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Chapter Three

#[p48] PART 2

Evolving a method

#[p49] Chapter 4. Method before the paper "Notes from a Method"

Part I : the beginnings

In this chapter, and chapter 5 which follows, I describe some of the activities and thinking which eventually led to the paper "Notes from a Method" (Mellor 1998b reproduced as chapter 6). That paper explained my "platform [ ] of conditional understanding" (Hampton 1993 p.269) of a method of research up to early 1998. How this research method eventually came to alter will be described in chapter 11.

As this preliminary stage is relatively long, I have made a division into two chapters to render the material more digestible. Chapters 4 and 5, however, are a continuing tale and the summary for both chapters is placed at the end of chapter 5. They describe a process of researching while learning how to research. Alongside this there is a limited account of practice development, the two aspects were partly interrelated. Some issues of practice (for example anxieties over change to the Eric Harvey method and certain ethical questions, see below) influenced the unfurling research design. Although the study began without a clear focus on practice development, change seemed inevitable as I questioned both my casework and the method of researching it.

Two diaries evolved during the study. A research diary at home, of reflections on the project, and a practice diary at work, of reflections on my job. The data quoted in this chapter consist mainly of extracts from the research diary. Dates of these are given and, where noted, the time and place, as this information illustrates what I have called serendipity and incubation in the process of research. The diary extracts are reproduced verbatim, as if they were interview material: they are the "data" of the research (see later discussion in chapter 8).

My work diary covered some 90 "cases". I draw on this to a limited extent, mainly in section 6 below, as most of the research eventually focused on problems of how to research, not problems of practice. Feedback from the work diary helped shape the publications on attention seeking, completed and underway, as well as leading to on-going changes to practice and discussion with colleagues. Entries in this diary ranged from, #[p50] initially, very brief comments on isolated aspects, to much longer, structured reflections with which I explored nine cases from September 1995 (I make no distinction between diary/journal/log and use the term diary for all the records). Appendix C provides an example of those longer reflections, chosen for illustration purposes for an article published in our professional journal, partly because of the difficulties it highlights.

Eleven sets of parent interviews were audio taped. The tape in appendix A is one example of these, selected to be a relatively good demonstration of practice so that it can be incorporated into an anticipated training pack. It is included here, partly to give a flavour of the work.

Many people enter these diary records. I regarded their contributions to my project as vital, a list of them and their backgrounds is included. Names are changed apart from those of my supervisors, Colin Biott and Sandy Wolfson and my partner, Mary - they would be impossible to disguise.

Some of the diary extracts are recounted at length. This is not indulgence, the seeds of my later ideas, I now see, were sown a long time ago. Given the eventual nature of the inquiry, which began to centre on how I understood my own research, it seems important to trace these influences and halting beginnings and establish them in some way as legitimate elements in the overall process; in the first instance, simply by acknowledging their existence. The clearer picture of a "messy method" which developed much later, is built upon these confused elements, collected from the earliest days, before any idea of a personal method coalesced. The final outcome was a kind of hybrid approach (see chapter 5 and later discussions in chapter 11).

1. Making a start.

The time to begin an inquiry may be influenced by any number of factors. I can imagine simply the fact of starting a year or two earlier or later could have created a totally different project, because of my state of knowledge and attitudes to research at the time. I was, for instance, very dependant on a model of "scientific psychology" (as my thinking #[p51] around a particular design, comparing outcomes of therapy with parentsí attributions, will illustrate). A little earlier and this might have taken over the study. The relatively lengthy diary extract below sets out my reflections on the complex of influences, some major, some trivial, which seemed to have led up to my decision to start a serious piece of research. There may have been others.

... jotted down the influences on me which led up to the project e.g. knowing a mixture of scientists and artists and several people who had done PhDs years ago ... also Maryís book [my partner] and her PhD. I was very much influenced by Tony Buzanís "Use you head" and I also think I was able to come up with some original ideas during the psychology degree. ...I am at the stage now when I have done the band, Iíve done the poetry and Iíve done the travel book and I know I can write 30,000 words and I am a bit lost about what to do...

I remember some time ago Heather E. had asked me whether "The Good, the Bad and the Irritating" [my book for parents, put together at work] was to do with a PhD ... also some time ago I was trying to submit a GEST bid about working with parents... Also Niall [a relative by marriage] had done a PhD... Eric dying made me think I want to do something. Life seemed a bit aimless having come to the end of the band and the poetry and I seemed a bit browned off in the job and the kids are growing up more.

Sometime ago I had read a read a Readerís Digest article about if you are browned off in your job take on a student and I did, then I got a library card [via the EP training course] which was very useful.

There was... the counselling course, particularly the stuff about being creative and not being worried about yourself but true to the material. There was also the book "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway".

I remember... thinking about the Bristol D. of Ed. course and being glad I hadnít done it, but that was an influence in starting me on this one.

Having a computer meant I could write the way I want to write which is to chop and change stuff and make drafts and change it a million times without effort ... having access to a dictaphone ... meant I could gabble on quite fluently... [making diary notes].

I feel I had fairly independent ideas in my job as a psychologist, contributing to Maryís research and for instance, chatting to Vic. [PhD engineer]

Currently there is a bit of a gap in things to do, as politics seem to have come to an end with the Labour party being fairly derelict. (9.4.94)

I was possibly ripe for change in my ideas on research. The extracts below illustrate some of my feelings about psychology at the time:

Had a look at book on attributions. Although this was supposed to be clinical applications it looked equally dull and irrelevant as all the other work on attributions. (11.11.93)

About lunch time began to think that the articles I had been reading in psychology were deadly dry and boring and had nothing to do with the real world and real #[p52] people and seemed very artificial and laboratory based. I felt that I really didn't want to do that kind of work. (18. 11 93)

However, one event seemed to crystallise my movement away from quantitative methods. It had to do with a reading test we had been relying on at work for some time - a well known, long standing test which had recently been re-standardised. Unfortunately, there had been some serious misprints in the tables of norms which we were unaware of. Our test results often showed the children could read reasonably well for their age and did not need statements; the teachers hotly protested that they could not read. It was easy to dismiss this as the teachers just wanting to build up their case for extra help, our "numbers" showed the "objective" truth of the matter:

Discussed with Ann F. the problems we had had with the [reading test] how we got so carried away with reading the numbers we hadn't "seen" the children and had ignored what the teachers were saying about them not being able to read when the [test] said they could. This seemed to me to be an example of relying on quantitative methods rather than just chatting to the child and feeling what was going on. This is rather a faith shaking event in psychology from my point of view.

