Hermeneutic Phenomenological Research: A Practical Guide for Nurse Researchers


Marlene Zichi Cohen, David L. Kahn & Richard H. Steeves

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  • MNR: Methods in Nursing Research


    Pamela Brink, R.N., Ph.D.

    The purpose of the Research Methods in Nursing series is to provide basic references to designs, methods, and sampling procedures not readily available in other formats. Each book is designed to be a complete reference to any single topic.

    Books in This Series…

    • Ethnography in Nursing Research
    • Janice M. Roper
    • Jill Shapira
    • Hermeneutic Phenomenological Research
    • Marlene Z. Cohen
    • David L. Kahn
    • Richard H. Steeves


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    Series Editor's Foreword

    Nursing science has had a relatively short history when compared to the other professions. Much of its scientific method has been borrowed from other disciplines and other schools of thought. As a result, nursing has had to adapt research methodologies developed for and by other disciplines to suit nursing problems. Early in nursing scientific history, therefore, nurses used the experimental design and the sociological method of surveys. Frequently, however, the questions that interest nurses involve what is known as “soft” data or data that are not directly amenable to counting and mathematical manipulation. Instead, nursing often asks questions about people and how they are living with their illness or treatment. To answer those questions, nurses turned to qualitative research methods.

    Nursing then wanted to know which qualitative research method is the best one to use. That question, of course, is too simplistic. The question should be which qualitative research method is the best one to answer the question I am asking. Once again, however, nursing borrowed research methodologies from other disciplines, methodologies that had been developed to answer that discipline's questions. To answer nursing questions, the methodologies needed to be adapted. The proliferation of articles on qualitative research methods and the disagreement among researchers as to how to conduct certain types of research have led to the development of this research series.

    There are many research methods available to answer nursing research questions. None is intrinsically good or bad. Each has its usefulness and limitations. To do a specific piece of research, however, the researcher needs to be familiar with the particular method and how it can help to answer the question being asked. This series of books is attempting to provide serious researchers with the information they need to select the appropriate research method for a particular project. Because no single method is adequate to answer all questions and because no single researcher is equally good at all methods, these books provide an in-depth resource for serious scholars.

    Hermeneutic Phenomenological Research is a guide to the conduct of phenomenological research using the philosophical underpinnings of hermeneutics.

    There are many forms of phenomenological research, many different philosophical positions on phenomenology, and many teachers of phenomenological research methods. This text takes one position and describes it in its entirety. The first chapter gives an excellent overview of phenomenological research, its historical antecedents, and its philosophical underpinnings. The authors move from this introduction into the “how to” of doing research using this method. The chapters are in the same logical sequence they would follow in any basic research text. This is a “stand alone” text and can be used by first-time researchers who wish to learn to use this method. The text is also useful as a resource and reference for advanced researchers.

    One of the unusual aspects of this book is that the three coauthors have maintained their individuality throughout the book. Each author writes in a different “voice” or style. Yet all authors have agreed to the content and substance of each chapter as it fits the work as a whole.

    Marlene Cohen, David Kahn, and Richard Steeves have collaborated on a number of phenomenological studies. They are a research team. They have been well funded both locally and federally for their work. The book uses their own work as examples of the method. Because they are a team, the book naturally exemplifies team research. Hermeneutic phenomenology can be done by single investigators as well as by a team of investigators, as the authors point out. I believe you will find this a fascinating book.

    Pamela J.Brink, RN, PhD Series Editor


    Have you ever read a book and wondered about the process the authors used to create it? We are about to tell you about the process that we used to write this book. You will notice that each chapter has a named author. This book is not quite an edited book. We worked together to outline the contents of the book, that is, the topics of each chapter. We then divided the work of writing each chapter, and each wrote his or her part. When we sent our chapters to each other, it was clear that we each used very different writing styles. We decided not to edit out our differences for two reasons. First, writing and individuality are very important in hermeneutic phenomenological research. (We will describe our method in far more detail throughout this book, especially in Chapter 1.) Second, the students I was working with at the time we wrote the first draft of this book read the draft and said they spent a great deal of time trying to figure out who wrote which part. For both of these reasons, we decided to acknowledge our differences and contributions up front and keep our individual styles. We each contributed to all of the chapters. We each read, critiqued, and helped add content to the chapters we did not write. Also, because we have worked together, some of what we wrote has come from that shared work.

