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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
February 1, 2015
Canadian Excellence

Research Forum Slides

February 23, 2015

The 2015 Research Forum slides will be available following the event.  Below are the slides from the 2014 Research Forum.


The stigma of mental illness: Learning from the situated knowledge of psychiatrized youth, caregivers, and young siblings.

Maria Liegghio’s research is focused on the stigma of mental illness and child and youth mental health. Using a participatory action research approach, Maria worked collaboratively with a group of youth diagnosed with a mental health issue to assist in three initiatives: The development of a national youth survey on stigma; a thematic content analysis of the ways young people living with a “mental health issue” are portrayed in popular media; and a photo-voice project that explored what “normal” mental health was in children and youth.  As well, she interviewed parents and younger siblings about their stigma experiences as family members.  Maria will present her journey from being a “consumer” to a “producer” of research, as well as some of the outcomes of her research and the significance to social work.  Funded by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the results will be used to inform policy and program initiatives aimed at improving the mental health system across Canada.


Exploring the experiences of unwed mothers in Morocco: An ethnographic study of Solidarité Féminine

This qualitative ethnographic study of the Casablancan women’s agency Solidarité Féminine explored the experiences of unwed mothers in Morocco and the agency’s community organization and advocacy efforts on their behalf.  Stigmatized by their controversial status, unwed mothers in this Islamic nation are often ostracized by their families and society. Solidarité Féminine’s three-year program offers job training, academics, advocacy and support to unwed Moroccan mothers. Data was obtained through personal interviews with seven direct service staff members, a review of internal agency documents, published interviews with Solidarité Féminine president Mme Ech-Channa, a literature search of academic articles, reports from international organizations such as the United Nations, and internet news reports. Employing an anti-oppressive, feminist theoretical framework, the data analyzed underscored that unwed mothers face both interpersonal and institutionalized oppression that relegates them to marginalized roles in Moroccan society. The research also revealed that many staff (interviewed or otherwise) were individually engaged in peaceful social and political activism, and advocated strongly for the mothers within their roles as service providers. Examining the experiences of unwed mothers in Morocco grants local, national, and international actors’ insight into the oppressive situation of these women and the role that agencies such as Solidarité Féminine can have in providing culturally sensitive, tangible and empowering solutions.


Violence, healing and the movements of meaning: Using symbolic objects in qualitative social work research

In this presentation, we use interdisciplinary perspectives on objects to highlight the methodological use of symbolic objects in facilitating the construction and reconstruction of meaning in a qualitative social work research project exploring youth violence and healing among racial minority youth in Canada. To highlight the role of objects in making visible the intricate processes of meaning making and remaking, we provide a close-up view of a symbolic objects activity performed by members of a Research Advisory Group in one site of a larger multisite project. We discuss the implications for broader qualitative practices in social work.


Participant construction of life circumstances: Experiences of walk-in counselling and traditional counselling

This presentation reports the findings of a qualitative analysis of a smaller sample from the larger study looking at the effectiveness of the walk-in counseling model.  The purpose of this analysis was to further explain and build on the findings of the quantitative study through the collection of rich, in-depth contextualized information from participants.  Participant narratives about their experience with walk-in and/or traditional counseling spanned their history with services and their life experiences.  This created the major overarching category of the analysis: participant construction of life circumstances.  Participant experience of services was embedded in this context.  A participant’s journey through and experience with services was characterized in four interconnected ways:  Accessibility (barriers and/or facilitators influencing a person’s ability to receive and obtain services) was salient in understanding the effectiveness of the walk-in model.  Conversely, participants discussed the failure of the system in not meeting their needs once engaged in service.  In understanding who benefits most from service and why, readiness for service (the degree to which a participant is motivated and able to commit to and engage in counseling) was highlighted, as was the meaning of service (participant’s way of making sense of the service).


