On Researching a Health Condition That the Researcher Has Also Experienced

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This article aims to explicate the particular aspects of reflexivity that arise in a research project when the researcher has personally experienced the condition that is the topic of the research. These issues are illustrated in the context of one specific study, in which the researcher was conducting qualitative research on an intervention for Type 2 diabetes, when she herself had had Type 1 diabetes since early childhood. The first set of issues concerns the advantages and disadvantages of the researcher’s experiential knowledge of the topic. These include the possibility for greater empathy with participants, the concomitant problem of false assumed similarity, the need to bracket one’s expectations, and the dilemma of whether or not to disclose one’s condition to participants. The second set concerns the researcher’s emotional reactions to the content of the research: becoming aware of the potential harmful consequences of one’s condition, feeling a sense of connectedness with the participants, learning from their struggles, and potentially benefitting personally from conducting the research. These issues are particularly salient in qualitative research, but may also apply to quantitative approaches. They are important to examine, not only because they may affect the trustworthiness of the findings, but also because of the ethical imperative to evaluate the potential impact of the research on both the participants and the researcher.

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