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And this is precisely my point! These clinicians havemade empirical observations on relevant case materialthat have led to modifications or elaborations oftheory. Their observations could be incorporated intothe explicit theory to improve others’ understanding.If your best practice requires you to amend a theory orcombine theories, you may have something to con-tribute.Unique features of cases can inform theoryThe theories we build in counselling and psychother-apy are meant to encompass more than is everencountered in a single case. Each case includesdetails not shared with other cases, and a goodclinical theory helps practitioners understand them.Turning this around, unique features of cases canshow where theories need to grow. Unlike statisticalCorrespondence: Department of Psychology, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056, USA. E-mail: [email protected]Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, June 2007; 7(2): 122Á1271473-3145 (print)/1746-1405 (online)–2007 British Association for Counselling and PsychotherapyDOI: 10.1080/14733140701356742
hypothesis testing, where unique features are oftenregarded as error, case studies can use them to informtheory (Rosenwald, 1988; Stiles, 2005).I think this point is the one made by the parable ofthe blind men and the elephant. The man who felt itsside said the elephant was like a wall; the man whofelt its tusk, like a spear; the man who felt its trunk,like a snake; and so forth. Each inference wasdifferent, but all were at least partly justified and alldescribed the same animal. Although the blind men inthe parable failed to listen to each other, the point isthat the elephant (i.e., counselling and psychother-apy) has many aspects.An adequate theory has to incorporate the distinctfeatures of each case as well as the common features.If you restrict yourself to the themes that are commonacross cases, you will overlook the most interestingparts. Each case tells us something new, and newobservations are always valuable, whether they con-firm previous theory or add something unexpected.Research provides quality control on theoryThe researcher’s task is to make systematic observa-tions and describe them in ways that are accurate andrelevant to the theory. The goal is for theory tocorrespond to observation and practiceÁto describethe world accurately. If the theoretical description andthe clinical observation don’t match, then somethingneeds adjusting. Either the observations were some-how misleading or inaccurately described, or thetheory needs to be modified.So, the researcher’s task is to make and checkobservations (and re-check observations) and, whennecessary, adjust the theory so that it correspondsbetter with the observations. In this process, failuresare as important as successes. Observations that showwhere the theory doesn’t work can be as scientificallyimportantas observations that show where thetheory does work.