Discussed this a little bit at the [M.Ed] evening course. Didn't really develop the idea however. Remembered that there were various other aspects of the job where we relied on numbers and they were a bit shocked when they didn't work out very well. For instance Burt's work on inheritability of intelligence where he had just fiddled the numbers. Other examples popped into my mind like the recent [story] about ... radiation doses in ... various clinic where somebody had been setting the machines wrongly. So relying on the numbers actually damaged the patients.

Another interesting sidelight was some early work from the psychology course about people not knowing the ECT machine was not [actually] switched on and assuming the patients were getting better [as a result of the ECT rather than the TLC -Tender Loving Care - which followed it]. (4.11.93 and 5.11.93)

Although the project started long before the project actually started, in the sense of the particular influences I had experienced and how they could all have some bearing on the future course of the inquiry[1] there does some to have been a point of actual commitment "to do some research" :

Caught a Radio 4 programme on Travellers. Heard a woman say that she was on the road "because of the children" she felt they were [better] "looked after", they had friends and it wasn't so lonely for the parent. At this stage I was just thinking about different kinds of families and their influences on children [this version of parental concern was a new insight for me]

Had a couple of discussion with Mary about doing some research and she said to speak to Colin Biott. Didn't actually do that until I spoke to Sheila and Kevin M. and they [also] said to see Colin Biott. (l6.9.93)

#[p53] Ideas to begin with were very much focused on the job and that part, in particular, connected with attention seeking. At this point my preliminary reading as a "scientist", unfortunately not recorded, had left me sceptical of qualitative approaches, some of these, however, I was later to adopt:

Saw Colin and Jed S. [two potential supervisors] at the Poly. [Northumbria University], 23rd September. Explained what I was trying to do in terms of looking at parents attributions... [particularly attention seeking as an attribution].

About this time had an outline of what I thought the project [was] e.g. history of behaviour modification and history of behaviour problems. Literature research on attribution, children and parents ... also outcomes of psychotherapy. Possibly processes of parent interviews generally and then behaviour modification with parents. Then methodology. It would be interesting to do a critique of qualitative methods.

I also thought it would be interesting to look at the nature of the family e.g. the traveller's children mentioned above and how that affected behaviour. Also possibly work on de-schooling and also Educational Psychologist as Soft Policeman. (23 .9.93)

From the very start of the project proper, elements of serendipity entered the arena: a chance radio programme, an initial uncertainty over choice of supervisor (who was later to have such a benign influence). I will return to serendipity later.

I enrolled on the methodology part of an M.Ed. course on Colinís advice, I imagine he could see I was hardly at first base in qualitative methods, and began keeping a diary of my efforts. A summary in November captures my tentative start. The extracts below are purposely presented at some length, as explained earlier.

[Iím] [l]ooking back on work up to about 28th October when I decided to keep a diary, so this is very much reconstructing what I think was going on. Several things seemed to be happening:

l. I was collecting a lot of articles which seemed possibly to be relevant: psychiatric definitions and terminology, family therapy attributions, child behaviour and measures thereof, and odds and ends like a nice little article on thesis writing.

2. I was also searching relatively unsystematically through journals such as British Journal of Sociology, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Journal of Family Therapy, Journal of Educational Psychology or "anything" which might be relevant. I was also collecting books from my own stock at work and from Mary and from anyone else like Shirley [another psychologist with a PhD] and from libraries on families behaviour, psychiatry, psychology, general methodology, attributions.

3. During this period also I was talking to lots of different people from Colin Biott to Shirley to people at work like Ann F. [EP], to Mary to Fay G. [EP],

#[p54] to people on the Bristol course to other psychologists like Rupert A. ... and also picking up odds and ends such as things on the radio, little snippets about families.

4. To begin with, in talking to people, I was a little tentative in saying what I was talking about but now I'm feeling much more confident about it.

5. I had also been dipping into a lot of articles and getting confused and also setting up box files of articles which I wasn't going to read there and then. I just wanted to have them, like setting up a library.

I was using what I called "scavenging" and "squirreling", and looking to chance combinations of ideas to break into the field (I was a great fan of de Bono who described many techniques to facilitate this process). I began to acknowledge my new identity as researcher.

Reflecting on this right now, some of what I was doing was "squirreling", i.e. collecting stuff as a kind of security blanket of having lots of bits of paper and books; also "scavenging" i.e. talking to people, getting lots of ideas (which was also partly "comfort seeking" and looking for support). Lately that turned [to] getting [into] theories and "coming out" [as] "someone doing research" and an element at times of ego-tripping although that was, to be fair, fairly rare as most of the time I was trying to play down the facts so as not to upset people. Also during this time, what I was doing a lot of, was getting random ideas, i.e. what sounds trendy if you call it "brain storming" (the name actually escaped me for about 5 minutes!). Felt much more like "mind-dipping" and "clutching at straws".

What I think I'm going onto next is fiddle about with a few cases just trying to find out what on earth I am doing and hoping these cases will never be looked at seriously because of the shockingly poor methods I'm using i.e. just trying out odds and ends of ideas. I suppose that is "dipping a toe in the water" or more likely "chancing my arm".

