Concepts form crucial building blocks in mental health theory. However, as abstract linguistic terms, concepts in counselling psychology are commonly used without critical examination of their meaning. When we use vaguely or ambiguously defined concepts in academic and general discourse, we risk reducing valuable ideas to unproductive clichés. Empirical concept analysis is specifically devised to illuminate the complex definitional structure of concepts. It also helps us evaluate the use of concepts in teaching, research and practice. It is particularly useful for clarifying concepts within theory development, and is traditionally employed in nursing scholarship, sociology and political science. Concept research has the potential to extend theory by bridging inevitable gaps between our theoretical understandings and our theoretical blind spots.
Key learning points
This workshop will provide a stepwise illustrated description of how I used critical empirical concept analysis as a deductive qualitative research methodology in my recently completed doctoral thesis. This study analysed the meaning of the client factors concept in common factors theory. I will show how a ‘hierarchy of abstraction’ design can produce a graphic representation of several layers of meanings of the concept drawn from participant interviews. I will also explain how data is triangulated by comparison to a partner graphic derived from selective literature review. In the final step the two graphics are combined to create a ‘reconstructed’ concept hierarchy that illustrates the complex inter-relationship of meaning components held within the client factors concept. The resulting model contributes more precise theoretical and practical knowledge about how clients make therapy work.