Research Methods in Clinical Psychology: An Introduction for Students and Practitioners / Edition 2

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Fully updated to reflect the latest developments, the third edition of Research Methods In Clinical Psychology offers a comprehensive introduction to the various methods, approaches, and strategies for conducting research in the clinical psychology field.
  • Represents the most accessible, user-friendly introduction to conducting and evaluating research for clinical psychologists and related professionals
  • Ideal for students and practitioners who wish to conduct their own research or gain a better understanding of published research
  • Addresses important issues such as philosophical underpinnings of various methodologies, along with socio-political issues that arise in clinical and community settings
  • Step-by-step guidance through all phases of a clinical psychology research project—from initial concept and groundwork, through to measurement, design, analysis, and interpretation
  • Updates to this edition include new or expanded coverage of such topics as  systematic review and literature searching methods, modern psychometric methods, guidance on choosing between different qualitative approaches, and conducting psychological research via the Internet
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471490890
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 10/11/2002
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 300
  • Sales rank: 849,722
  • Product dimensions: 6.73 (w) x 9.70 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Barker is Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology at UCL, UK, where he was formerly the joint Research Director on the Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology.

Nancy Pistrang is Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology at UCL, UK, where she was formerly the joint Research Director on the Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology.

Robert Elliott is Professor of Counselling at the University of Strathclyde, UK, and Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Toledo, USA. He is a former President of the Society for Psychotherapy Research and former co-editor of the journals Psychotherapy Research and Person-Centered Counselling and Psychotherapy.

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Read an Excerpt

Research Methods in Clinical Psychology

An Introduction for Students and Practitioners
By Chris Barker Nancy Pistrang Robert Elliott

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-49089-X

Chapter One



* Self-report methods, such as interviews and questionnaires, ask the person for information directly.

* Their advantage is that they give you the person's own perspective; their disadvantage is that there are potential validity problems (i.e., people may deceive themselves or others).

* The main qualitative self-report approach is the semi-structured interview.

* Qualitative interviewing is a distinct skill, related to but different from clinical interviewing.

* The main quantitative self-report approach is the written questionnaire, but structured interviews and internet surveys are also used.

* There are several principles to follow in constructing quantitative self-report instruments.

* Response sets, such as acquiescence and social desirability, refer to tendencies to respond to items independently of their content. They need to be taken into account when designing and interpreting self-report measures.

When you want to know something about a person, the most natural thing is to ask. Research methods that take the approach of asking the person directly are known as self-report methods, and mainly take the form of interviews, questionnaires, and rating scales. They are the most commonlyused type of measure in the social sciences in general and in clinical psychology in particular.

For example, suppose that you have set up a new counseling service for adolescents and want to evaluate its effectiveness. You ask the users to rate the severity of their problems before and after counseling, using two standardized instruments. You also devise a semi-structured interview to assess the adolescents' overall satisfaction with the service and any specific criticisms they had of it. Consumer satisfaction studies like this have become important, with the increased emphasis on accountability to the consumer.

Instead of asking the person directly, you may instead, or in addition, ask someone who knows the person, such as a friend, family member or therapist. This is often called using an informant (a term which has unfortunate connotations of sneakiness). It allows you to get the views of someone who knows the person well and who has greater opportunity than you to observe him or her in a natural setting. It is also useful when the respondent cannot give you reliable information. For example, in research with children, it is often useful to have the parents' and the teacher's views of the relevant behavior. This is why, as we discussed in the previous chapter, a more accurate term would be "verbal-report" rather than "self-report." However, the term "self-report" is commonly used to cover reports from both the person of interest and from other respondents, and we will retain that usage here.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The great advantage of self-report is that it gives you the respondents' own views directly. It gives access to phenomenological data, i.e., respondents' perceptions of themselves and their world, which are unobtainable in any other way. Many psychologists, e.g., Harré (1974) and Kelly (1955), argue that researchers should ask participants for their own views unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. An important principle in Kelly's development of Personal Construct Theory was "If you do not know what is wrong with a person, ask him, he may tell you" (quoted in Fransella, 1981: 166). Furthermore, self-report methods can be used to obtain information in situations where observational data are not normally available, e.g., for studying life histories or behavior during a major disaster.