Some of the other things I was doing maybe were also "setting up shop" like getting the computer together and the files etc. Some of that is "playing at being a student" and some "displacement activity". Noted that squirreling was not original (it was in the article by Ted Wragg in THES). Several things weren't original. (28.10.93)

Many of these, what I thought of as "starting up" behaviours, however, were more than that, they continued throughout the project. The "tone" of my research (what I later came to call "messy method") was, in fact, there in embryo from the earliest days:

Later that evening I got talking to Adam S. who was staying with us. He trained as a solicitor and then a social worker and then I think did a PhD in something or other, so he is amazingly qualified but as far as I can make out hasn't worked for donkey's years. He always has good ideas although some of them may not be what I want to hear, but generally they turn out relevant in the end, as discussions two or three years ago about doing my poetry book had shown.

Adam was talking about some books he had read 20 years ago about doing this kind of research; one called "Feminist Research Methods" which talked about #[p55] all the messy stuff leading up to writing a thesis which was all hidden, the stuff about getting it wrong, getting confused, changing your mind, getting a load of data you were embarrassed about and junking it etc. All the stuff you don't talk about it. When it is written up it looks like a sort of neat clear line from A to Z but the real world is nothing like that. (28.10.93)

I began to think more about my own learning style:

Writing this up now reminds me of my ideas about "thinking" anyway: that we don't think in a linear fashion from A to Z ... we go all over the place and ideas come to us in the middle of the night totally randomly; but we tend to present thinking as "logical", which possibly fits into a "male" scientific model of how the world works. And [this] is the kind of stuff that can be experimented with... To describe the other way of thinking is really messy and very difficult to catch onto and explain and describe, although I know that is how I think: ideas pop in from quite irrelevant sources at peculiar times in a totally illogical way. (28.10.93)

...this [working up an application for the Bristol taught doctorate and then not applying] was a nice example of my liking to choose an option and then change my mind once I'd chosen it. I often thought this as a bad thing to do that - I "should" just have a very clear ... choice. But what seems to work for me is to like to have a choice, take an option, find out by doing it is not what I want and then change. This seems to me, on reflection, totally rational because how can you know if you like something until you've done it.? (6.1.93)

2. Getting to grips with the enormity of it all.

Actually making a start on a PhD required a great leap of confidence:

Beginning of September l993 - read a couple of sections out of the little book 'How to get a PhD' realised that to get a PhD you had to want to do research to PhD standard which means something rather different to just wanting to end up with the qualification.

When I originally read this it rather put me off because I felt that's not what I wanted to do. At that point I was toying with the idea of doing the Bristol [taught doctorate] course which was in modules which seemed nice and easy. I didn't like the idea of having to go into something in depth. This was a bit scary. Writing this 6.ll.93. it occurs to me that actually doing something in depth is probably the right thing to do, and although a big challenge, at least when I'd done it I would feel that I knew the area and could stand my ground and argue it. If I recall correctly that was the main message of getting to PhD standard: that you were the expert and you could do that.

One of the other things that came out of that little book was that you had to be self-organising and find out things for yourself and decide what you needed and whom to ask. I feel I am pretty good at doing that. (6.11.93 )

#[p56] One of the most off-putting aspects at the beginning was my early brush with post-modernism[2] and my attempts at (mis)-understanding the field :

Spoke to Mary. She talked about structuralism and post-modernism, something about medicine as social control and psychiatry to do with the "disciplinary society"... I think post-modernism had something to say about [attention seeking]: we were just a mess of interactions; also there is not a problem if parents say it has gone away.

These discussions about post-modernism made me want to run away and not do research at all. I felt I didn't understand a thing. (26.11.93)

3. Early plans and the beginnings of "mess".

My tentative ideas on developing an "unusual" method are evident at this early stage (as in plans for an "anti-methodology" chapter, see below), although for a long time they existed alongside, and were dominated by, much more "mainstream" approaches such as designs comparing groups of children or parents, and action research. In this account and later, the developing ideas do not follow a simple time sequence. I recycle through them several times on different occasions.

As I went to bed I had the sudden thought that when writing a thesis up, as well as having a methodology chapter you should have an "anti-methodology" chapter i.e. talking about all the crap you got involved in and all the struggle, the mess, the change of plans, all the worry etc. etc. and how you learned to go about it, because although not particularly relevant to the outcome of the research it is very relevant to the process of research, and is just kind of hidden away. This might make the work longer but possibly of more use and interest to further researchers; [or] possibly not.

Woke up at 6 o'clock with a totally different plan of doing the research from what I had originally thought, i.e. junk all the stuff about "before and after" [designs] and these kinds of parents change ... because of their attributions [using a conventional comparison of groups] and simply look at some kind of action research where I improve my techniques. (28.10.93)

Made a note that some of [my] previous work and thinking had all been 'playing' at being a student. Also felt about then, that I had been in the process of shifting paradigms. This was a painful shift from having a very clear experimental idea of before and after groups and statistics, to a much more woolly and fluid model as influenced by the M Ed course.(About 28.l0.93.)

