Purpose Researchers increasingly recognise emotional challenges can emerge when studying emotionally sensitive topics such as violence. This exploratory study examined emotional challenges research staff (research assistants/interviewers/study clinicians) experienced while working on violence-related research studies and identified supports that helped staff deal with emotionally-charged content.
Methods Semi-structured qualitative interviews (n=34; Mean=48 min; sd=7 min) were conducted with a purposefully selected sample of research staff recruited through web-based searches (NIH RePorter, clinicaltrials.gov) and expert recommendations. Participants were between 20–67 years old; 77% women; 62.9% white, 14.3% Latino, 11.4% African-American, and 11.4% other races/ethnicities). A quarter reported personal histories of physical/sexual victimisation (25.7% as adult and 22.9% as child). A thematic approach for qualitative data analysis was used. We began with deductive codes developed from prior research/theory and then used Erickson’s (1986) method of analytic induction. This iterative procedure was used to develop and test empirical assertions for this qualitative study.
Results There was tremendous diversity in the emotional reactions to experienced by research staff. Although participants noted positive aspects of their work (e.g., feeling inspired), they also reported emotional challenges including difficult thoughts, feelings (e.g., exhaustion, overwhelmed) and behaviours (e.g., short temper, bad dreams/nightmares). Helpful supports included clinical supervision and informal supports (e.g. peer-debriefing, self-care activities, social supports). Participants identified barriers that prevented the utilisation of formal supports (e.g., difficulty accessing supervisors, not wanting supervisors to think less of them) and how supports could be more helpful (e.g., consistent clinical supervision, in-person supervision, supervisors discussing their reactions).
Conclusions and Significance Findings suggest that emotional challenges are an important and often overlooked aspect of violence research. Emotional challenges need to be taken into account by investigators planning research on violence and emotionally sensitive topics. Resources need to be budgeted to provide adequate emotional support for the research staff.