    We wrote this book for nurses, both graduate students and practitioners, who have some knowledge and experience with research but who are new to phenomenological research. One of the reviewers of an earlier version of this book suggested it could be used as a text or text supplement for researchers at all levels. We have each conducted a number of studies and, to write the book, we have drawn from our research and from our teaching of research to doctoral students. The chapters stand alone and thus can be read in any order. We have, however, organized them in an order that we thought would most logically lead readers through the process of conducting their first hermeneutic phenomenological research project.

    We wrote more about teamwork in this book. I do want to begin by acknowledging that working with this team of authors was, as always, a pleasure. Because we work in different cities, as we each wrote chapters, we e-mailed text to each other. I also want to acknowledge and thank Mrs. Nancy Villarreal for her expert assistance putting these chapters together and resolving formatting problems.

    We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we have enjoyed writing it.

    Marlene Z.Cohen


    This book is dedicated to my mentors, colleagues, students, and informants from whom I have learned so much, and especially to my husband, David M. Cohen, who has made the journey so much more fun.

    —Marlene Z. Cohen

    This book is dedicated to our teacher and friend, Jeanne Quint Benoliel.

    —David L. Kahn
    —Richard H. Steeves

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    Author Index

    • Aamodt, A., 88
    • Altheide, D. L., 88
    • Barritt, L., 9, 76, 77, 81
    • Beckman, T., 9
    • Beecher, H., 40
    • Benoliel, J. Q., 96
    • Binswanger, L., 9
    • Bleeker, H., 9
    • Bleicher, J., 74
    • Bogdan, R., 59, 62, 68
    • Brenner, P., 60
    • Brentano, F., 7
    • Brown, L., 11, 12
    • Clark, J. A., 75
    • Cohen, M. Z., 3, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 17, 21, 23, 43, 44, 61, 77, 81, 82, 83, 87, 91–92
    • Cowles, K. V., 90, 91
    • Craft, M. J., 21
    • Creasia, J., 22
    • Creswell, J. W., 85
    • Denzin, N. K., 8, 59, 60, 72
    • Dilthey, W., 5
    • Dreyfus, H., 48, 60
    • Dumont, J. P., 69, 89
    • Durand, E., 43
    • Dzurec, L. C., 23
    • Ellis, C., 89
    • Emerson, R. M., 68
    • Fielding, N. G., 75
    • Fischer, K., 9
    • Fish, S., 88
    • Fontana, A., 59
    • Fretz, R. I., 68
    • Frey, J. H., 59
    • Gadamer, H.-G., 5, 6, 45, 46, 52, 62, 74
    • Gadow, S., 89
    • Gallagher, S., 59
    • Garfinkel, H., 53
    • Geertz, C., 8, 46, 60, 72, 89, 98
    • Gergen, K. J., 88
    • Gergen, M. M., 88
    • Gift, A., 22
    • Giorgi, F., 9
    • Guba, E. G., 32, 48, 85, 88, 90, 91, 92
    • Gubrium, J. F., 59, 60, 61
    • Gumperz, J. J., 53
    • Gurevitch, Z. D., 38
    • Haberman, M., 81
    • Halpern, E. S., 90
    • Heidegger, M., 5, 7, 8, 9, 74
    • Hinds, P. S., 60, 91
    • Holstein, J. A., 59, 60, 61
    • Huberman, A. M., 75
    • Husserl, E., 1, 5, 7, 8, 9
    • Huttlinger, K., 88
    • Hymes, D., 53
    • Iwata, P., 81
    • Jacox, A., 6
    • Johnson, J. M., 88
    • Kahn, D., 3, 8, 56, 58, 60, 61, 72, 76, 82, 88, 89, 94, 96
    • Kahn, D. L., 97
    • Kant, I., 3
    • King, M., 51
    • Knafl, K., 23
    • Kneipp, S., 63
    • Kockelmans, J. J., 45, 52, 72, 76, 89
    • Lamb, G. S., 88
    • Lee, R. M., 75
    • Ley, C. D., 77
    • Lincoln, Y. S., 32, 48, 85, 88, 90, 91, 92
    • Lipson, J. G., 88
    • Luckmann, T., 1
    • McAulay, L. S., 91
    • Mannon, J. M., 49
    • Marcel, G., 8
    • Marcus, G. E., 88
    • Martin, J., 60
    • Merleau-Ponty, M., 8, 9, 46, 74
    • Miles, M. B., 75
    • Mitchell, A., 40
    • Morse, J. M., 61
    • Moses, G., 43
    • Mulderij, K., 9
    • Nightingale, F., 4
    • Ornery, A., 9
    • Parker, B., 22
    • Phillips, J. M., 43, 44
    • Plowfield, L. A., 97
    • Ray, M. R., 63
    • Richards, L., 75
    • Richards, T. J., 75
    • Ricoeur, P., 59, 76
    • Rieman, D., 81
    • Roche, M., 3
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    About the Authors