Preliminary ideas on research had been around for some time, largely, I think, aimed at simply demonstrating the value of the Eric Harvey approach:

About 8 o'clock remembered that I had worked out a preliminary project (something along the lines of interviews and work with family) for a GEST fund #[p57] some time ago about 2 yrs ago. This would have psychologist and possibly welfare officer working with families [to] show a model of how to work for the rest of the department. Must look those notes up. (6.11.93)

My original idea for the project was a piece of fairly classic psychology experimental design. I had a notion that parentsí attributions for the causes of their childrenís behaviour could be used in some predictive way. One rough hypothesis initially was that those with single "rigid" attributions ("its in the blood") would change less in their views and consequently be less successful in changing their childrenís behaviours, compared to those with more flexible, diffuse attributions ( perhaps, for example, showing self-doubt "is it me?", or a mixture of "explanations"). Before and after measures of the childrenís behaviour could readily be taken as I worked with the families. But even the earliest days of the project, however, saw me turning away from this "scientific model", it was beginning to feel "like another world":

...[following my conversation with Adam S.] This totally changes the focus... and seems to junk all the ideas of the classic experiment I had in mind ... I could do this with control groups, before and after and quite a clear hypothesis...but hadnít been happy with that. Had been trying to get away from it but wasnít quite sure where to go, but I keep getting stuck back in that way of thinking because that was all I could think about from my sort of background ... Perhaps all that stuff will come in at some point though it seems like another world (emphasis added). (28.10.93)

I began to conceptualise the research in different ways:

About 9.0 a.m. had an idea that research I was looking at now was in sort of concentric circles:

l. Doing the research

2. Reflecting on the research methods as we had been learning on the course.

3. Reflecting on the personal problems and involvement in working out the research methods and doing the research. (6.11.93)

I was learning to be more flexible in my thinking about research:

... [On the M.Ed. course Colin] talked about "progressive focusing"... I could describe it as doing these interviews and then doing those interviews. It could also be focused on different types, e.g. boys and girls, or those with concepts about lessons one way [compared] with those [with] concepts about behaviour another way, or perhaps relationships or attitudes to friends etc.

[Colin] gave a good example from the article by Rowland in "Children in their Primary Schools" by Pollard, of telling a story [about research]: "First I did this and then I did that, later I felt I was analysing this way then I changed to this" etc (18.11.93)

#[p58] Some time later, I note my reactions to some casework, as I compare a full transcript of one recorded interview with a parent (included in my practice diary) to my routine case notes of the same interview. There is obviously a very legitimate case for research into what literary texts can tell us, at the time, however, I was recording my shift towards a different style of inquiry from the (perhaps parody of) the statistics-focused, scientific norm of my training. My feeling was that Pinkertonís racist and sexist comments added to the poignancy of Pucciniís music, but not when reduced to statistics.

These [transcript] words are beautiful. [It is] really absorbing just to read them. My [formal case] notes of the interview are boring snippets. Sort of dry bits, no life... How could I [for instance] reduce this interview to statistics. It would be like looking at the script of Madam Butterfly and counting the times Pinkerton makes racist or sexist remarks [and ignoring the music]. Makes me think most psychological research is really dreary. (28.1.95 emphasis in original).

I was casting round for research methods. My first contact with grounded theory, as I then understood it, however, immediately raised for me a pressing issue: the potential theory-dependence of observations (although I did not use quite those words at that time). As I explain later, I was picking up and discarding ideas on research, often on the flimsiest of grounds, yet at the same time, carrying out what I was later to see as a form of research:

[on the course we] talked about doing grounded theory where you go in and ask "quality" interviews and see what comes out of it. I was worried that you still have to come in with some sort of perspective. (18.11.93)

The "messy" method which eventually became predominant seemed to grow out of my belief in "messy" thinking: that what we presented as a rational, linear process, after the event, was in reality far from that. Claxton (1997) captures this for me well in his "Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind" . A brief quote exemplifies the position:

I just never felt comfortable with the overt, sequential struggles that characterised so much of standard learning ... I found that what seemed to me to be the most satisfactory of Ďlearningsí were those that took place through what we used to call Ďosmosisí, that is, one simply steeped oneself in the material, often in an uncontrolled fashion, and allowed understanding to emerge magically over time (Reber 1993 cited in Claxton 1997 p.26)

Claxton goes on to examine some of this "magic". The present project, however, focuses more on the actual practical course of my studies, rather than on the psychological processes underlying them.

#[p59] Other "snippets" reinforced my groping towards a "messy method". Trying to research while working, and deciding to research researching, meant there had never been a separate, distanced, dispassionate "planning stage". The project started on day one. As soon as I decided to start, I was in the middle, collecting data, but with no clear purpose. I felt I could not "shut up shop" for a few months - the world would not go away. It seemed important to me to capture this first, incoherent, unformed stage of the process, although I was not totally sure why, other than having a faint idea that it was generally overlooked: "this time of uncertainty could have been the most important part of [the] story" (Mellor 1998b p.1).

About this point remembered Mary's comments about doing research is like being "in a fog in a forest". She said this meant going round in circles, not finding your way and often passing the same tree twenty times. Also remembered the programme about Feynman [a physicist] who said [when] doing research you always felt totally stupid because you didn't know the answers. I believe he has a Nobel prize. (12.11.93)

...walking on the beach talking to Mary I realised that I was anxious I hadn't got the perfect questionnaire [for parents or children] as I was waiting for books on Adler and reading other stuff to help me think about useful questions. In the meantime the cases keep coming in and the job carries on and cases just don't go away, they have to be dealt with. It occurred to me then that really I was saying "the world won't go away". Unlike the classic research design where you spend a year or so thinking about the project before starting it, the job has to be done and there is no time off to plan it and not do it. Mary thought the methodology chapter could be called "the world doesn't go away".

It occurred to me that like Schön I could look at a "messy design" as he has messy management and messy research. Mary suggested "emergent design". (9.1.94 3 p.m. emphasis added)

And I could see "resonances" in my ways of working in other areas (see also discussion of attitudes to "mistakes" from Fine and Deegan 1996, covered in chapter 5):

My research so far looks like my general approach to ... preparation of [in-service] courses i.e. being very fuzzy to begin with which always feels stressful...Had the idea that my approach to research could be analysed like my approach to any kind of course preparation or problem solving in that they followed much the same course of messiness; and trying it out and getting it wrong before getting it right. (25.9.94 3.30 p.m. - out for a walk)

"mistakes are your best friends" is one of my philosophies. (21.1.95 12.00 Saturday)

#[p60] 4. Multiple inputs.

