Using the MMogo-method® to elicit mental health workers' coping strategies from a positive participatory perspective
Van der Westhuizen, Jenni
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Researchers often benefit from gathering data from participants without any regard for the participants’ needs. In other words, the data gathering process is often not reciprocal in nature, as the researcher is often the only beneficiary. The Mmogo-method® is proposed as a data gathering method that also benefits participants. Three distinct phases are distinguished in applying the Mmogo-method®. During the first phase the researcher gains entry into the research context an ethically sensitive manner. Participants are asked to arrange themselves into groups (not more than eight to ten people participate in a session). They are duly informed of the nature of the research topic and what it entails; namely that they will be requested to make visual representations of specific experiences by using unstructured materials such as malleable clay, dried straw and different colours and sizes of beads. The participants are also informed that only partial confidentially of the information that they share can be ensured because of the group context in which the data are obtained. The participants are, however, asked to treat all shared information as confidential. The Mmogo-method® is usually applied in a group context to allows the dynamics of group processes to inform and enrich the research context. The second phase is introduced by an open-ended prompt that requests the participants to use the unstructured material to visually represent their experiences. In this study, mental health workers were asked to visually represent their coping strategies. On completion of the visual representations, the third phase is initiated. A team of researchers (including counsellors and if needed interpreters) engage in a process of individual and group discussions. Individual participants explain the meaning of each object and action(s); the relationship between the objects and the relevance of the objects in relation to the research prompt; and finally the symbolic value of the objects. After the individual participant has explained the visual representation, the rest of the group is asked to complement the individual participant’s explanation with their perceptions or experiences. Little or no literature is available on how participants experience a visual research method (Mmogo-method®). In this study, the researcher used the Mmogo-method® to elicit mental health workers' coping strategies from a positive participatory perspective and to describe the participants’ experiences of participating in the Mmogo-method® as a data gathering method to elicit the coping strategies of the mental health workers. Mental health workers (telephone counsellors, trauma counsellors, social workers, social auxiliary workers and other professionals) are required to engage with the challenges their clients face and to assist them by means of psycho-social interventions on a daily basis. The mental health workers from Childline who work with children deal with clients who undergo various traumatic experiences, such as severe violence and neglect; physical, emotional and sexual abuse; abduction, homelessness and prostitution. The coping of these mental health workers is important because violence against children is one of the most prominent manifestations of violence in South Africa. More than half of the reported cases against children during the financial year of 2010 were sexual offences. There is a significant shortage of mental health workers to address children’s psycho-social needs in South Africa. Due to the traumatic nature of the mental health workers’ work, they often experience burnout, vicarious traumatisation and compassion fatigue. The management of Childline requested an investigation into the coping strategies of their mental health workers. Childline is a non-governmental organisation that provides a 24-hour toll-free helpline, as well as online counselling services to children and their families. Permission to conduct the research was obtained from the North-West University’s ethical committee, as well as from the heads of departments of the relevant mental health workers. The mental health workers from Childline were invited to participate in the research. The Mmogo-method® was specifically applied from a positive participatory approach and allowed for the positively focused subjective contributions of research participants to the research process. Qualitative research with a case study design was applied. Textual and visual data were gathered and analysed in two phases. First, by the researcher and participants during the research process, and second, by using thematic analysis for the textual data, and visual data analysis of the visual data. Findings revealed themes related to the coping strategies of the mental health workers on an intrapersonal and an interpersonal level, which is not the focus of this study. In terms of the application of the Mmogo-method®, the mental health workers experienced the research context of unconditional positive regard and acceptance as a therapeutic intervention. The applied method supported the mental health workers in making a positive appraisal of their coping strategies and environment. They gained insight into their level of appreciation for their current occupation and interpersonal relationships. They also became more aware of their coping strategies in these contexts. The positive and supportive research context, the material used in applying the method and the group processes experienced were identified as factors contributing to the therapeutic experience of the process. These aspects lead the mental health workers to awareness, maintaining their focus and allowing for shared experience. The findings highlighted that research is not only a matter of obtaining data from participants, but should also allow participants to benefit from the process. Further research is recommended to explore other methodologies that could serve a dual purpose of addressing the needs of both the researcher and participant.
- Health Sciences