What Is a Case Study in Psychology? (2023)

WhatIs a Case Study?

Case Study:

A case study is an in-depth study of one person, group, or event. In a case study, nearly every aspect of the subject's life and history is analyzed to seek patterns and causes of behavior. Case studies can be used in various fields, including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, and social work.

The purpose of a case study is to learn as much as possible about an individual or group so that the information can be generalized to many others. Unfortunately, case studies tend to be highly subjective, and it is sometimesdifficult to generalize results to a larger population.

While case studies focus on a single individual or group, they follow a format similar to other types of psychology writing. If you are writing a case study, it is important to follow the rules of APA format.

Benefits and Limitations

A case study can have both strengths and weaknesses. Researchers must consider these pros and cons before deciding if this type of study is appropriate for their needs.

Pros

One of the greatest advantages of a case study is that it allows researchers to investigate things that are often difficult to impossible to replicate in a lab. Some other benefits of a case study:

  • Allows researchers to collect a great deal of information
  • Give researchers the chance to collect information on rare or unusual cases
  • Permits researchers to develop hypotheses that can be explored in experimental research

Cons

On the negative side, a case study:

  • Cannot necessarily be generalized to the larger population
  • Cannot demonstrate cause and effect
  • May not be scientifically rigorous
  • Can lead to bias

Researchers may choose to perform a case study if they are interested in exploring a unique or recently discovered phenomenon. The insights gained from such research can help the researchers develop additional ideas and study questions that might be explored in future studies.

However, it is important to remember that the insights gained from case studies cannot be used to determine cause and effect relationships between variables. However, case studies may be used to develop hypotheses that can then be addressed in experimental research.

Case Study Examples

There have been a number of notable case studies in the history of psychology. Much ofFreud's work and theories were developed through the use of individual case studies. Some great examples of case studies in psychology include:

  • Anna O: Anna O. was a pseudonym of a woman named Bertha Pappenheim, a patient of a physician named Josef Breuer. While she was never a patient of Freud's, Freud and Breuer discussed her case extensively. The woman was experiencing symptoms of a condition that was then known as hysteria and found that talking about her problems helped relieve her symptoms. Her case played an important part in the development of talk therapy as an approach to mental health treatment.
  • Phineas Gage: Phineas Gage was a railroad employee who experienced a terrible accident in which an explosion sent a metal rod through his skull, damaging important portions of his brain. Gage recovered from his accident but was left with serious changes in both personality and behavior.
  • Genie: Genie was a young girl subjected to horrific abuse and isolation. The case study of Genie allowed researchers to study whether language could be taught even after critical periods for language development had been missed. Her case also served as an example of how scientific research may interfere with treatment and lead to further abuse of vulnerable individuals.

Such cases demonstrate how case research can be used to study things that researchers could not replicate in experimental settings. In Genie's case, her horrific abuse had denied her the opportunity to learn language at critical points in her development.

This is clearly not something that researchers could ethically replicate, but conducting a case study on Genie allowed researchers the chance to study phenomena that are otherwise impossible to reproduce.

Tips for Selecting a Good Topic for Psychology Case Studies

(Video) Case Studies - Research Methods [ A Level Psychology ]

Types of Case Studies

There are a few different types of case studies that psychologists and other researchers might utilize:

  • Collective case studies: Theseinvolve studying a group of individuals. Researchers might study a group of people in a certain setting or look at an entire community. For example, psychologists might explore how access to resources in a community has affected the collective mental well-being of those living there.
  • Descriptive case studies:These involve starting with a descriptive theory. The subjects are then observed, and the information gathered is compared to the pre-existing theory.
  • Explanatory case studies: Theseare often used to do causal investigations. In other words, researchers are interested in looking at factors that may have caused certain things to occur.
  • Exploratory case studies: Theseare sometimes used as a prelude to further, more in-depth research. This allows researchers to gather more information before developing their research questions and hypotheses.
  • Instrumental case studies: Theseoccur when the individual or group allows researchers to understand more than what is initially obvious to observers.
  • Intrinsic case studies:This type of case study is when the researcher has a personal interest in the case. Jean Piaget's observations of his own children are good examples of how an intrinsic cast study can contribute to the development of a psychological theory.

The three main case study types often used are intrinsic, instrumental, and collective. Intrinsic case studies are useful for learning about unique cases. Instrumental case studies help look at an individual to learn more about a broader issue. A collective case study can be useful for looking at several cases simultaneously.

