Interview With Clara E. Hill About Consensual Qualitative Research
Interviewer [female voice]: You edited a book Consensual Qualitative Research. How did you get interested in developing a qualitative method?
Clara Hill: For years, I did regular quantitative research in psychotherapy process, and I got very frustrated because we tend to do two things in the quantitative research process. First of all, we study simple topics. We try to focus on just one or two variables, and that's frustrating because it doesn't capture the complexity of psychotherapy. The second thing we do in the traditional process research, we would require judges to reach agreement and this was also very frustrating because, to reach agreement, we would force judges not to think carefully about what they were doing but to try to figure out what other people would do. So, those two things — that we were studying only simplistic things and we were forcing judges into agreeing with each other needlessly — led me to try to think about how could we use other methods to encourage people to study the psychotherapy process more as it naturally occurs.
There's a quote that Kiesler had that I love which is, "If you can't count it, it doesn't count; if you can count it, that ain't it." And I think that kind of characterizes what our research was like before, in that we would do things just because we could study and kind of like looking for your keys under the lamppost because that's where you can find them. You can see, but that's not where it's at. So, psychotherapy and most human behavior, is incredibly complex, and so we need more naturalistic ways of getting to what is going on.
Interviewer: What are the main features of a consensual qualitative research approach?
Clara Hill: The first main feature is that we use open-ended questions to ask people about their experiences. Very much like you're asking me questions right now, those are open-ended questions with no clear answer at the end. The idea is that the participant is to explore what they're thinking and feeling on a deep level. And so that's what we want. Lots of times, when you use regular, standardized measures, people get a question, they are asked to rate it on a one to seven. They don't think about it. They just quickly mark an answer. What we want is people to think deeply about what they're doing.
For example, we just finished a study on meaning of life. Well, meaning of life is something you really need people to think about deeply, so we really want people to think about it deeply. And by asking consistent questions across people but open-ended questions that we hope would get them to explore deeply.
The second thing is we transcribe everything and then we try to understand what people are saying. So, we try to figure out, given the context of everything, exactly what it is they're saying and then we try to look across cases and try to understand if there are themes or patterns in what people are saying.
Interviewer: What are the advantages of this method over other qualitative methods?
Clara Hill: A main advantage and the reason we developed it initially was because when we read other qualitative methods, we couldn't understand how to do it. And so we were frustrated saying, "Well, what is that? Exactly how do you do that?" And so, we felt that there was a real need for, in the field, a clear, easy way that people could do qualitative research but still had rigor. Because I came from the traditional methods of doing research, I really value the rigor and using lots of judges to try to understand things. I think it's still important to remember that we never get to the truth because truth is ephemeral and not easy to get to, but at least by having multiple perspectives on data, we get a better understanding of what might be going on.
Interviewer: What are the advantages of qualitative methods over quantitative approaches?
Clara Hill: The main advantage is that you can understand complex things. With the traditional quantitative measures, it's best if you're only looking at one or two, or three at the most, variables at one time. But with qualitative research, you can understand behaviors within a context, and so it allows for more of the richness of therapy or any experience. Before, what would happen is we just wouldn't study things that were interesting so we would just ignore them. But with the qualitative methods, you can explore interesting things like meaning of life, attitudes towards psychotherapy, experiences of people in therapy, experiences of people who go through abortions or adoption, or all kinds of things. But you can understand inner experiences at a level that's very important, that gives us something of a notion about the complexity of human behavior.