Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis for the
study of lesbian couples' experiences of parenthood
Hanna Van Parys
Faculty of Psycholgy and Educational Sciences, Ghent University
Dialogical Practices Conference, Leuven 2013
[email protected]
Qualitative research in psychology
Studying couple experiences: individual versus couple data
Analysing joint interviews
Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) with couples
Implementation of IPA with couples
Questions and feedback
Start 2008:
PhD: Exploring parentification:
Children’s experiences of growing
up with a depressed parent
(University of Leuven)
Clinical practice
Trained as family therapist at
Context, Center for marital, family
and sextherapy, University
Hospital Leuven
Supervisor: Peter Rober
Co-supervisor: Jonathan A. Smith
Research project about social and
genetic parenthood (Ghent University)
Family therapist at the Ghent
University Hospital
Current research project
Prospective parents
Parents and Children - Retrospective
Own gametes
Own gametes
Oocyte donation
Donor gametes
Hetero and
85 couple interviews
Qualitative research in psychology
Content analysis
Thematic analysis
Narrative analysis
Conversation analysis
Discourse analysis
Grounded theory analysis
Interpretative phenomenological analysis
Qualitative research in psychology
Qualitative research methods are expanding
Growing number of ‘modificications’ of established methods
Search for specific qualitative methods for the analysis of
couples’ experiences
Studying couples:
individual versus couple data
Eisikovits & Koren, 2012
Mode of data collection
Separate interviews
Reilly et al. (2010), Wane et al. (2009),
Dancyger et al. (2010), Eisikovits & Koren
Separate interviews performed
simultaneously by different interviewers
Joint interviews
Both separate and joint interviews with same
Separate interviews with some participants
and joint interviews with others
Morris (2001), Walker & Dickson (2004)
Analysing joint interviews
Joint interviews = common method for data collection
However, couple data often treated as individual data
E.g. Glover et al. (2009), Hargreaves (2006)
Some other examples show how a closer look at couple
dynamics in joint interviews is worthwile:
- Walker & Dickson (2004)
- Morris (2001)
- …
Analysing joint interviews
Walker & Dickson (2004): experience of coping with minor
health problems in couples
Data-analysis: grounded theory analysis
Analysis of couple narratives is organised in five ‘couple types’
(sympathetic couple, independent couple, mixed couple, nonreciprocal
couple, rejecting couple)
Quotes illustrate couple dynamics such as negotiating of care
Research question congruent with data collection
Analysing joint interviews
Morris (2001): experiences of cancer patients and their carers
Data analysis: dialogic discourse analysis
Focus on co-construction, turntaking, power dynamics, etc.
Focus of analysis is on relationship between patient and carer
Analysing joint interviews
These studies can be used as examples for our own
research project on lesbian couples' experiences of
parenthood after medically assisted reproduction
Aim of this study is to get a closer understanding of both
shared and unshared experiences of parenthood.
However: clear methodological guidelines are missing
Analysing joint interviews
Aim: to build a methodological framework connecting both
phenomenological qualitative analysis and the analysis unit
of couples and families
Starting point: interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA)
Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009
Focus on lived experience
Idiographic commitment
Established method for research about family relationships
How to modify IPA to the analysis of couple interviews?
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
(Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009)
Case by case analysis:
Read the transcript and make descriptive/linguistic/conceptual notes (paper and pencil)
Do a first coding (paper and pencil)
Transfer the first coding into a Word document
Cluster the themes into higher order themes
Make a table of themes holding information about key phrases and locations in the
Write an accompanying short narrative about the case
Case by case analysis followed by comparison across cases
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
with couples
Additional focus on:
- shared experience
- interactional processes
- reported differences between partners
Exploring other research methods compatible to IPA:
- Performative analysis
- Microanalysis
- Conversation analysis
Performative analysis
Riessman (2008)
“dialogic/performance analysis … interrogates how talk among
speakers is interactively (dialogically) produced and performed
as narrative” (Riessman, 2008 p. 105)
- Focus on the manner of speaking together, the process of coconstruction of the narrative
- Theoretical base: symbolic interactionism
- Utterences situated in I-thou relationship, this I-thou
relationship is manifest in couple interviews
Bavelas et al. (2000, 2010)
Method applied to research in family therapy
Microanalysis of communication = “the detailed and reliable
examination of observable communication sequences as they
proceed, moment by moment, in the dialogue” (Bavelas et al.,
2010, p. 18).
Focus on collaborative, reciprocal dialogue and moment-bymoment ‘micro’ influence
Bavelas et al. (2000, 2010)
Four questions guiding microanalysis:
- what actually happened?
- what preceded it?
- what followed it?
- how did it function?
Conversation analysis
Detailed analysis of conversation in context.
Importance of high level of detail in the transcripts
Focus on “seen but unnoticed dialogical practices”
Question: how do dialogical features contribute to the
construction of “realities”?
