International Education Congress, Antalya, Turkey, 17 - 19 November 2022, pp.63-65
Focus group discussion as a qualitative data collection strategy has unique characteristics (Kitzinger, 1995). This
moderator-led small group discussion technique aims to unpack participants’ perspectives on particular cases or
phenomena. Moreover, one of the most advantageous characteristics of the focus group interview is that it has the
potential to be merged with other data collection techniques to enrich the data (Colucci, 2007). The other most
salient advantage of the focus group discussions is that participants, data collectors, moderators, and observers can
individually or collaboratively contribute to both the methodological and phenomenological development of the
research by reflecting on the data collection process. This characteristic of reflection sharing enables participants
to revisit their ideas about the data collection process and researchers with varying roles to improve the ongoing
data collection and analysis process (Seal et al., 1998).
Given these advantageous characteristics of focus group discussion, this study discusses the methodological
implications of our recent project that used the salient characteristics of focus group discussions in an attempt to
explore the opinions of junior and senior students studying in the Department of Psychological Counseling and
Guidance on online psychological counseling. In this study, we used Tricky Topics (TTs) to collect enriched data
and allocated additional time for reflections on the overall experiences of participants and research team members
with varying roles.
The TTs technique is an exploration process rather than a structured interview (Cruz et al., 2016). When
implementing TTs, it is important to determine Threshold Concepts (TCs). According to Meyer and Land (2003),
TCs are defined as obstacles preventing students from understanding a concept more deeply or moving to the next
stage in a subject. For a situation to be TC, it must have one or more of its transformative, irreversible, unifying,
limited, and problematic features. The TTs technique, on the other hand, is a collective application used to
determine the TCs on certain issues and identify possible solutions.
Using the TTs method, this exploratory case study investigates counselor trainees' perspectives on the obstacles,
ethical issues, and potential solutions to online counseling. The TTs data collection method is essential for enabling
future psychological counselors and stakeholders to collaborate closely, explore new ideas, and develop solutions
that meet their needs in online psychological counseling practice. In addition, participants engage in collaborative
dialogue and co-create actionable steps to advance TT-based online counseling.
This study provides important insights into how counseling students perceive the increasing demands of people
for online counseling in Turkey and throughout the world due to COVID-19. In recent studies, the majority of
professionals have addressed this issue from the perspectives of mental health professionals and clients (Aslan et
al., 2021; Erzen, 2021). Only a few studies examined the online counseling experiences of students, who are also
service providers and receivers. For example, Kocyigit et al. (2021) and Kiye (2021) investigated the online
counseling experiences of COVID-19-affected students. This study investigates students' evaluations of obstacles,
ethical issues, and proposed solutions to the obstacles they encountered. Our study contributes to the online
counseling literature and, provides heuristic values to counseling trainees and counselors by allowing them to
reflect on their practices through reflecting their and others’ online counseling experiences with the help of The
Tricky Topics (TT) data collection method. The originality of the study can be summed up as methodological
contributions with the use of the TT technique as an engaging and self-reflective data collection technique,
conceptual contributions to counselor capacity building and counselor training programs, and methodological
contributions to the qualitative inquiry.
The design of this study is a two-phase Exploratory Case Study. In this two-phase exploratory study, the TT data
collection technique was used. TT data collection technique allows future psychological counselors and
stakeholders to collaborate closely and explore new ideas and build solutions that fit their requirements in online
psychological counseling practice. Participants engaged in collaborative discourse and co-created practical
measures to progress online counseling using the TT approach. We anticipated that both the way of collecting the
International Education Congress
17-19 November 2022 / Akdeniz University
data and the sequential analyses are unique for the aim of this study. In the first phase of the study, we administered
a small demographic survey to determine how many of the 130 junior and senior students in the Department of
Psychological Counseling and Guidance have provided online counseling within the scope of their Practicum in
Individual Counseling course. Later, we communicated with those who provided online counseling (50
participants) in their counseling practicum course, to get their consent to participate in the focus group process.
Those who consented were randomly assigned to one of the five Tricky Topics groups with a maximum of five
For each focus group discussion, we assigned a moderator researcher and an observer researcher. Three 30-minute
sessions were organized with 15-minute breaks. The main role of the moderator was to explain the key concepts
of the TTs technique, whereas the observer recorded the group dynamics and the non-verbal communication cues
of the participants. In the first session, participants were given preliminary information about the TTs and TCs
techniques, and they were guided to determine a topic about online psychological counseling. In the second
session, they determined the threshold concepts. In the last session, they developed possible solutions. Lastly, we
conducted two reflection sessions where participants, a moderator, and an observer were involved.
The research team thematically analyzed the data collected about the data collection process with TTs methods
and reflection sessions. During this session, we used the voice recordings of the reflection session and observers’
notes. The other data sets collected about the initial online counseling experiences of the participants were not
actively used in the study because they were about the obstacles they encountered during online counseling
sessions. Yet, when necessary, the research team revisited the findings of the actual research to understand when
and where participants provided divergent and mutual responses about the online counseling process.
Based on thematic analysis of reflection sets and observation notes, we found three overarching themes:
1. Solidarity development: When participants were asked to mention their online counseling experiences,
they listed the challenges of online counseling. They used expressions such as “I feel the same; I agree
with you” to indicate that they had similar experiences during online counseling. Moreover, they indicated
that they in the discussion groups developed a sense of solidarity that was structured around experiencing
2. Professional awareness about their changing roles: Participants indicated that TTs enabled them to
think about how their roles were destined to change when there was a significant cause such as the
COVID-19 pandemic and they realized that their professional roles should be open to change. Moreover,
they considered alternative ways of developing their self and professional identity.
3. Changes in their roles during the discussion: The observations indicated that each participant began
the discussion with a certain role based on their manifested personality. However, the roles that they
assigned themselves slowly changed to engage more with the others in the group. Dominant leadership
roles or timid behaviors were eradicated as they noticed the similarity of their experiences in online
Keywords: Focus group interviews, tricky topics, qualitative inquiry, counseling
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17-19 November 2022 / Akdeniz University
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practising within the disciplines (pp. 412-424). Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh.
Seal, D. W., Bogart, L. M., & Ehrhardt, A. A. (1998). Small group dynamics: The utility of focus group discussions
as a research method. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2(4), 253.