Involved fatherhood and gender equity

The Involved Father and Gender Equity project was a collaborative effort between the White Ribbon Campaign and Dad Central. The study explored the positive roles that fathers, organizations working with diverse fathers, and the fatherhood sector in Ontario in general can play in promoting gender equality, healthy, equal relationships, and ending violence against women in all its forms. The data for the study consisted of several modalities including focus groups, surveys of fathers who participated in the focus groups, interviews with stakeholders and professionals working on engaging fathers, and a preliminary environmental scan of the services available to fathers in Ontario.
Fifty-three (53) fathers took part in nine focus groups in communities across Ontario. These focus groups took place across Ontario in a wide range of communities in an attempt to obtain a cross-section of fathering experiences. These focus groups focused on father’s narratives about being involved with their children and how their involvement promoted gender equality. Through these narratives, preliminary links are suggested regarding the ways that involved fathering supports gender equality.
This presentation will provide an overview of the major findings associated with this study and implications regarding service delivery and the conceptualization of fatherhood in North American Society.


That “One essential spark”: A qualitative study championing the strengths of mothers with mental health concerns and emphasizing structural oppression in their lives.

Background: Mothering with mental health concerns is a growing area of mental health research. Despite this growth, many studies remain deficits-based, and tend to blame family breakdown on mothers. Relatively few researchers address the impact of structural oppression on mental health, and they do not champion mothers’ strengths. The current study aims to fill this gap.

Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 mothers living with different mental health concerns in Ontario, Canada. Ideas regarding motherhood, strengths, challenges, supports, and services were explored. Interviews were transcribed verbatim by the author, and Grounded Theory (Strauss & Corbin, 2008), thematic analysis was carried out. Social constructivist and critical (feminist) paradigms were used to analyze the data.

Results: Mothers’ strengths emerged as two concepts: resilience and resistance, as well as Self in Connection (Baker-Miller et al., 1991; 1997). Mothers highlighted the relevance of structural oppression on their mental health, which in turn, created the need for resilience and resistance in their lives. Furthermore, the ability to be healthy rested on a balance of Self in Connection, which was related to biological, existential, and environmental factors. One mother described this balance beautifully as the “one essential spark.”
Conclusion: Helping professionals should consider gender inequalities when working with mothers; they should also advocate for affordable and long-term specialized services for mothers and their families. In addition, providers should focus on hope, strengths, dignity, and relationship when working with mothers, as opposed to focusing on risk, failure, and shame. A holistic framework, as well as a Relational Cultural approach, may be particularly helpful in creating this shift.


Placing ourselves in relation: Euro-Canadian narratives of grappling with Indigenous sovereignty, territory, and rights.

Despite burgeoning interest in Indigenous/non-Indigenous alliances, little scholarly attention has been given to the processes by which non-Indigenous people come to actively support Indigenous struggles for sovereignty, territory, and rights.  Using a lens informed by Indigenous scholarship as well as critical spatial, postcolonial, and critical whiteness theories, this dissertation research explores Euro-Canadian narratives of coming to grips with--and coming to actively support--Indigenous rights and relations to land.  Research findings are based intensive interviews with 23 activists currently living in Southern Ontario who have engaged for at least two years in supporting Indigenous land defense struggles.  Using narrative and critical discourse analysis, I attend to the overall trajectories of participant narratives, as well as to the specific cultural narratives and discourses that participants draw upon and contest in their personal stories and activist practices.  

Interviews reveal multi-faceted processes of action and reflection that pivot around engagements and relationships with Indigenous people.  These cycles follow two interrelated and at times competing trajectories:  an upward anti-colonial spiral of praxis, focused outward, that entails witnessing and confronting historic and on-going colonial practices; and a downward decolonizing spiral, focused inward, that involves a reiterative interrogation of base assumptions, entrenched colonial mindsets, and deeply-held investments in settler privilege.  Further, these twinned cycles of praxis follow shifts from (settler) spaces of comfort to progressively more indigenized spaces:  spaces and places shaped and informed by Indigenous cultures, histories, knowledges, protocol, politics, and ways of being.  Implications for anti-colonial community practice and education will be discussed.   


