Methodical Discussions on the Use of Tricky Topics Methods for the Focus Group Discussions with Counseling Students

Erden Başaran Ö., Yıldız H. S., Uğurel Kamışlı M., Üçok S. B.

International Education Congress, Antalya, Turkey, 17 - 19 November 2022, pp.63-65

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • City: Antalya
  • Country: Turkey
  • Page Numbers: pp.63-65
  • TED University Affiliated: Yes


Problem 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. Method 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 64 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 participants. 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. Expected Results/Outcomes 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 similar obstacles. 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 counseling. Keywords: Focus group interviews, tricky topics, qualitative inquiry, counseling References Aslan, Ş., Akşab, G., Korkmaz, K., Türk, F. & Hamamcı, Z. Çevrimiçi grupla psikolojik danışmada yaşanan güçlükler ve çözüm önerileri. Milli Eğitim Özel Eğitim ve Rehberlik Dergisi, 1(2), 207-239. Colucci, E. (2007). “Focus groups can be fun”: The use of activity-oriented questions in focus group discussions. Qualitative Health Research, 17(10), 1422-1433. Cruz, S., Lencastre, J. A., Coutinho, C., Clough, G., & Adams, A. (2016). Threshold concepts vs. tricky topicsexploring the causes of students' misunderstandings with the problem distiller tool. In Proceedings of CSEDU 2016, 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (Vol. 1, pp. 205-215). SCITEPRESS–Science and Technology Publications. Erzen, E. (2021). COVID-19 salgını sürecinde psikolojik danışmanlık. Milli Eğitim Özel Eğitim ve Rehberlik Dergisi, 1(2), 332-374. Kitzinger, J. (1995). Qualitative research: introducing focus groups. British Medical Journal, 311(7000), 299-302. International Education Congress 17-19 November 2022 / Akdeniz University 65 Kiye, S. (2021). Dijitalleşme sürecinde çevrimiçi psikolojik danışma. Sosyal Bilimlerde Uluslararası Dijital Dönüşüm Konferansı Tam Metin Bildiri Kitabı, 2, 226-234. Koçyiğit, M., & Erkan Atik, Z. (2021). COVID-19 sürecinde psikolojik danışma ve süpervizyon: #evdekal deneyimi. Baskent University Journal of Education, 8(1), 284-308. Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2003). 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