the ethics of emotionally demanding research

EmotionallyDemandingResearchNetwork.pngThe University of Sheffield’s Emotionally Demanding Research Network has recently worked with the University Research Ethics Committee to create a brand new guidance paper related to Emotionally Demanding Research.

It is openly available and we would be delighted if you want to adopt, adapt, or repurpose our note in support of your own researchers.

This is designed to help individuals designing research projects to assess the emotional load and risk to the people who will be conducting the research. Although engaging in traumatic or sensitive research themes can be exceptionally rewarding, it is important to be mindful that researcher wellbeing may be affected. Research has shown that exposure to traumatic research (without adequate support or coping strategies) may lead to vicarious trauma: a negative change in thoughts, perceptions and interpretations as a result of repeated engagement with traumatic research related materials and experiences.

We point out also that special attention should be paid to the wellbeing of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers who tend to be immersed in a single project.

To further raise awareness and prompt reflection and good planning, we have also worked to design amendments to the Ethics Application System for all research projects. The ‘Risks to the Researcher’ section now lists emotional load and vicarious trauma as prompts to the applicant.

Additionally, we have drafted some suggested wording for the University’s ‘Grant Costing Tool’ which will enable the risks of emotional load and vicarious trauma to be flagged at an earlier point, when applying for funding.

We are also planning to feed into design of guidance/training for ethics reviewers, and research supervisors, to ensure that the policies can be applied in an enabling way, and cannot not be used to discriminate with regard to who is appointed to emotionally demanding research work.

In recognition that ‘all policy and no practice’ will serve to change very little in reality, our Emotionally Demanding Research Network meets regularly, and through face to face and mailing list functions, serves to support researchers with debriefing, sense-making, and emotional auditing, as well as hosting guest speakers on topics related to, for example, Reflexivity, Boundary Setting, Writing for Mental Health.

The Emotionally Demanding Research Network is co-led by Emma Nagouse, PGR in the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) whose own research is on an emotionally demanding topic, analysing biblical and contemporary rape narratives.

You can read about how we designed the network here.

And read our ABC guide to stress management through demanding research experiences (of any kind) here.



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