Should therapists ask women survivors about thoughts or behaviours involving sex with children?

This mixed-methods study explored whether counseling practices with women survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA) reflect the belief that women do not sexually abuse children and include inquiry about thoughts and counseling involving sex with children.  The first phase of the study surveyed Canadian therapists who work with women survivors (n=164) about their beliefs about CSA and their counseling practices regarding inquiries about sexually abusive counseling.  Telephone interviews were conducted in the second phase with selected study participants (n=22) to further examine the relationship between their beliefs and their self-reported counseling in counseling practice with women survivors.  
The survey demonstrated that 70% of respondents thought it was important to inquire with women survivors about thoughts and counseling involving sexual abuse of children; however, a key finding was the discrepancy between the therapists’ stated ideals and description of their actual practices. Therapists also demonstrated differential gender beliefs about sexual perpetration.  The telephone interviews provided information about the dilemma of inquiring for the therapist and strategies to explore the issue.  The “dilemma” refers to the therapeutic reasons/ethical responsibility to have this discussion versus the possible negative effects on the client, discomfort of the therapist, and inadequate training.  Strategies to explore the issue are presented including normalizing, ensuring client understanding, and using different types of inquiry.

The study concludes that counseling practices with women survivors should include the exploration of thoughts or behaviours involving sex with children and that this exploration should be conducted in a sensitive and professional manner.


European-Canadian older adults in Polish-centered long-term care: Exploring the experiences of Copernicus Lodge long-term care residents

The older population is growing faster than the total population in most regions of the world and the difference in growth rates is increasing. By 2036, the number of seniors in Canada is projected to reach 9.9 million which would surpass the number of children aged 14 and under. As the number of older adults in Canada increases and becomes more ethnically diverse, it is anticipated that there will be an augmented demand for long-term care facilities to provide ethnically-centered long-term care. Although previous research has focused on the experiences of ethnic older adults in dominant-culture long-term care, experiences of ethnic older adults in ethnically-centered long-term care is largely absent from the scholarly literature. Utilizing a grounded theory approach, this study analyzed the interviews of nine residents of the long-term care unit at Copernicus Lodge. Preliminary data analysis revealed two core concepts; cultural familiarity and institutional accountability which provide insight toward the participants’ level of engagement and overall satisfaction with Polish-centered care. The results of this study contribute to an understanding of the appropriateness of ethnically-centered long-term care options for Canadian immigrants.


Documentary film making as a rallying point to address violence against women in rural/remote communities: Case study of the Voices Initiative of Caledon and Dufferin

For the past eighteen months, a group of eight researchers from the Faculty of Social Work in tandem with twenty-three members of a community advisory group from the Town of Caledon and Dufferin County have worked on a community-based research project to address issues of violence against women in rural and remote communities.  The framework for this initiative was to break the silence relative to murders which have taken place in the past few years in the Town of Caledon, Dufferin County, and Orangeville (located in Dufferin County), Ontario.  A critical examination of the concept of “gender-based analysis” in VAW research work will be presented as well as the roll out of the project.  Merits and challenges of utilizing arts-based methods documentary work and social media as research methodologies will be discussed amongst the presenters.  A presentation of certain elements of the documentary and social media will be highlighted for dialogue and debate.


“What’s in it for me”?  Trials, tribulations and promising practices in accessing survivors as research participants in the violence against women sector.

Reaching out to hard to reach individuals for research is a delicate, arduous and ethically compromising endeavor.  Through this SSHRC funded research project, we have successfully recruited over 100 survivors of intimate partner violence to participate in individual interviews and focus groups across the Ontario regions of Waterloo, Halton, and Dufferin County. Along this journey we have learned a great deal on how best to engage in a meaningful and respectful way research participants who have informed how we understand the post-shelter experiences of survivors.  This workshop will illustrate the parameters of our research project, the bridge between “theory” and “practice” in participant recruitment, the challenges in working with “gatekeepers” as well as the numerous lessons we have learned on how best to work with survivors in any research process. 


