Holding harm: narrative methods in mental health research on refugee trauma

Qual Health Res. 2010 Dec;20(12):1664-76. doi: 10.1177/1049732310376521. Epub 2010 Jul 27.


In this article, we question narrative inquiry's predominant ethics of benefit when engaging in narrative research on trauma and social suffering. Through a particular focus on the use of a narrative methodology in a refugee health study, we explore the potential risk and protective function of narrative trauma research with vulnerable respondents. A review of ethical questions emerging during the course of a multiple-case study with refugee families documents how narrative methods' characteristics clearly revisit the impact of traumatization on autonomy, narrativity, and relationship building in participants and, thus, evoke the replay of traumatic experience within the research relationship itself. Blurring a straightforward ethics of benefit, this reactivation of trauma accounts for the research relationship's balancing movement between reiterating and transforming traumatic distress, and urges for the need to contain coexisting aspects of both harm and benefit in developing narrative research with traumatized participants.

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Research
  • Family / psychology*
  • Human Rights Abuses / psychology
  • Humans
  • Intergenerational Relations
  • Narration*
  • Principle-Based Ethics*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Researcher-Subject Relations / ethics*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Violence / psychology
  • Vulnerable Populations