The main disadvantage of self-report is that there are a number of potential validity problems associated with it. The data are personal and idiosyncratic and thus may bear little relationship to "reality," as seen by you or others. More importantly, people are not always truthful. They may deceive themselves, such as when an alcoholic cannot admit his dependency to himself, or they may deceive the researcher, such as when a young offender does not want to reveal his socially undesirable thoughts or behavior. Furthermore, research participants may not be able to provide the level of detail, or use the concepts, that the researcher is interested in.

Arguments arising in two separate fields, psychoanalysis and social psychology, cast doubt upon the validity of self-reports. Psychoanalysts emphasize the limits to the person's conscious self-knowledge. They argue that many important feelings and experiences are unconscious, and prevented by defenses such as repression or denial from becoming conscious. Thus, a person's accounts cannot be taken at face value. Some psychoanalytically oriented researchers prefer projective measures, principally the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), the Rorschach inkblot test, and sentence completion methods, which are designed to assess the person's unconscious thoughts and feelings, although the validity of these measures can also be hard to establish (Westen et al., 1999).

From the social psychological perspective of attribution theory, Nisbett and his colleagues (e.g., Nisbett & Ross, 1980; Nisbett & Wilson, 1977) have argued that people often do not know what influences their behavior, and that there are pervasive biases in the way that we account for our own and others' behavior. One common source of bias, known as the actor-observer effect, is the tendency for people to say that their own behavior is caused by situational factors and that other people's behavior is caused by dispositional factors (Fiske & Taylor, 1991; Jones & Nisbett, 1971). For example, a student might say that she failed an exam because she did not sleep well the night before, whereas she might say that her roommate failed the exam because she was too lazy to study for it. Another related type of bias, known as self-serving bias, is the tendency to take credit for success and deny responsibility for failure (Fiske & Taylor, 1991).

These strictures about the limits of self-report methods are important to bear in mind. However, this does not mean that all self-report data are invalid, only that they cannot be trusted in all cases (Ericsson & Simon, 1993). All measurement methods have limits, and the potential limitations of the data must be considered at the analysis and interpretation stage. Thus, we should not abandon this method of data collection, although it is often advisable to supplement self-report data with observational data (or at least self-report data from other perspectives). In addition, it is a good idea to be sensitive to the possibilities for self-deception in verbal protocols (see Churchill, 2000, for an example of "seeing through" self-deceptive self-reports).

Constructing an interview or questionnaire may appear to be straightforward, but the apparent simplicity is deceptive. Most people have been on the receiving end of an irritating, poorly designed questionnaire or interview, often in the context of market research. Designing good self-report measures is an art and a craft. For this reason, it is preferable, where possible, to use established measures rather than attempting to design your own from scratch. There is a huge literature on research interviews and questionnaires, including several entire books (e.g., Brenner et al., 1985; Kvale, 1996; Moser & Kalton, 1971; Oppenheim, 1992; Patton, 2002; Payne, 1951; Rossi et al., 1983; Sudman & Bradburn, 1982).


An interview is a special type of conversation aimed at gathering information, although the interviewer usually has a written guide, known as an interview protocol or schedule. (Note that the interview protocol is not the same thing as the research protocol, which refers to the plan for the study as a whole, including, for example, the research design and the sampling procedure.) Interviews are usually conducted face to face, although occasionally they may be done over the telephone.

A questionnaire, on the other hand, refers to a structured series of written questions, which usually generate written responses. Checklists and inventories (the terms are used almost interchangeably) are a type of questionnaire which present a list of items in a similar format and ask respondents to rate all that apply to them. Two widely used examples of inventories are the Beck Depression Inventory (Beck et al., 1988)-a 21-item scale assessing the severity of depression-and the Symptom Checklist-90 (SCL-90-R: Derogates, 1994), a 90-item checklist measuring the number and severity of psychological symptoms. The questionnaire may be composed of several subscales, each of which measures an internally consistent construct (such as the Somatization, Depression, and Hostility subscales of the SCL-90-R).

The term "survey" is widely used but imprecisely defined. It usually denotes a systematic study of a medium to large sample done either by interview or postal ("mail-out") questionnaire. A census means a survey of the whole population (as opposed to a sample from that population: see Chapter 10); the best known example is the government population census.

Mode of Administration

Since self-report data may be gathered either by written questionnaires or by interview, researchers need to consider which mode of administration would better suit their purposes. The advantages of written questionnaires are that:

they are standardized (i.e., the wording is exactly the same each time);

they allow respondents to fill them out privately, in their own time;

they can be used to ensure confidentiality, via a code numbering system, and so they can potentially cover embarrassing, socially undesirable or illegal topics (e.g., sexual behavior or drug use); and

they are cheaper to administer.