Improving parenting by tuning into trauma and attachment: A formative evaluation of a parenting group offered by Family and Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region 

This presentation will focus on a study that explored the impact of a short-term, attachment and trauma-focused parenting group for primary parents/caregivers who have open protection files with Family and Child Services of the Waterloo Region (F&CS). The Trusting Loving Connections (TLC) program is one of the trauma and attachment-based therapeutic interventions of the broader Tuning into Trauma and Attachment initiative of the F&CS. This program targets the caregiver’s history of unresolved trauma and attachment disruptions while seeking to improve parenting skills. Outcomes across the dimensions of primary parents’/caregivers’ (1) parenting skills, (2) engagement with F&CS and (3) satisfaction with F&CS were measured at three time points including pre TLC participation, post TLC participation and after six months had elapsed. The preliminary findings point to the importance of increasing clinical supports for parents at F&CS. This study builds evidence-based capacity for F&CS to provide improved services and to increase clinical supports available to the families it serves. The findings will inform other agencies about best practices to serve their clientele and allow other agencies to access this service model.


On the other side of the fence: Grand-Erie community-based participatory research with KAAJAL women using photovoice methodology

This community-based participatory research explores the health effect of employment for immigrant/refugee women from Korea, Asia, Africa, Japan, Arab countries, and/or Latin America (KAAJAL women) in Grand Erie – a middle-sized urban/rural area in Ontario—using Photovoice methodology. In keeping with the tenets of Photovoice, twenty KAAJAL women were given digital cameras to record their lived experiences of employment and health in Grand Erie.  Preliminary analysis of participant generated photographs and interviews using grounded theory and intersectionality suggest that while working conditions (such as work tasks and hours of work) influenced women’s physical health, the work atmosphere (friendly or hostile) was the key determinant of women’s mental health as well as their decision to stay/or leave their current employment. The results show that Photovoice enables participants to communicate the nuances of their mental states (such as emotions and desires) and physical states (such as deteriorating health conditions). This leads to a deeper understanding of the complex interplay of ethnicity, gender roles, sexual orientation, immigrant status and/or socioeconomics contributing to women’s work stress and health. The results have several policy and social work practice implications including highlighting  individual, organizational, and family factors that lead to health related absenteeism, stress and health problems (such as backaches, muscular problems, depression, etc.). The study builds on scant literature on work stress and women’s health for this population. The findings will also contribute to the designing of culturally responsive and gender-sensitive programs to ease women’s transition into the labour market and increase their access to health services in Canada’s rural and mid-sized cities.


Advancing the evidence for single-session walk-in counseling

Planned single session therapy (SST) has been defined as “any one-visit treatment that is intended to be potentially complete unto itself” (Hoyt, 1994, p. 141). It can be offered via a scheduled appointment or when clients are seen without an appointment on a walk-in basis. In the last decade, single session walk-in counseling (SSWIC) has been increasingly embraced by community-based mental health and family counseling agencies in Ontario. This presentation will describe the mixed methods sequential explanatory design employed to address the following research questions: Is the SSWIC model clinically effective in terms of reducing psychological distress and decreasing the use of other health and social services? Can we predict who benefits most from this model of service delivery from socio-demographic data, nature of presenting problem, initial level of psychological distress, and “readiness for change”? How does the SSWIC model compare to the traditional approach in terms of cost-effectiveness? We will also describe procedures used to recruit an adequate sample size under challenging conditions. Clients requesting counseling in an agency where many are placed on a wait list served as the comparison group. Sample size for the pre-test was 525, 371 at first follow-up, and 371 at second follow-up. Fifty in-depth interviews were conducted.