Emotionally Demanding Research: Boundaries and Responsibilities

Blog by Hannah Hale, June 2023

I recently attended a workshop on Vicarious Trauma. The heads up on this workshop had come from the Emotionally Demanding Research Network. The main message I came away with was that there are a number of things we can do to build on our resilience. This would be in order to prevent emotionally demanding research from impacting negatively on us but also equip us with methods of recovery if needed.

This has had me reflecting though on the question of responsibility with regards to emotionally demanding research. If any aspect of the research experience has a negative impact on the researcher, is it their own responsibility or that of the Principal Investigator to prevent and or/address what has come about in the context? The work of resilience and/or recovery is a personal endeavour for the researcher. But what of the responsibility of the researching body or team? I don’t have the answers but I do think these are questions we should be asking.

My thinking is that these questions could also prompt consideration of the relevance of boundaries. When collecting data, I have at times been treated in a derogatory way. I have experienced discrimination and intimidation. Only now on looking back on this, I question why I didn’t even question at the time or soon after if this was acceptable. I simply accepted what had happened and considered it integral to my role as a researcher. Again though, I do not think it is just the responsibility of the researcher to address these issues when they arise. Could the Principal Investigator or Line Manager talk through the possibility of this happening prior to data collection and discuss options for supporting the researcher in this capacity?

There’s no avoiding that some research is going to be emotionally demanding. Researchers might accept this but questions of responsibility and boundaries can reflect values that could potentially protect and prevent vicarious trauma in these contexts. We need to keep asking ourselves and each other these questions, to get closer to a safer way for researchers to meet the aims of a project. How can we go about ensuring that these conversations come about?

Categories: News & BlogPublished On: July 17, 2023

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