How to Write a Case Study

There are also different methods that can be used to conduct a case study, including prospective and retrospective case study methods.

Prospective case study methodsare those in which an individual or group of people is observed in order to determine outcomes. For example, a group of individuals might be watched over an extended period of time to observe the progression of a particular disease.

Retrospective case study methods involve looking at historical information. For example, researchers might start with an outcome, such as a disease, and then work their way backward to look at information about the individual's life to determine risk factors that may have contributed to the onset of the illness.

Where to Find Data

There are a number of different sources and methods that researchers can use to gather information about an individual or group. Six major sources that have been identified by researchersare:

  • Archival records:Census records, survey records, and name lists are examples of archival records.
  • Direct observation:This strategy involves observing the subject, often in a natural setting. While an individual observer is sometimes used, it is more common to utilize a group of observers.
  • Documents:Letters, newspaper articles, administrative records, etc., are the types of documents often used as sources.
  • Interviews:Interviews are one of the most important methods for gathering information in case studies. An interview can involve structured survey questions or more open-ended questions.
  • Participant observation:When the researcher serves as a participant in events and observes the actions and outcomes, it is called participant observation.
  • Physical artifacts:Tools, objects, instruments, and other artifacts are often observed during a direct observation of the subject.

Section 1: A Case History

This section will have the following structure and content:

Background information: The first section of your paper will present your client's background. Include factors such as age, gender, work, health status, family mental health history, family and social relationships, drug and alcohol history, life difficulties, goals, and coping skills and weaknesses.

Description of the presenting problem: In the next section of your case study, you will describe the problem or symptoms that the client presented with.

Describe any physical, emotional, or sensory symptoms reported by the client. Thoughts, feelings, and perceptions related to the symptoms should also be noted. Any screening or diagnostic assessments that are used should also be described in detail and all scores reported.

Your diagnosis: Provide your diagnosis and give the appropriate Diagnostic and Statistical Manual code. Explain how you reached your diagnosis, how the client's symptoms fit the diagnostic criteria for the disorder(s), or any possible difficulties in reaching a diagnosis.

Section 2: Treatment Plan

This portion of the paper will address the chosen treatment for the condition. This might also include the theoretical basis for the chosen treatment or any other evidence that might exist to support why this approach was chosen.

(Video) Case Studies in Psychology pt1 Dr. Chris Moulin

  • Cognitive behavioral approach: Explain how a cognitive behavioral therapist would approach treatment. Offer background information on cognitive behavioral therapy and describe the treatment sessions, client response, and outcome of this type of treatment. Make note of any difficulties or successes encountered by your client during treatment.
  • Humanistic approach: Describe a humanistic approach that could be used to treat your client, such as client-centered therapy. Provide information on the type of treatment you chose, the client's reaction to the treatment, and the end result of this approach. Explain why the treatment was successful or unsuccessful.
  • Psychoanalytic approach: Describe how a psychoanalytic therapist would view the client's problem. Provide some background on the psychoanalytic approach and cite relevant references. Explain how psychoanalytic therapy would be used to treat the client, how the client would respond to therapy, and the effectiveness of this treatment approach.
  • Pharmacological approach: If treatment primarily involves the use of medications, explain which medications were used and why. Provide background on the effectiveness of these medications and how monotherapy may compare with an approach that combines medications with therapy or other treatments.

This section of a case study should also include information about the treatment goals, process, and outcomes.

Discussion

When you are writing a case study, you should also include a section where you discuss the case study itself, including the strengths and limitiations of the study. You should note how the findings of your case study might support previous research.

In your discussion section, you should also describe some of the implications of your case study. What ideas or findings might require further exploration? How might researchers go about exploring some of these questions in additional studies?

More Tips

Here are a few additional pointers to keep in mind when formatting your case study:

  • Never refer to the subject of your case study as "the client." Instead, their name or a pseudonym.
  • Read examples of case studies to gain an idea about the style and format.
  • Remember to use APA format when citing references.

A Word From Verywell

Case studies can be a useful research tool, but they need to be used wisely. In many cases, they are best utilized in situations where conducting an experiment would be difficult or impossible. They are helpful for looking at unique situations and allow researchers to gather a great deal of information about a specific individual or group of people.

If you have been directed to write a case study for a psychology course, be sure to check with your instructor for any specific guidelines that you are required to follow. If you are writing your case study for professional publication, be sure to check with the publisher for their specific guidelines for submitting a case study.

