Exploring painful experiences: impact of emotional narratives on members of a qualitative research team


  • Joan G. Lalor MSc RGN/RCN RM RNT,

  • Cecily M. Begley MSc PhD RM FTCD,

  • Declan Devane MSc RGN RM RNT

Joan G. Lalor,
School of Nursing and Midwifery,
Trinity College Dublin,
24, D'Olier St,
Dublin 2,
E-mail: jlalor@tcd.ie


Aim.  This paper reports a study of the impact of emotional narratives on the well-being of members of a qualitative research team during the conduct of sensitive research.

Background.  Qualitative data are frequently collected from participants using repeated in-depth interviews when exploring sensitive issues such as loss and grief. The research process can evoke highly emotional responses in the participant and others involved in the study. While consideration has been given to the impact of the research process on participants when a highly affective component is involved, relatively little attention has been given to research team members’ experiences.

Method.  Through analysis of fieldwork records from a grounded theory study of the experiences of women who were carrying a baby with a foetal abnormality, we discuss the affective issues arising in conducting sensitive research. Data sources included two reflexive journals, written comments from two transcribers and the transcript of an interview with the research supervisor.

Findings.  The core category of ‘Connecting with the data’ emerged, to which each substantive category relates. Three substantive categories –‘bearing to watch,’‘bearing to listen’ and ‘bearing to support’– emerged as independent but inter-related aspects of the research process as experienced by the researcher, transcribers and supervisor. Methods of protecting the research team and the integrity of the study when the substantive issue is highly emotive are discussed.

Conclusion.  The emotional impact of research on participants is normally considered prior to the conduct of any sensitive research, and efforts are made to protect them. The potential for researchers, transcribers and supervisors to be harmed should also be carefully considered when planning a project with significant affective elements.