Conducted in ‘natural dialogues’, e.g. telephone conversation
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
with couples
How can the experiential starting point of IPA and a
dialogic/performative focus be integrated?
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
with couples: implementation
Six steps of IPA
Two additional phases:
- Four instead of three types of ‘notes’: process/couple notes
including interpretation of interaction between partners (e.g.
elaborating on each others story, nuancing, illustrating) and the
ways partners take each other into account when talking (e.g.
biological mother validating parental role of parnter)
- Colour coding of these ‘co-constructions’ of partners in
MAXQDA (software for qualitative data-analysis)
experiential analysis integrating dialogic aspects
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
with couples: implementation
Research question: how do lesbian parents experience
family communication about the donor conception?
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
with couples: implementation
Screenshot of Word document
Screenshot of MAXqda
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
with couples: implementation
Excerpt from interview 1: 00:17:00
Hanna: How is it for you to talk about it (the donor conception) when Tim doesn’t ask any
questions about it?
Sara: look, then we don’t talk about it huh. They just told us: the only thing you have to
make sure is not to say anything more than what your children are asking for. So the
moment he has a question, we’ll answer it. So the moment there is a question, we’ll
answer him.
Hanna: yes yes
Sara: but just give the information they (children) are asking for.
Lisa: not elaborating on it
Sara: “do I have a dad?”, we’ll answer: “no you don’t have a dad”. We won’ t say: “do you
know how come” or “no you don’t have a dad because…”
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
with couples: implementation
(exerpt continued)
Sara: If they want to know they will ask.
Lisa: And then we will, then we will answer them of course.
Sara: With Tim that’s very easy: the question has never been raised (laughs)
Lisa: but maybe it’ll come in the future (laughs)
Sara: Lien sometimes asks “don’t I have a dad?” “no you don’t have a dad”. “who’s belly
did I grow in?”, she already asked. Yes, things like that.
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
with couples: implementation
Excercise: can you make some process/couple notes for this
-descriptive notes
-linguistic notes
-conceptual notes
-couple/process notes
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
with couples: implementation
Overview of (preliminary) themes for interview 1:
Only answering when child asks questions
Talking about donor conception spontaneously
Meaning of parents’ ‘names’
Fearful expectations towards the future
Worried about the child not talking to peers
Couple communication
Communication with wider social context
Questions and feedback
- Growing number of qualitative studies focusing on couple
- Difficulty to find analysis method that preserves the richness
of couple data and allows for systematic analysis of coconstructed meanings
- Need to specify data-analysis and to apply it consequently
- Recent developments in experiential qualitative research
with couples can also inspire research about therapeutic
The goal?
Adding to the development
of qualitative research in
the field of couple and
family studies
Doing meaningful
qualitative research
using these methods
Bavelas, J. B., Healing, S., Tomori, C., & Gerwing, J. (2010). Microanalysis workshop manual
(unpublished manuscript). University of Victoria, Victoria BC, Canada.
Bavelas, J. B., McGee, D., Philips, B., & Routledge, R. (2000). Microanalysis of communication in
psychotherapy. Human Systems: The Journal of Systemic Consultations & Management, 11(1), 3-22.
Dancyger, C., Smith, J.A., Jacobs, C., Wallace, M., Michie, S. (2010), Comparing family members’
motivations and attitudes towards genetic testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer: a qualitative
analysis. European Journal of Human Genetics, 18, 1289-1295,
Eiskovits, Z., & Koren, C. (2012). Approaches to and outcomes of dyadic interview analysis. Qualitative
Health Research, 1642-1655.
Glover, L., McLellan, A., & Weaver, S. M. (2009). What does having a fertility problem mean to
couples? Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 27(4), 401-418,
Hargreaves, K. (2006). Constructing families and kinship through donor insemination. Sociology of
Health & Illness, 28(3), 261-283,
Morris, S. M., (2001). Joint and individual interviewing in the context of cancer. Qualitative Health
Research, 11(4), 553-567,
Reilly, D., Huws, J., Hastings, R., & Vaughan, F. (2010). Life and death of a child with down syndrome
and a congenital heart condition: experiences of six couples. Intellectual and Developmental
Disabilities, 48(6), 403-416,
Riessman, C. K. (2008), Narrative methods for the human sciences. London: Sage.
Smith, J. A., Flowers, P., & Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis : theory,
method and research. London : Sage.
Walker, K. L. & Dickson, F. C. (2004). An exploration of illness-related narratives in marriage: The
identification of illness-identy sripts. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21 (4), 527-544,
Wane, J., Larkin, M., Earl-Gray, M., & Smith, H. (2009). Understanding the impact of an Assertive
Outreach Team on couples caring for adult children with psychosis. Journal of Family Therapy, 31, 284309,
[email protected]

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