Although the research is Ďmineí, I did not work in a vacuum. Far from it. Particularly in the early stages, but continuing right through, I was voracious in my appetite for othersí ideas. Some of these came through attending conventional courses and workshops and conferences, many, however, were simply the result of personal contact:

Rang Birmingham today and yesterday to speak to Peter F., Jim B. and Rachel H. about their research on changes of expressed emotion in systemic family therapy. Didn't get very far with Rachel but she said Jim wasn't available Wed. and Thurs. Peter rang me back on Thursday to say that he would send me a copy of the article which he thought Alan C. was referring to. He himself did not recall writing anything about attributions. I wonder if Alan has just deduced this from their work. I had left a message on Thursday to go down the following Friday when I went to Birmingham in any case to talk to them about their research. Later over the weekend decided that the best person to talk to in any case was Alan C. so I left a message on Monday lst November to cancel my proposed meeting with Jim B. Peter sent the article which arrived on Saturday morning. (29.10.93)

The range of contacts I made is illustrated below. Some of the contacts had little impact; some were one-off, but had long-lasting influence. Others carried on throughout the lifetime of the project. The list below, the is only a partial record[3] the members are part of the "invisible college" of the study (Crane 1972 p.54).

Invisible college.

Teachers/ Head teachers

Jill A. Niall B. Heather E. Jake H. Lou H. Bob L. Jan M. Martin Mc. Wanda W.

Northumbria University (sociology, psychology, social work, education, nursing)

Colin Biott Mary Mellor Sandy Wolfson plus Jim B. John B. Richard H. Margo H. Alice J. Margaret M. Arthur M. Alan R. Jed S.

Clinical psychology / Psychological medicine / Other university (family therapy depts, psychology, other researchers)

Paul B. Bill C. Alan C. Peter F. Jessica H. Tim K. Rose L. Cindy S. Peter S.

Educational psychologists

Rupert A. Terry B. Bob B. Shirley C. Anne C. Ann F. Martha F. Fay G. Jeniffer G. Jed L. Lisa M. Sheila (and Kevin) M. Phil S. Adrian T. Lois T. Lauren U.


#[p61] Mike B. Joyce H. Jack S. Hazel T.

Industry (chemicals, oil, rubber, fire-fighting)

Paul R. Vic H. Celia K. Seth M.


Kath A. (play therapist) Alice D. (social worker) Adam S. (social worker/solicitor) Sid F. and Sarah W. (doctors) Brian J. (homeopath)

I note at one point that one spin-off of research was that it gave me new openings such as an excuse to talk to all these people:

Apart from all the pressures [the research] creates it also seems to create a lot of opportunities - like reasons to chat to people, go places and do things I wouldn't previously have done like buying a new computer, go on a course etc. (6.11.93)

It would at this stage be an impossible job to untangle who or what triggered particular ideas although at times my diary does give some fleeting instances:

All [this new approach] seems to fit in with last nights course on the intensive fieldwork project which had this concept of the "development aspect" i.e. developing yourself and your work. Perhaps that is what has triggered it all off. (28.10.93)

Spoke to Mary about my ideas i.e. about having an anti-methodology chapter. She said that that was already being done these days for instance Bell and Roberts "Social Research" where they write about all the mistakes and so on and keeping a research diary now is part of the methodology chapter.

... Initially I felt a bit upset about this, that my idea wasn't original and then felt better because it was a recognised or accepted thing to do. (29.10.93)

5. Action research and counselling.

Action research initially provided an attractive alternative model of inquiry from my methods course. "Now I am junking all that [psychology experiment idea] and simply looking at how to change what I am doing to make it better" (29.10.93). My contradictory position over the issue of change is outlined below. Action research as I then understood it, seemed, however, potentially threatening. I envisaged one element might include collecting the views of others on my work. If I made myself very open to these views this could be stressful, some kind of support would be necessary:

If people tell you what you are doing isnít very helpful and you have to change, then that sets up all kinds of stresses and worries and anxieties and stuff which is very hard to take on board. But perhaps my co-counselling sessions give me opportunity to deal with that and perhaps (emphasis in original) make me more #[p62] open to listening to peopleís comments and criticisms so they all say more when I talk to them (if I donít look too hurt, threatened, upset and generally pissed off) (28.10.93).

I also remembered Ann F.'s [EP] comments from the day before that, when she was a counsellor with the University at one point, she had looked too busy to counsel. Therefore she had to work at not looking busy otherwise she would not put herself in a position that people would want to counsel.

It occurred to me then that this confirmed what I have thought about any form of action research which received critical feedback: you have to be in a position to be able to receive criticism or if you look too upset you won't get it or will perhaps put some people off in any case. Therefore a counselling / personal growth etc. background is quite vital.(29.10.93)

Other issues [in research] would be to do with interviews with teachers and getting their views not only on the child but on what psychologists, or me in particular, are doing or not doing or how helpful we are or how helpful we aren't. This could be terribly threatening as I am conscious that I don't always have time or the inclination to give feedback to teachers as I'm too busy moving on to the next [family] , and just hoping that things will improve from the work we've done with [these] parents. This is exactly what we criticise the Meadows Unit for [a health authority unit for children with EBD], i.e. getting involved and not telling anybody and just assuming that somehow the world will get better. (28.10.93)

My counselling experience then led me to a most important decision: keeping a diary:

I decided at that point really what I had to do was to keep a diary - because if action research was about personal change, which had all kinds of counselling and emotional issues, then I would need to look at my thoughts around this as I was going on. Which in itself might be a useful piece of information and also might contribute towards my totally wacky idea of an anti-methodology chapter. (28.10.93)

About 8.0 am. realised that what I was doing with my diary was not so much a diary as a scrap book. This seemed a much more attractive proposition. (6.ll.93).

