Case studies are often part of college psychology curricula due to their importance in the mental health field. Case studies focus on an individual and his psychological issues, allowing mental health practitioners to tailor an intervention to the subject and gain information that may not be found in experimental psychology for ethical reasons. Whether it's part of a college course or the focus of a senior project, producing a quality case study is important for both grade point average and future career experience.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
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Things you need
- Assignment guidelines
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV)
- Audio recorder
- Video recorder (optional)
- Writing utensil
- Thumb drive
- Plastic report binder
- Heavy stock paper
Read the case study assignment guidelines thoroughly. A professor or adviser may give these guidelines to you in the form of a syllabus or guide sheet. Highlight the requirements for easy reference and write down any questions or clarifications you need for the assignment.
Schedule a meeting with the professor of the class or an academic adviser. It's important to get a meeting as soon as possible to go over any questions you have.
A faculty member is often busy and has several other students to meet with, so scheduling a one-on-one session will ensure you a place in her diary.
Meet with the professor or faculty adviser as scheduled. Be prepared with questions, and ask for any resources he can give you. Present your subject and your plan for executing the case study. Do not end the meeting until you are confident that you understand every aspect of what will be required of you in performing your case study.
Prepare the informed consent paperwork. Both the U.S. Office for Human Research Protections and the American Psychological Association have guidelines to ensure the rights and safety of any participant of a psychological study. The subject should be told in writing the purpose of the research, any risks associated with his participation, the level of confidentiality in the study, incentives for participation, and who to contact with any questions or concerns regarding the research. The subject should also be given the chance to refuse the study once he is given the information. A signed informed consent indicates he understands the study and their specific role.
Choose the subject of the case study. Students may be allowed to choose a character from a movie or TV show for a classroom case-study assignment. Higher level or thesis students are often required to choose a living subject. The subject should be a willing participant who has signed the informed consent and is able to take part for the full duration of the study.
Preparing a Case Study
Prepare a case profile and history on the subject. Record an interview with the subject and ask questions to gain detailed knowledge about the subject. Start with classification information, such as name, age, sex, race, and ethnicity. Take into account her family dynamic (e.g. parents still together, divorced, siblings, etc.), academic performance, criminal history, learning problems, and past or present drug or alcohol dependence. Include questions about her social circle, how she interacts with others, her life goals, and her accomplishments to date.
Determine the psychological issue or issues that will be the focus of the case study. Ask about the current life situation and problems the subject is facing. Have him give you his perceived problems, how they affect his interactions with others, including friends, work colleagues, and family. Note any recurring problems the subject has because of these issues.
Describe the determined issues by referencing criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. The DSM-IV is the standard classification tool used by mental health professionals. It encompasses many different fields of study and provides descriptive text to help you pinpoint your diagnosis.
Choose your intervention approach. Some professors will assign an intervention approach based on the class they're assigning the case study for. A cognitive behaviour class may expect an intervention based on helping the individual adapt to the environment by shaping their perception of the world around his diagnosed behaviours. A psychoanalytic intervention, in contrast, would require treatment based on dream analysis or free association. Some professors may allow you to choose your own approach. Others may require multiple intervention approaches in the same case study.
Proofread and edit your case study. Make sure you have formatted correctly according to the APA guidelines or alternative guidelines that may be assigned by your professor. Review your work to ensure inclusion of all required sections and information. Ask a specialised writing tutor or adviser to review your work and offer feedback on things you may not have noticed in your self-edit.
Submit the final copy by the deadline. Make sure it is neat and presented according to class requirements (e.g. bound in a plastic cover, printed on heavy stock paper, etc.). If required, turn in all notes or recorded sessions with the subject.
Writing the Case Study
Tips and warnings
- Read as many sample case studies as you can prior to writing your own. Familiarity with the layout and content will help you produce quality work.
- Respect the subject. Thank her and refrain from referring to her as "the subject." Use her actual name to help her feel more at ease during the case study process.
- Keep all your notes for the duration of the study. Do not tape over audio or video interviews. Consult your professor or academic adviser to see if notes should be kept after the study, and, if so, for how long.
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