Qualitative psychology is not a particular, focused branch of psychology but rather a way of approaching psychological research and theories. Qualitative methods are an alternative to quantitative approaches that involve statistics and other numerical tools. More subjective methods such as interviewing and observation are the cornerstones of qualitative research. Some psychology theories, such as psychoanalysis, are more reliant on a qualitative approach.
The idea behind qualitative psychology is to place an emphasis on individual and personal experiences. Psychologists are thus interested in learning about each subject’s experiences and how each subject filters those experiences through his or her own unique perspective. Proponents of such an approach also advocate conducting research in naturalized settings that allow more of an individual’s true nature to surface.
As such, qualitative methods typically are informal and not as rigidly structured as most scientific experiments. For example, a researcher who practices qualitative psychology might simply observe and make notes about individuals as they perform routine behaviors and interactions in their everyday setting. The researcher might conduct research at a park, a place of business or even a home.
Interviews are another common research tool that is used in qualitative psychology. Questioning can provide invaluable insight into an individual’s thought processes. Specific questions are left as open-ended and as broad as possible in qualitative analysis, however, to best allow the research subject to control the content and length of the answer.
This openness highlights another key aspect of qualitative psychology approaches: working toward building a hypothesis or theory via deep analysis rather than seeking to prove an existing supposition through statistical and numerical proofs. Other qualitative methods reinforce this inductive approach. For example, researchers might make group or social comparisons via focus groups in which individuals are brought together to give collective feedback about a subject. Psychologists also might study individuals through their creations, such as analyzing artwork or written texts for patterns and insights.
Most areas of psychology use a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, but some theories are more qualitative in nature than others. Practitioners in the psychoanalytic theories and methods of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and others tend to emphasize more talk-based therapy. Most of their approaches rely on a patient freely addressing past issues and present problems through conversations with a counselor. In a broader context, these theories emphasize subjective and largely abstract ideas such as levels of consciousness or the idea of an impulse-driven id in combat with a law-abiding superego in humans.