    Marlene Z. Cohen, RN, PhD, is the John S. Dunn, Sr., Distinguished Professor in Oncology Nursing at The University of Texas, Houston, Health Science Center, School of Nursing, with a joint appointment at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center as Coordinator of Applied Nursing Research. She received her PhD in clinical nursing research from the University of Michigan, where she began her program of research on the emotional response to physical illness. Her work has focused principally on oncology since 1990. Using primarily phenomenological techniques in her research, she has conducted several funded studies that examined the meaning of illness from patients' perspectives, described nurses' experiences of working with people with cancer, and compared the perceptions of patients, health care providers, and family members. She is continuing this research aimed at obtaining an accurate understanding of the experience of having cancer and cancer treatment to develop more effective interventions to provide care for patients and their loved ones. In addition, she works with a number of faculty and staff at the Anderson Center on a variety of projects, including the treatment of pain; symptom management, which includes obtaining an understanding of the meaning of symptom management interventions; the use of dream analysis by nurses; improving care for neuro-oncology patients; factors associated with development of prolonged postoperative ileus; and psychological interventions to support patients having bone marrow aspiration.

    David L. Kahn, PhD, RN, is Associate Professor and Luci Baines Johnson Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing. He received his PhD in nursing science from the University of Washington in 1990. His dissertation was a study of the experiences of suffering and meaning among residents of a nursing home for Jewish elderly. Subsequent research includes studies of loss and illness in African American elders and women. His current research is a study of cancer patients in a hospice program. He teaches doctoral courses in qualitative research methods and culture and health.

    Richard H. Steeves, RN, PhD, is Associate Professor in the Family Division of the School of Nursing at the University of Virginia. He received his PhD from the University of Washington in 1988, where his dissertation was a study of the experiences of bone marrow transplantation patients. His major interest is suffering and how people find meaning in the face of suffering. The complexity and emotional weight of this topic convinced him that hermeneutic phenomenology would provide the best methods for exploring them. This concern with suffering has led to an interest in oncology from the points of view of the patients and the families that care for them. Hospice research has also been an interest because of the suffering and challenge to meaning that the end of life presents. The study of bereavement was a natural extension of that work. Presently, he is piloting an intervention to help recently bereaved people reestablish a sense of ongoing meaning in their lives. His plan is to use hermeneutic phenomenological method in part as a means of evaluating the intervention.

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