Everything You Need To Know About Writing A Psychology Case Study

Writing a psychology case study can seem to be an onerous task. Not only do you have to worry about the quality of your writing, but also the various sources, types, diagnosis and theoretical approaches as well. But never fear – as here is our step by step guide to help you understand exactly what is necessary.


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What is a Psychology Case Study?

In most cases, a psychology case study focuses on one individual.  However, there are also times when it can be necessary to include multiple cases.  In the case of undergraduate study, it is very common for case study writing to center around a character from a book or a film – for example, the character Hannibal Lecter.

By analyzing and discussing all aspects of your subject’s life, behavior, thought processes and history, it is possible to discover any patterns and possible causes as to why they exhibit the morals, rituals and other aspects that deviate from what is considered accepted behavior.

Throughout history psychological case studies have been accepted as the most accurate way of investigating individuals who show psychiatric and psychological abnormalities that deviate from what we consider being ‘normal’ human behavior.  Looking back at, probably, the most famous of all examples – Freud’s work and theories that we still use to this day were very much developed via his use of in-depth case studies.

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Psychology Case Study Free Sample (Click image to enlarge)



Tips for Making More Accurate Diagnosis

•  Remember that every type of medical case study will not only focus on one set of symptoms.  The human psyche is huge and complex subject, and before you begin to formulate any diagnosis it will be necessary to study the complete case file, and understand how the different symptoms portrayed all interlink for that particular study.  This is extremely important, because all quality case study writing only comes to diagnosis after analyzing all the facts.

• The nature of this kind of study means that your subjects might not always tell the truth.  Failure to spot this can result in false diagnosis.  However, lies in themselves are a powerful diagnostic tool, and you will need to develop a healthy skepticism to be able to understand the underlying information these untruths can provide.

• Use all possible information to formulate your diagnosis.  This should include the case history, patient interview/s along with any relevant information you can find in books or on the Internet.

•  Finally, you not only need to acknowledge any symptoms that are consistent throughout the study, but also note any inconsistencies.  These can be used to add weight to your final diagnosis.

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Sources for a Psychology Case Study

What is important to understand about how to write a case study of this type, is that the study itself is not a research method.  The case study is literally the result of bringing together of all the information necessary to come to diagnosis. In order to produce a psychology case study that is as in-depth and accurate as possible, first you should gather a comprehensive profile.  The information you’ll need to collect will include:

- Official records. This should include any accessible records such as employment, school and medical records, along with any test results that may have been carried out.

- Any personal notes they might have written such as a diary or letters, photographs and official documentation such as their clinical notes and other professional appraisal reports.

- One of the most effective methods of finding out more about your study is the interview.  Along with a direct interview, also consider speaking to the person’s family, friends, work colleagues, teachers, employers and anybody who knows the person well.  Plan your questions in advance, and try to use open questions, rather than closed or rhetorical ones.  This way it allows the answers you receive to give you a genuine insight into the person, rather than hearing anything that you may have already pre-conceived about them.

- Observation. Watching the person – when they are unaware of scrutiny – is an excellent way of gaining a psychological profile.  This can be performed by an individual, but it is more common for direct observation to take place by a group of people.

If you gather your information that way, it will give credence to your eventual diagnosis.

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Theoretical Approaches

Once you have covered all the background for your case study – the background, description and diagnosis, it is necessary to move onto various interventions that could be used to help the person.

This analysis can be made using different theoretical approaches.  You might be instructed to use just one of the theoretical approaches, or you might need to examine and analyze the benefits of multiple approaches.  You should take into account the type of case study you’re writing.  For instance, a schizophrenia case study may benefit from different theories than other studies of a different psychological cause.

The following are the commonly known and used theoretical approaches to producing various interventions that can be used to treat the patient.

•           Humanistic approach

This approach emphasizes the study of the person as a whole. Therefore the study looks at the behavior of the person not only through the therapists (or case study writers) eyes, but also attempts to look at it through the eyes of the case study subject as well. By determining the patients feelings and self-image, a treatment plan can be evolved and put into place.

•           Cognitive-behavioral approach

This approach is very often used by therapists who treat patients with disorders such as mood and eating disorders, along with other conditions such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. It will be necessary to take into account the patients personal musings – such as diary entries, beliefs and how they react to various events and interaction with others in order to find the best approach to treatment.

•           Psychoanalytic approach

Freud championed this particular approach, which takes a look at how the unconscious mind has an influence on behavior, and how this can be used to determine appropriate treatment.

•           Interpretative phenomenological analysis

This theory has a focus on how your case study individual or group makes sense of a particular phenomenon or occurrence. It is likely that whatever this event is, that it will have high personal significance for the subject or subjects of your study.

•           Grounded theory

This method relies on first collecting the data about the subject or events, and from here integrates this into broad categories. Then an effort is made to find out the relationship between these categories – thus further understanding the issues and defining a treatment plan.

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Types of Psychology Case Study

In general, a case study comes under one of two types; Prospective or retrospective.

Let’s take a look at the difference between the two.

Prospective case study writing involves the observance of the client, or a group of people.  An example of a prospective case study might be to watch a group of people with a various disorder over a defined period of time (this could be weeks, months or even years).  By observing and documenting any changes, and the differences between the individuals, it will be possible to see how the disorder progresses – and if there are any differences caused by age, sex, social standing, education etc.

•  In the case of a retrospective case study, your information comes from looking at documented cases – in other words, the historical information that is available.  Let’s take the same example – a particular disorder.  This disorder is the outcome, but you would then work backwards, defining any particular factors that might (or might not) have contributed to why these people contracted the problem in the first place.  If a person is born with some disorder, you could use hereditary factors to see if you could define any particular factors in the parents or grandparents that might have led to them being born with that particular condition.

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Psychology Case Study: Strength and Limitations

Case study writing is an extremely valid tool, but it does have its limitations.  Some of the plus points are that they are very often used to explore new ground.  Because a case study is looking deeply into how various different factors intertwine to create an outcome, then can actively help therapists develop new ideas for treatment.  In particular, they are extremely useful for those who practice holistic approaches towards psychological cases.

However, a case study has an awful lot of room for the personal opinions of the researcher.  No two people will analyze the same information in exactly the same way – so because of this care must be taken to understand that it is possible for author bias to creep in.  And it should be appreciated that because each case study only deals with a particular event, it cannot be taken as a given that any conclusion drawn could apply to a seemingly similar case.

However, as long as these limitations are taken into account, case study writing can be an extremely effective method of research.

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