The advantages of interviews are that they can use the rapport and flexibility of the relationship between the interviewer and the respondent to enable the interviewer to:

ask follow-up questions, in order to clarify the respondent's meaning, probe for material that the respondent does not mention spontaneously and get beyond superficial responses;

ensure that the respondent answers all the questions;

give more complicated instructions and check that they are understood;

vary the order of the questions;

allow the respondents to ask their own questions of the interviewer; and

allow researchers to gather enough information to make judgments about the validity of informant self-reports.

Interviews are additionally appealing to clinical psychologists because their clinical skills can be used. However, clinicians also have some unlearning to do, as conducting a research interview is quite different from conducting a therapeutic or assessment interview (we will elaborate on this point later).

Open-ended and Closed-ended Questions

Self-report methods can yield either qualitative or quantitative data, depending largely on whether open-ended or closed-ended questions are used.

Open-ended questions are those that do not restrict the answer, which is usually recorded verbatim. For example, the question "How are you feeling right now?" might yield the responses "Fine, thanks," "Like death warmed up" or "Better than yesterday, at least." However, content analysis may be used at a later stage to classify the responses (e.g., into positive, negative, or neutral). Also, some open-ended questions may yield quantitative data (e.g., "How old are you?").

The advantages of open-ended questions are that they enable the researcher to study complex experiences: respondents are able to qualify or explain their answers, and also have the opportunity to express ambivalent or contradictory feelings. Furthermore, their initial responses are potentially less influenced by the researcher's framework. Respondents are free to answer as they wish, using their own spontaneous language.

The main disadvantage of open-ended questions, from the researcher's point of view, is that it is more difficult to evaluate the reliability and validity of verbal data. It is hard to ascertain the extent of such potential problems as interviewer bias and variability, and respondent deception, exaggeration, fabrication, and forgetting. It is not that the reliability and validity of qualitative self-report measures are inherently worse, they are just harder to evaluate, so that both the researchers and the readers are more likely to feel on shaky ground. (On the other hand, careful examination of the respondent's manner and word choice can provide important hints about the credibility of verbal data.)

A second issue is that open-ended questions typically generate large amounts of data (the "data overload" problem; Miles & Huberman, 1994), which are usually time consuming to analyse. For a start, most qualitative interviews need to be transcribed, which often takes considerable effort (this is where having sufficient funding to pay for transcription can save the researcher time and frustration). Furthermore, the analysis itself requires considerable effort and skill. This will be considered further in Chapter 12, where we cover the analysis and interpretation of qualitative data.

A final issue is that open-ended questions tend to produce a great variability in the amount of data across respondents. Verbally fluent respondents may provide very full answers, while less fluent respondents may find open-ended questions demanding to answer. In particular, open-ended questions in written questionnaires are often left blank, because they require more effort to complete.

Closed-ended questions constrain the answer in some way. Answers are usually recorded in an abbreviated form using a numerical code. For instance, the possible responses to the closed question "Are you feeling happy, sad, or neither, at the moment?" might be coded as 1 = "Happy," 2 = "Sad," and 3 = "Neither/Don't know." Responses can be made in the form of a dichotomous choice (i.e., when there are two possible responses, such as Yes/No), a multiple choice (i.e., where the respondent has to choose one response from several possibilities), a rank ordering (i.e., where a number of alternatives have to be put in order of preference or strength of opinion), or ticking one or more applicable items on a checklist.

The advantages of closed-ended questions are that the responses are easier to analyse, quantify, and compare across respondents. They also help to prompt respondents about the possible range of responses.

The major disadvantages of closed-ended questions are succinctly summarized by Sheatsley: "People understand the questions differently; respondents are forced into what may seem to them an unnatural reply; they have no opportunity to qualify their answers or to explain their opinions more precisely" (Sheatsley, 1983: 197).


Excerpted from Research Methods in Clinical Psychology by Chris Barker Nancy Pistrang Robert Elliott Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Perspectives on Research

Doing the Groundwork

Foundations of Quantitative Measurement

Foundations of Qualitative Methods

Self-report Methods


Foundations of Design

Small-N Designs

The Participants: Sampling and Ethics

Evaluation Research

Analysis, Interpretation and Dissemination




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