2 Sources

(Video) Introduction to Psychology: Descriptive Research: Case Studies

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Simply Psychology. Case Study Method.

  2. Crowe S, Cresswell K, Robertson A, Huby G, Avery A, Sheikh A. The case study approach. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2011 Jun 27;11:100. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-100

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FAQs

What is meant by a case study in psychology? ›

Case studies are very detailed investigations of an individual or small group of people, usually regarding an unusual phenomenon or biographical event of interest to a research field. Due to a small sample, the case study can conduct an in-depth analysis of the individual/group.

What is the simple definition of case study? ›

a case study can be defined as an intensive study about a person, a group of people or a unit, which is aimed to generalize over several units'.1 A case study has also been described as an intensive, systematic investigation of a single individual, group, community or some other unit in which the researcher examines in ...

What is a case study psychology and examples? ›

Collective case studies: These involve studying a group of individuals. Researchers might study a group of people in a certain setting or look at an entire community. For example, psychologists might explore how access to resources in a community has affected the collective mental well-being of those living there.

Why are case studies used in psychology? ›

Benefits of psychology case studies

It can allow researchers to gather and document information about rare conditions or cases. It may provide new evidence to support relevant psychological theories. It can help researchers develop a hypothesis that may be useful to other psychology research studies in the future.

What is the main purpose of a case study? ›

A case study is a research approach that is used to generate an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in its real-life context. It is an established research design that is used extensively in a wide variety of disciplines, particularly in the social sciences.

What is the main point of the case study? ›

This is, then, followed by proven cases where one of the solutions discussed resulted in a company, organization or individual solving the problem outlined. The main purpose of case studies, therefore, is to find a real-life application of a theoretical concept or solution.

What are the 3 methods of case study? ›

He has helpfully characterised three main types of case study: intrinsic, instrumental and collective[8]. An intrinsic case study is typically undertaken to learn about a unique phenomenon.

What is another word for case study? ›

What is another word for case study?
dossierreport
chronicleannals
journallog
datadiary
archiveinformation
238 more rows

What are the four types of case studies? ›

What Are The Types Of Case Study?
  • Illustrative Case Study.
  • Exploratory Case Study.
  • Cumulative Case study.
  • Critical Instance Case Study.
24 Nov 2021

Which is the best example of a case study psychology? ›

The case of Phineas Gage is perhaps one of the most prominent examples of a case study is used in psychology.

What are the example topics of case study? ›

Case Study Ideas
  • Military operations and the PTSD recovery process.
  • The most common misconceptions about children with Autism.
  • The workplace leadership and the complex of Emperor.
  • The perception of danger in different cultures.
  • The origins of bipolar disorder through the prism of domestic violence.

How do you present a case study in psychology? ›

Step by step instructions on how to write an effective case study in Psychology
  1. Gain Knowledge About The Topic. ...
  2. Research the Individual or Event. ...
  3. Analyze The Information. ...
  4. Draft A Plan. ...
  5. Structure Your Work. ...
  6. Write The Case Study. ...
  7. Write a Theoretical Introduction. ...
  8. Describe How The Individual or Event Was Studied.
4 Mar 2022

What is the most famous case study in psychology? ›

The case of Phineas Gage is perhaps the most cited study in psychology. This famous case study showed how different areas of the brain affect personality and cognitive ability.

What is one benefit of a case study? ›

Case studies are often used in exploratory research. They can help us generate new ideas (that might be tested by other methods). They are an important way of illustrating theories and can help show how different aspects of a person's life are related to each other.

How do you prepare a case study? ›

How to Write a Case Study: The Basics
  1. Choose the situation on which to write.
  2. Gather as much information as possible about the situation.
  3. Analyze all of the elements surrounding the situation.
  4. Determine the final solution implemented.
  5. Gather information about why the solution worked or did not work.
20 May 2020

What are the three most important areas of a case study? ›

Again, there are generally three parts: 1) restate POV + meta-statement regarding observations; 2) specific observations and their implications; 3) implications for future research and/or design.

What are the 5 essential elements of a great case study? ›

The Elements of a Great Case Study
  • (1) A time- and issue-bounded dilemma.
  • (2) Explanations of issues and concepts.
  • (3) A story, with vivid characters and moments.
  • (4) Data and other information.
  • (5) Scenarios that lead in different directions.
26 Feb 2019

What are the 6 parts of case study in order? ›

6 parts of a case analysis
  • Preparation. Just like with any study, it's important to first prepare to conduct the case analysis. ...
  • Introduction. ...
  • Background information. ...
  • Proposed solutions. ...
  • Recommendations. ...
  • Review.

