Risk of Secondary Distress for Graduate Students Conducting Qualitative Research on Sensitive Subjects: A Scoping Review of Canadian Dissertations and Theses Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Qualitative research, in the methods employed and topics explored, is emotionally demanding. While it is common for ethics protocols to protect research participants from emotional distress, the personal impact of emotional work on the researcher can often go unaddressed. Qualitative researchers, in particular graduate student researchers studying sensitive topics, are at risk of psychological effects. It is unclear, however, how this impact on the researcher is discussed in graduate student work and/or the steps taken to address this risk. To provide an overview of how impact on the researcher is considered in Canadian graduate student research, a comprehensive scoping review of dissertations was conducted. Less than 5% ( n = 11) of dissertations reviewed included a plan to mitigate psychological risk to the researcher—suggesting a need for further guidance on minimizing risk of emotional distress. The application of trauma and violence-informed principles to graduate supervision policy and practice is discussed as a promising harm mitigation strategy.


  • Orr, Elizabeth
  • Durepos, Pamela
  • Jones, Vikki
  • Jack, Susan

publication date

  • January 2021