Decided that diary should be done regularly, possibly daily, i.e. some kind of commitment to doing a diary.(1.11.93)

Although I almost decided not to:

Wondered if keeping research diary was just a displacement activity and actually a total waste of time. What on earth use would I make of it? They don't give you a PhD just for writing a diary. Still not sure what keeping a diary is all about and what on earth use it is. (11.11.93)

Arthur M. rang for Mary, asked him [by the way] what the hell a diary is for and it seems he keeps one [as a researcher]. He says that later on he can't recall how #[p63] an idea came about or why he changed a particular direction and the diary does that. (12.11.93)

A wide range of emotional aspects arose during the project. For me, dealing with these, often through counselling sessions, was to become one of the key components in my approach, as I explain in chapter 9. I was, however, unsure about what, if anything, I wanted to change:

... reading Altrichter, Posch and Somekh (1993). Their book is about action research which implies change - I wonder about a zero level of action research or reflection "just to understand" the process i.e. not necessarily to change it. (13.10.94)

During these deliberations on method, particularly action research, I was, however, also concerned about the potential negative effects on practice of any change, I was "a bit reluctant to fiddle about with" a tried and tested "therapy":

[I could ]simply look at some kind of action research where I improve my techniques i.e. have an initial chat to parents about getting the background, establishing a relationship and getting some of the views and attributions possibly. [T]hen having the later more detailed Eric Harvey type interview. [T]hen at some later stage, at the end of the intervention, asking them what they thought about the whole damn thing and what they thought about me etc.

This would split up a normal interview structure, which is very intense [the way] Eric Harvey used to do it. The advantage of Eric's method is that (a) it's quick and (b) its organised in such a way that the parents go through a process from less threatening to more threatening material and it is all quite intense and happens all within an hour or so. I am a bit reluctant to fiddle about [emphasis added] with that procedure because I am quite happy with it.

But perhaps splitting the interview up wouldn't be such a bad thing and I could do a preliminary home visit perhaps to chat about all the background stuff. It couldn't just be chatting about my research ideas about attributions; it would have to be something relevant to the parents i.e. about the child, to keep some credibility, as the practice has always been around the belief that if you don't get parents hooked straight away they won't come back. (28.10.93)

For me, at that time, the topic of action research was confused with the issue of how far, if at all, I wanted to change my practice.

6. To change or not to change?

This issue of how much I wanted change in my Eric Harvey work was a theme that stayed with me:

#[p64] ...woke up having had a bad night dreaming about finals ... but feeling more flexible about the project, and my cold had gone. Children, teachers, psychologist and first parent interview are non Eric [Harvey] approaches, itís only the second parent interview where they "get the works" [which I will leave unchanged] therefore thatís okay - I can be very flexible in these other interviews. (22.9.94 7.00 a.m.)

Chatting to Colin 11.30 a.m. - explained how with my approach I couldnít really change it, so he said in that case itís more like doing a case study. That sort of crystallised things for me.

Later on this left me still even more confused however as parts of my stuff are not a case study e.g. looking at the concept of attention seeking. [Thus] the methodology of the research may have different bits for different bits. (26.9 94)

About that same time ... I asked myself what questions is it possible to ask my practice rather than what questions do I want to ask it. In other words, the practice maybe limits what can be done. (11.10. 94)

Action research, from my early reading, appeared at first sight to meet the needs of the project ... But then I began to have doubts about what I was trying to research and what, if anything, I wanted to change. (Extract from Progress Report 31.5.95)

A question to resolve, therefore, is how, and to what extent, it is necessary to determine "what is" before addressing "what should be" i.e. before changing (Schön, 1983, for instance describes the difficulties of isolating "problems" from the "swampy lowlands" of everyday practice). (Extract from PhD Transfer Document 17.11.95)

In fact, I made many modifications to my approach during the project. Several of the changes to practice were a long time coming : the book for teachers (Mellor 1997a), which I wrote to get over the problem of when to find time to talk to them; and my tape and hand book (including materials to support the parent and child interviews), collected into a training pack for psychologists (Mellor forthcoming a); but the concerns began to surface very quickly. These are broken down below into concerns around the children, teacher and parent interviews and some general points, they are presented as illustration that, despite my worries, change was on the agenda.

In the early stages I was exploring with the idea of, but still unsure about, action research as a model and that is reflected in my diaries. A larger number of extracts concerning children is included below as this was an area where I felt a great deal more work needed #[p65] (and still needs) to be done. Changes in the teacher and parent aspects progressed relatively well, I give only limited examples of these.

Re: the children.

Perhaps curiously, from the implications of the job title educational psychologist, I discovered many weaknesses in my work with the children, and came to ponder questions such as What do the child interviews actually tell you that is useful?

[during discussion on methods course] Realised at this point that I needed some references for interviews with children and classroom observations etc. as I felt I was out of my depth with this kind of questioning as my own work tends to be very much bound by getting a little bit of information to help with the parent interview and not really listening to what the children have to say. (28.10.93)

[Following discussion on course about action research]It occurred to me that in my case it was better for me to know the children better so I can help them more and this might be the focus of my study. (28.10.93)

Found already that I was changing my interview style. With J. we just had a nice long discussion about what he was getting up to and he seemed to lead the discussion. It took no effort at all for him to talk about his "naughty dares". He actually enjoyed the discussion and is quite a lively pleasant lad anyway. He is a sort of small appealing rogue. I found, however, when I was asking him 'why' questions (which we had just been told not to do at the previous eveningís course) he just could not explain.

