• emotive topics;
  • in-depth interviewing;
  • participants’ experiences;
  • research ethics;
  • therapeutic relationships

Aim.  The aim of this paper was to report the experience of in-depth interviewing about emotive topics from the perspectives of participants.

Background.  We both undertook qualitative, longitudinal studies investigating emotive topics using repeated in-depth interviews as the data collection method. Recruitment and some of the interviews took place at a potentially distressing time for participants, which raised concerns for us about issues relating to consent and the impact of the interviews on participants’ emotional well-being.

Method.  At the end of the two studies, 55 participants were asked about their experiences of the recruitment and interview processes. The tape-recorded responses were transcribed verbatim. We both independently analysed the data before agreeing on the final thematic framework arising from participants’ accounts. The data were collected in 1998 and 1999 (Study 1) and 2003 and 2005 (Study 2).

Findings.  Some participants had initial reservations about participating in the studies. The primary reason for consenting was altruism, i.e. a belief that their participation might somehow help other families. Many participants often found it difficult to discuss emotive issues, particularly soon after the actual event, but all found it helpful to be given the opportunity to talk about their experiences to someone interested in what they had to say. None of the participants had concerns about, or regretted, being interviewed.

Conclusion.  Participants can find in-depth interviewing about emotive topics a helpful, even ‘therapeutic’, experience. However, the purpose of the research interview is not to intentionally offer any form of therapy and researchers need to recognize and carefully consider this potential outcome at an early stage of the research process. Researchers studying emotive topics should also be aware of the possible impact of participants’ experiences on their own emotional well-being.