What tools are used in case study? ›

A Range of Tools to Lend Efficiencies to Case Study Assignments
  • Paperity. This is an indispensable tool for a research part of working on a case study. ...
  • Zotero. This tool can be indispensable at the research stage. ...
  • Quetext – Plagiarism Checker. ...
  • Producteev. ...
  • MindMapple. ...
  • Wordstorm. ...
  • Self Control. ...
  • Grammarly.
3 Nov 2016

How do you write a case study sample? ›

The case study format is typically made up of eight parts:
  1. Executive Summary. Explain what you will examine in the case study. ...
  2. Background. Provide background information and the most relevant facts. ...
  3. Case Evaluation. ...
  4. Proposed Solutions. ...
  5. Conclusion. ...
  6. Implementation. ...
  7. References.
8 Mar 2022

What are the advantages and disadvantages of case study? ›

Case studies are generally on one person, but there also tends to only be one experimenter collecting the data. This can lead to bias in data collection, which can influence results more than in different designs. It is also very difficult to draw a definite cause/effect from case studies.

What are case examples? ›

1. A detailed analysis of a person or group, especially as a model of medical, psychiatric, psychological, or social phenomena. 2. a. A detailed intensive study of a unit, such as a corporation or a corporate division, that stresses factors contributing to its success or failure.

What are 2 methods used in a case study? ›

Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews, observations, and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g. newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data.

What is the greatest strength of a case study? ›

Case studies are one of the best ways to stimulate new research. A case study can be completed, and if the findings are valuable, they can lead to new and advanced research in the field. There has been a great deal of research done that wouldn't have been possible without case studies.

How many steps are in a case study? ›

It discusses the seven steps employed in a case study approach, namely: (1) Justification for the research paradigm and research methodology, (2) Justification for the case study method, (3) Criteria for judging the quality of case study design (4) Designing the case study, (5) Criteria for selecting a case design, (6) ...

How long should a psychology case study be? ›

While the guidelines and template contain much detail, your finished case study should be only 500 to 1,500 words in length.

Who is the No 1 psychologist in world? ›

Robert Bradley (psychologist)
Robert H. Bradley
BornJuly 14, 1946
CitizenshipAmerican
EducationUniversity of Notre Dame University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Known forResearch on early childhood education
5 more rows

What is the first most common method in doing a case study? ›

Foundation Phase. This is the first and foremost step in conducting the case study. This phase is based on some considerations that research students should carefully look into.

What is a case study in psychology quizlet? ›

Case studies are in-depth investigations of a single person, group, event or community. Typically, data are gathered from a variety of sources and by using several different methods (e.g. observations & interviews).

What are the 3 types of case studies? ›

Types of Case Studies
  • Illustrative Case Studies. These are primarily descriptive studies. ...
  • Exploratory (or pilot) Case Studies. ...
  • Cumulative Case Studies. ...
  • Critical Instance Case Studies. ...
  • Individual Theories. ...
  • Organizational Theories. ...
  • Social Theories. ...
  • Strengths.

How do you answer a case study question in psychology? ›

There are several steps to writing an answer to a case study assignment:
  1. STEP 1: READ THE CASE STUDY AND QUESTIONS CAREFULLY. • ...
  2. STEP 2: IDENTIFY THE ISSUES IN THE CASE STUDY. ...
  3. STEP 3: LINK THEORY TO PRACTICE. ...
  4. STEP 4: PLAN YOUR ANSWER. ...
  5. STEP 5: START WRITING YOUR CASE STUDY ANSWER. ...
  6. STEP 6: EDIT AND PROOFREAD. ...
  7. STEP 7: SUBMIT.

What are 3 advantages of case studies? ›

Provides detailed (rich qualitative) information. Provides insight for further research. Permitting investigation of otherwise impractical (or unethical) situations.

How do you prepare for a case study? ›

Preparation for the case study
  1. Listen to the interviewer and ask questions. ...
  2. Structure the problem and form a framework. ...
  3. Think before speaking. ...
  4. Focus on high-impact issues. ...
  5. Generate a hypothesis and explore options creatively. ...
  6. Demonstrate business judgment. ...
  7. Make quick and accurate calculations.

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