If I want to pursue that I may have to do it along the line of stories which I had thought of earlier. Later found that the tape recording was pretty pathetic in terms of quality. However the positive outcome was to have a different style of interviewing with the child. It was much more of a friendly conversation but I need to have a set of questions or leads to follow up as I was a bit in the dark and grasping at straws when I was trying to direct the conversation. (4.11.93)

It occurred to me then that I would tell stories about children misbehaving in class and [then ask the interviewed] children why they might misbehave, rather like the psychiatric projective stuff. (28.10.93)

Out walking worrying about what does a child interview tell you (a) how to help the adults and help the child (b) about the child generally i.e. background stuff and (c) how to help the children help themselves (d) research stuff like about attention seeking i.e. whether the child sees it ... (e) something about the child's view of .. parents' management, things getting better etc. (Thursday 15.12.94 8 p.m.)

Some of the results of this reflecting, in ideas for better practice, are to appear in the training manual mentioned above

#[p66] Re: the teachers.

I had been in the habit of giving over little time to working directly with the teachers and had tended to concentrate my efforts on the parents. There were many practical problems simply in getting hold of staff which I had avoided by not trying, beyond brief, unsatisfactory encounters.

Discussed with Jan M. [head of a] middle school, looking at a research project and involving her school. I explained that the purpose of the research was to improve our practice.

Some of the problems are that the teachers are not always available and it would be better to work with the younger children who are in more a class teaching situation. But this would depend on referrals coming through. I explained that this would only be with teachers permission and when it was convenient for them...I also talked to Jan about the problem of talking to teachers is that if they aren't informed that's annoying for them and if they have to be brought out of class or seen at lunch times or break times or after school that was annoying so it was a no-win situation.

It occurred to me then that this would be a kind of action research to improve my practice in schools. I deliberately left things vague and said I would discuss it with Jan further. At that stage I was still not clear exactly what the research was all about but the idea of improving my practice seemed like a good idea, consonant with the job, consonant with what schools would want and consonant with the reflective practitioner idea. (3.11.93)

The book on attention seeking was one solution to the difficulties of taking up teacher time. Some other aspects of change in work with teachers are considered below.

Re: the parents.

Although I was anxious not to interfere with what seemed to be an effective way of working, I began to notice changes occurring, such as not deluging the parents with ideas but parcelling then up more, having more of a dialogue.

Had a good interview with Mrs B. in the afternoon. This was a good "Eric Harvey" interview and Mrs B. was a very willing interviewee. Realised later that I tended to dash through the interview a little bit and had not got "side-tracked" into dealing with Mrs B.'s emotions which would probably have been a "good thing" to have done, but I was focusing too much on getting the damn thing down on tape. Found that I was conscious of the tape, worrying about it running out.

Also found that I broke my interview up a lot more instead of just giving a long spiel which I normally do, tried a bit more to talk about the Eric Harvey idea of attention seeking and then get Mum's comments and then talk about ignoring then get Mum's comments, then talk about praise and punishments and get Mum's comments. This seems a much healthier way to do it although it extends the interview a bit. ( 4.11.93)

#[p67] Interview with Mr and Mrs W. about T.. Dipped my toe in the water again, asked them what they thought of what we had been talking about previously, i.e. the Eric Harvey method. Interestingly, comments from them seemed to show that not a great deal had sunk in. Interestingly, T. doesn't seem to have improved a vast

amount either and I wonder if there is a connection. (3.11.93)

The enlosed tape demonstrates the latest version of these interviews which I am continuing to seek comments on.

Re: general points about the approach.

I return to an issue raised here later, several times: how to decide when to intervene.

Realised that the talk I was doing at University [about the work] although a bit of a pain in terms of being a distraction, was probably relevant because it was winding up quite a lot of ideas already, for instance, who not [emphasis added] to apply the Eric Harvey approach to. This is the kind of question the students might ask.

It occurred to me that in terms of describing behaviour there probably wasn't a great deal to say who the target [clients] would be or not be but there were some criteria which had come out from when I had been thinking about my previous GEST project. For instance, children probably under about l4. Children not from chaotic families who need a lot of social service involvement. Children who are not very heavily delinquent and who had 'run off' in a sense or had become 'semi-detached' from home. Not children who were psychiatrically disturbed (hearing voices, taking overdoses, anorexic etc.) (6.11.93)

Certain of the changes I identified might have occurred anyway: "stability is ... an illusion based on a memory of an instant" (Berg 1993 p.10). In the first extract below, for example, I noted bad practice in not listening carefully to a teacher and I show how I learned from two episodes only broadly connected to the original focus of the study. In the second extract, some general anxieties about my casework surfaced simply as a result of glancing through files. Without a "before and after" record, it is difficult to assess, however, how many changes or would have happened in the absence of this research project:

Noted when I had been talking to C.A.'s teacher (at River First school) that I hadn't listened to her saying she had to take action to prevent things escalating [rather than ignoring the behaviour first, to gauge its seriousness]. And this came up in the review of S.K. today at Four Ways [residential] school, where they said that very thing was one of the most important things to do. For me a good learning experience. (19.1.94)

Realised I hadnít been thinking seriously about action research till I began to look through files in the last few days as I was collecting them and realised what crap work Iíd been doing, particularly with regard to child and class teacher interviews #[p68] i.e. the focus of my interest broadened away from just the Eric Harvey part of it, to all the other bits that could or should be surrounding it. (16.11.94 7 a.m.)

Some reflections covered wider considerations. The two examples following concern aspects of practice. The first, the role of social groups and the high incidence of boys in our referrals is partly addressed in the book "Attention Seeking". I am not sure the second issue was ever satisfactorily resolved and I return to it several times (e.g. in the section on ethics below, my worries that results of research into changing families could be used as a political stick to beat the parents with) :

Woke up having read some of the deviance journals that came in the post some time ago. Realised that what was going on here [attention seeking] was not social learning as the [attention seeking] children we're talking about aren't part of the gang and other children often feel sorry for him or her and they're not friends etc. Mary was awake also and she muttered on about Durkheim and "anomie"...I also wondered about why most of our clients were boys and Mary muttered on about object relations theory. (6.12.94 3 a.m.)

