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

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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) Introduction to Psychology: Descriptive Research: Case Studies

  • 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) Tips To Write An Excellent Case Study Report In Psychology

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 ...

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

One of the most famous case studies in psychology is that of Chris Sizemore. She was one of the first people to be diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, now called dissociative identity disorder. In her case, the “alter” personalities were all merged into one personality over which she had control.

What are examples of case studies? ›

For example, case studies in medicine may focus on an individual patient or ailment; case studies in business might cover a particular firm's strategy or a broader market; similarly, case studies in politics can range from a narrow happening over time (e.g., a specific political campaign) to an enormous undertaking ( ...

What is the 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 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
registerdocumentation
chronicleannals
journallog
datadiary
238 more rows

How do you write a psychology case study? ›

How to write a psychology case study
  1. Gather information to create a profile for a subject. ...
  2. Choose a case study method. ...
  3. Collect information regarding the subject's background. ...
  4. Describe the subject's symptoms or problems. ...
  5. Analyze the data and establish a diagnosis. ...
  6. Choose a treatment approach.
4 Aug 2021

How do you identify a case study? ›

A case study should include background information on the specific topic, an analysis of the case under student showing problems or effective strategies, as well as recommendations. A case study can focus on a business or entire industry, a specific project or program, or a person.

Why are case studies important in psychology? ›

Case studies capture a range of perspectives, as opposed to the single view of an individual you get with a survey response or interview. This gives the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the subject in hand and reduces the potential for any bias, by diluting the agenda of a particular individual.

What happens 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.

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.

How long is a case study? ›

Most case studies should be at least 500-1500 words long. But you can increase the length if you have more details to share.

How do you write a simple case study? ›

Follow these rules for the draft: Your draft should contain at least 4 sections: an introduction; a body where you should include background information, an explanation of why you decided to do this case study, and a presentation of your main findings; a conclusion where you present data; and references.

What are the advantages of case study? ›

Advantages of Case Study

Ability to see a relationship between phenomena, context, and people. Flexibility to collect data through various means. Ability to capture the context and lived reality of participants. Flexibility to be used at various points in a research project, including pilot research.

What are the key facts of the case study? ›

Facts are the “who, when, what, where, and why” of the case. Describe the history of the dispute, including the events that led to the lawsuit, the legal claims and defenses of each party, and what happened in the trial court. Do not merely copy the facts verbatim; not every detail is important.

When should you do a case study? ›

When Should You Use a Case Study? Case studies are often used in the exploratory phase of research to gather qualitative data. They can also be used to create, support, or refute a hypothesis and guide future research.

What are the five steps to write a case study? ›

Writing a Case Study Analysis
  • Read and Examine the Case Thoroughly. Take notes, highlight relevant facts, underline key problems.
  • Focus Your Analysis. Identify two to five key problems. ...
  • Uncover Possible Solutions/Changes Needed. ...
  • Select the Best Solution.

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.

How do you introduce a case study example? ›

How to write a case study response
  1. Introduction. Introduce the main purpose of the case study and briefly outline the overall problem to be solved.
  2. Description. Write a brief description of the case under discussion giving an outline of the main issues involved. ...
  3. Discussion. ...
  4. Conclusion / Recommendations.
10 Feb 2022

How do you do a case study in psychology? ›

How to write a psychology case study
  1. Gather information to create a profile for a subject. ...
  2. Choose a case study method. ...
  3. Collect information regarding the subject's background. ...
  4. Describe the subject's symptoms or problems. ...
  5. Analyze the data and establish a diagnosis. ...
  6. Choose a treatment approach.
4 Aug 2021

Why is case study important in psychology? ›

Case studies capture a range of perspectives, as opposed to the single view of an individual you get with a survey response or interview. This gives the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the subject in hand and reduces the potential for any bias, by diluting the agenda of a particular individual.

What is an advantage of a case study in psychology? ›

Strengths of Case Studies

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

What is another word for case study? ›

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

What happens 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 are the elements of a case study? ›

8 Essential Components of a Case Study
  • Start with a Compelling Title and Summary. ...
  • Share Background Information About Your Customer. ...
  • Explain the Challenge Your Customer Faced. ...
  • Discuss Your Customer's Decision Process. ...
  • Explain the Solution and Implementation. ...
  • Share the End Results. ...
  • Include Supporting Visuals and Quotes.
1 Feb 2022

What are the five steps to write a case study? ›

Writing a Case Study Analysis
  • Read and Examine the Case Thoroughly. Take notes, highlight relevant facts, underline key problems.
  • Focus Your Analysis. Identify two to five key problems. ...
  • Uncover Possible Solutions/Changes Needed. ...
  • Select the Best Solution.

What is case study advantages and disadvantages? ›

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 the advantages of case study? ›

Advantages of Case Study

Ability to see a relationship between phenomena, context, and people. Flexibility to collect data through various means. Ability to capture the context and lived reality of participants. Flexibility to be used at various points in a research project, including pilot research.

Does a case study need a hypothesis? ›

Hypotheses are important for case study research because they help single out a limited set of features present in the observed cases that the researcher considers to be more relevant to describe them or explain their behavior.

What is the major disadvantage of the case study method? ›

Disadvantage of Case Study Method of Data Collection

Due to as narrow focuses a case study has limited representatives and generalization is impossible. No Classification. Any classification is not possible due to studying a small unit. Possibility of Errors.

Is it case study or care study? ›

a case study is when u analyze or report about the status of the patient. it includes the assessment, patho-physio of the disease, etc. its more general. care plan includes the ones that you put above.

What is the synonym of the word case? ›

Some common synonyms of case are example, illustration, instance, sample, and specimen.

What is the other term used for scientific method? ›

What is another word for scientific method?
research cyclescientific methodology
methodology of sciencescientific analysis
scientific investigationscientific procedure
scientific researchsystematic investigation

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