Sep 19, 2007

The pitfalls of active engagement amongst researchers

For any qual researcher, having spent a few years in the profession, traveling becomes a very routine, mechanical exercise. So has been the case with me too. Getting in and out of airports has happened without much thought and the time available while flying has been spent going through the research material, if not catching up on the newspaper or sleep. Though a couple of days back, my experience was not quite like the usual.

My fatigue levels were so high thanks to bad work schedule, that it took me less than a minute to fall asleep from the time I boarded the flight. After 15 mins or so of deep sleep, I woke up, looked around and suddenly started feeling uneasy. I could not understand the feeling. I tried distracting myself by listening to my iPod, looking out of the window but nothing worked ! The dominant thought going through my mind was 'i need to get out of here'. The fact that it was not possible made it worse. Changing seats did not help either. I knew i was feeling claustrophobic!

I could attribute this feeling to an extremely cramped seat on a full aircraft. But more importantly I had spent the last couple of weeks researching in flight experiences amongst recent travelers. I had heard their apprehensions and fears around air travel over and over again and I think somewhere it struck a raw nerve.

In the past, I have read about counsellors / therapists developing negative reactions based on exposure to the client's unpleasant experiences. It is the result of active listening and a certain level of engagement and connection that the counsellor has with his client. The term used to describe this phenomenon is called 'vicarious traumatization'. It is usually characterized by a sudden/abrupt onset of symptoms in the therapist.

Though the probability of something similar happening amongst market research professionals is quite low, since we by and large deal with situations that are non-threatening or traumatic, the possibility is not altogether ruled out. A couple of years back I had spent an extensive amount of time interviewing people suffering from heart problems. Though that research did not conjure up any negative reactions in me, I remember one of the clients mention that she felt extremely disturbed hearing those accounts.

If you heard / experienced something like this happen to you or another researcher, I would like to hear from you. In the meanwhile I am hoping that by the time I need to take my next flight I get back into my robotic routine.


shark said...

awesome blog enjoyed reading it.



pbzeppelin said...

smiles...yes reshma, reactions do set in...i can vouch for it. After doing some mundane category like cleaning I suddenly become over germ conscious (normally am a slob). But chill its only temporary and u revert to ur usual self soon enuf !