In the Guardian a social worker had got £200,000 for a stress breakdown. The newspaper commentators ... were talking about the need for stress management courses. I felt very critical of them because I felt the main issue was to do with not enough staff, and simply providing stress management courses was maybe just hiding the issue.

About 1.30 p.m. driving up to a review I suddenly thought that our job is often to do with deprived children and families in distress etc. yet we offer an individual solution i.e. behaviour modification, rather than "social change" i.e. providing them with more money, better houses etc. Thus having felt smug in the morning about the newspaper commentators I found myself doing the same thing, when I thought about it, in the afternoon. (17.11.94 8 a.m.)

As with many aspects of the project, ideas came about in unpredictable ways. This aspect is explored in more depth later in the section on serendipity.

In the restaurant with Martha, Jeniffer and Rupert [EP s] after the language group [meeting]... Jeniffer ... [talked] about, as a student... they had been given the task of just observing the teachersí strategies and feeding back positive [comments] to the teachers. Jennifer said this worked very well for her teacher because she was using a lot of positive strategies, and I felt that was a good thing to do.

...This was a nice eye-opener for me about the perennial problem about how to talk to teachers about what they are doing in class without being threatening. She also then, however, went on to say that some students had had teachers who were very negative and there was not a great deal of positive to feed back. However, this acted as a nice idea for myself. (26.1.94. About 8.00 p.m.)

I later incorporated this into my approach with teachers:

#[p69] Made a point of noting positive comments about the teacherís behaviour [during my observation of D.R.] and when we were talking later I fed some of these back to her in a non-patronising manner and sympathised with her that the children were fussy but she was getting round [them], giving then lots of time and being low key etc. (16.3.94)

... [following observation of I.L.] I was at pains to be supportive and positive to [the teacher] by saying I.L. must be driving her crazy etc. i.e. there was time to build up a relationship even in that short time as we were leaving the classroom and walking over to the dining hall (10.10.94)

However, I continually tripped up over this aspect of being positive with teachers, a stance I valued highly but which in the busy world of practice often went by default:

[talking to C.A.ís teacher] She seemed very resistant to suggestions. This raises the age old problem of when to talk to teachers about behaviour problems, when the suggestion is that they should be doing something different.

If the behaviour is very bad and they are under stress they donít want to hear suggestions which sound like criticism. If things are going well, as they were here, it still doesnít seem to work. I thought the teacher would be more receptive [because of the reduced stress].

What I should have just said was "I donít know what youíre doing but put it in a bottle and weíll sell it" and left it until a problem arose i.e. store up a good relationship for later ; and also on the principle of "if it ainít broke, donít fix it". (19.1.94)

Sometimes I got it right, but the habit was hard to establish:

[Chatting to another teacher about S. who had been very difficult] told her whatever she was doing she was doing very well and she should put it in a bottle and weíd sell it. She was pleased with that. (25.1.94)

[reviewing collected work diary notes] Some [problems] like [not remembering to be] positive to teachers [when discussing a child] are a habit that is hard to break, even when Iím quite explicit about the "solution" [i.e. simply be positive to them first](emphasis in original). (17.4.96)

I note bringing this concern up in a more public forum also: "This issue still exercised me and colleagues when I brought it up at the therapy interest group in May 1996". By the end of the research, however, I finally felt the habit of being positive had become engrained. My diary records, for instance, that I was pleased that I was automatically (and quite un-patronisingly) positive with a teacher after an observation in school on October 20, 1998. Some changes were thus a long time coming.

#[p70] The diary of my reflections on practice (initially fairly brief, later more structured and in depth) now stretches to scores of incidents as I reflected on, and made alterations to, those aspects of my work connected with children displaying EBD. Reflections covered not only the face- to- face casework but associated issues such as informal discussions with staff, review meetings and in-service training courses. However, I continued to experience tension over change: "My constant worry - Iím basically happy with [the Eric Harvey] interview (although I can see my faults) and donít want to bugger it up" (12.4.96). Thus my explanation of issues around change was perhaps not too clear cut:

My starting point was not a desire to change my approach (it seemed to "work" and there was no guarantee that change would be for the better) but simply to understand it. I was curious...

Certain areas of practice I was curious about. I did not set out to change, simply to understand, to achieve a kind of resolution....

[however] [d]uring the inquiry I uncovered [some] areas of practice which I was not comfortable with. As a professional, I acted to change these, to my own professional satisfaction. (Mellor 1998b p. 456-7, reproduced in chapter 6 )

At the end of the day change seeped in to everything, including the basic Eric Harvey interviews. I taped a number of these. Part of my worry over examining them in the end turned out to be not so much anxieties about spoiling the method, as anxieties about listening to me, to my voice. As described in chapter 9, that aspect was finally resolved through counselling. These interviews eventually changed in many ways (e.g. becoming more broken up, less of a monologue). But were all the changes for the best? I will return to this point in the conclusion. Meanwhile, the description of the developing method continues in the following chapter. A summary is provided at the end of chapter 5.


[1] Oja and Smulyan (1989), for example, consider how research fits into life/age cycles. [BACK]

[2] Much later I settled on MacLureís (1995) description of post-modernism. Although there are many difficulties in definition, as there are many modernisms and many post-modernisms, she selects the key idea of "a kind of undoing of all the habits of mind of so-called Western thought that have prevailed for the last two centuries - the decidability of truth, the triumph of reason ... the objectivity of science [etc.] ..." (p.106).[BACK]

#[p71] [3] I have selected to show the range of contacts. Some mentioned in the diary extracts may not appear as their impact was relatively small. Some who gave vital support in many different ways, tangential to the research, do not appear. I extend the use of Craneís term invisible college here to cover all those, from many backgrounds, who influenced my thinking. [BACK]

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Chapter Five