Research methodology: a basic awareness study

For any profession to survive and develop, on-going research is necessary, challenging old concepts and introducing and developing new ideas. In order for this to take place a reliable procedure needs to be followed.  

Research methodology and how research findings can inform counselling practice

Before any counselling research can be undertaken it is vital to consider the ethical guidelines applicable. McLeod (2011, p.167) states that “Research in counselling is bound by a general set of ethical guidelines applicable to all types of investigation of human subjects, but also generates unique dilemmas and problems distinctive to the nature of the counselling process”.

In the ethical guidelines for researching counselling and psychotherapy, Bond (2004, p.9) further adds that research integrity requires both a robust ethical commitment to fairness as well as honesty and competence in all aspects of the work. The BACP Ethical Framework includes some guidelines in regard to research and these ought to be adhered to.

The initial stage of any research project would involve the collection of relevant information and data which can be sourced from journals, books and other literature. This could also include personal contact, video and audio tapes, research articles, review papers and online searches.

Once sufficient and valid data has been gathered and assimilated the task of designing and implementing an effective research plan begins. In the selection of appropriate methods to be used, the researcher would decide upon using qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. Although a distinction is commonly drawn between these two types of research McLeod points out (2011, p.73) that many features of qualitative research can be found in certain quantitative studies. In differentiating between the two one can describe quantitative research as being an objective process based upon statistical evidence and contains numbers and statistics which are gathered by mathematical or computational procedures. Qualitative research differs in that it uses words rather than numbers and is divided into the gathering and the analysing of data.

Having selected an appropriate method by which to conduct the research project, the next step would be the collection of data from the subjects selected for the study. McLeod highlights (2011, p.35) the importance of giving careful thought at this stage to the way in which the data gathered will be finally analysed. It is usual for all data to be analysed at one time but in many qualitative studies data is analysed as it is gathered. McLeod (2011, p36) also stresses the need for the method of data analysis to be decided upon in the initial planning and design stage.

Once all the results have been gathered they then need to be analysed, evaluated and discussed. These findings can then be written up and published. McLeod (2011, p.36) further tells us that writing a research report is complex, as information which is technical, descriptive as well as analytical has to effectively be combined.

In addition to the Randomised controlled trials, the BACP Research homepage (web accessed April 2013) identifies two other types of research. The Practice-based research which involves the use of both pre- and post- measures such as CORE and the Systematic Reviews in which the researcher aggregates the findings of similar types of study all addressing the same type of question.

There are various ways in which counsellors can access these research findings in order to inform their practice. The internet is one method and an example of this is the website ‘’ which aims to assist counsellors in getting the most out of research results. They offer easily accessible information both on the specific contents of each issue of the Counselling & Psychotherapy Research publication as well as on other wider research developments. Books are another source of information and one example would be: Essential research findings in counselling and psychotherapy - the facts are friendly, by Mick Cooper (2008) and published in London by Sage Publications. There are also numerous journals and magazines from which information can be gathered such as, Therapy Today, British Journal of Psychotherapy and the BACP’s Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. 

Published research work is informative to the practitioner and can be both informative and supportive in the practice of counselling. For example, the BACP Research homepage (web accessed April 2013) suggests that there is evidence advocating that counselling is equally as effective as CBT. In this same study 51% of clients chose to have counselling rather than to take antidepressant medications although (Baker, R et al.,2002) suggests that a combination of counselling and anti-depressant medication may produce the most beneficial outcomes for clients. It is further interesting to note that (Roijen et al., 2006) suggest that there is no significant difference in the costs between the three interventions of counselling, CBT and usual care and some research actually indicated that counselling is less costly than CBT.

Another example of how research can inform practice was in the instance of a counsellor who was working with a client who continued to self-harm despite their on-going therapy. This had the effect of making the counsellor feel uncertain of their proficiency. By reading the analysis of the research findings of Fleet and Mintz (Fleet and Mintz, 2013, p.44-52) the counsellor came to understand that all five counsellors who took part in this study experienced a range of distressing and intense emotions and this was usual when working with clients who self-harm. By further reading, it was noted that their research supported the fact that this type of client work can affect the counsellors self-confidence and can also have the effect of making make them feel de-skilled.

In conclusion, it is important for counsellors to keep up to date with research findings in order to ensure that their work with clients is rooted in robust rationale. It brings their knowhow and methods of treatment up to date and gives them a choice of interventions to apply when and where appropriate in an ethical way.


  • BACP Research Homepage, Effectiveness of counselling, available from (accessed April 2013).
  • Baker, R., E. Baker, et al. (2002) ‘A naturalistic longitudinal evaluation of counselling in primary care.’ Counselling Psychology Quarterly, Volume 15, (4): (p.359-373).
  • Baker, S.B. (2012) A new view of evidence-based practice, available from (accessed May 2013).
  • Bond, T. (2004) Ethical guidelines for research counselling and psychotherapy. Rugby: British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. (p.9).
  • Bond, T. (2013) BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy, Lutterworth: British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
  • Cooper, M. (2011) ‘Meeting the demand for evidence–based practice’, Therapy Today, Volume 22, Issue 4.
  • Cottrell, S. (2003) The Study Skills Handbook Second Edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  •  Dryden, W. (2003) Handbook of Individual Therapy Fourth Edition, London: Sage Publications Ltd.
  • Fleet, D. and Mintz, R. (2013) ‘Counsellors’ perceptions of client progression when working with clients who intentionally self-harm and the impact such work has on the therapist’, Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, Volume 13, (1). (p. 44-52). 
  • McLeod, J. (2009) An Introduction to Counselling Fourth Edition, Berkshire: Open University Press
  • McLeod, J. (2011) Doing Counselling Research 2nd Edition, London: Sage Publications. (pp. 35/36/73/167). 
  • Roijen, L.H., Van Straten, A. et al. (2006) ‘Cost-utility of brief psychological treatment for depression and anxiety’.British Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 188, (4): (p323-329).
  • Wosket, V. (1999) The Therapeutic Use of Self, Hove: Routledge. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Shepperton, Surrey, TW17
Written by Jane Bronwyn Holder, Counselling. BA (Hons); MBACP; MACC
Shepperton, Surrey, TW17

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