Merleau-Ponty's approach remains 'phenomenologically closer' to Husserl's method of enquiry by choosing instead to examine our connection with the world via our embodied consciousness rather than discourses. After all “we find in texts only what we put in them” (Merleau-Ponty [1945] 1962: ix) . He writes:

"I am the absolute source, my existence does not stem from my antecedents, from my physical and social environment; instead it moves forward and sustain them, for I alone bring onto being for myself the tradition which I elect to carry on, or the horizon whose distance from me would be abolished - since that distance is not one of its properties - if I were not there to scan it with my gaze” (Merleau-Ponty, [1945] 1962: x-xi)

It is the researcher's own view that Merleau-Ponty's epistemological beliefs lend themselves to qualitative research with an added validity over the other qualitative research methods in that the philosopher recognises that experience is not limited to that which is only languaged. A client or participant who winces or rattles his throat at an interpretation or intervention may indeed be regarded as a form of body communication whose dimension hermeneutic does not, to the researcher's awareness, acknowledge.

If this research is concerned with the therapist's experience of a client who finds is problematic to talk the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty should naturally come as a more appropriate epistemological choice given that it makes it a central element of its phenomenological approach to enquiry the bodily senses where words might not be there.

Also, Giorgi (1985: 43) quotes Merleau-Ponty as saying that “the achievement of the essence is not the end of phenomenological analysis, but only a means of bringing to light all of the actual 'living relationship of experience'” whichmakes the philosopher belong to a post-modernist tradition promoting creativity, openness, incertitude and ambiguity.

Giorgi's method of enquiry was chosen on the basis that it was designed to 'articulate' scientifically Merleau-Ponty's approach to phenomenology in that it is descriptive, reductive, searches for essences and is concerned with 'intentionality' (Giorgi, 1985: 43).

Having described the epistemological orientations in relation to the existing qualitative methods of enquiry the researcher is now going to explore in details the practical steps which constitutes the method devised by Giorgi.






Literature review


Research method




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