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Ethical Analysis of a Qualitative Researcher's Unease in Encountering a Participant's Existential Ambivalence

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Gaining in-depth understanding of the experiences of persons who have suffered traumatic events with physical and psychological sequelae is important for building effective interventions. However, qualitative research of this kind can be emotionally difficult for the researcher whose research interests derive from practice experiences with the population studied. It may be difficult for the researcher to separate the role of inquirer from that of practitioner. We explore this issue using ethical analysis to differentiate the responsibilities of the researcher from those of the clinician. In the first part of the chapter, we provide some background on the population studied and traumatic spinal cord injury and its aftermath as context for the issues raised by the narrative. Then, we describe briefly the first author's research exploring the meaning of bodily changes and embodiment in persons who have suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury. We provide the part of Jack's story that most troubled the researcher and led her to discuss the situation with an ethics colleague. Finally, we use the tools of moral reasoning, ethical analysis, and principles of research ethics to explore the pertinent excerpt of the narrative. The resulting clarifications are laid out for the reader with the intent of assisting other qualitative researchers in determining the extent and limits of their obligations to participants of qualitative studies, especially those that explore sensitive issues.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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