My research interest is concerned with developing understanding in two primary areas; reflective inquiry and teenage pregnancy/parenting. For me it is important that there is a clear link between theory and practice in terms of each area of my work namely research, teaching and counselling psychology practice. To this end my research on reflective teaching and learning has been routed back into course development and more recently development of supervision processes for professionals post graduation - a significant issue in terms of Continuing Professional Development. My research on teenage sexual activity and pregnancy has contributed to development of services specifically catering for teenagers needs and has also been incorporated into training provision for a range of health care professionals. Having worked in a support area for mothers parenting alone and their children I became interested in moving beyond the quantification of problems and investigating what the experience of teenage pregnancy was like from the inside out. To this end I completed the first qualitative analysis of the experience of teenage pregnancy study in Ireland with Professor Colin Bradley (Dept of General Practice, UCC) and Dr. Julie Heslin (SE Health Board). Following from this research I secured a grant from the then Mid Western Health Board to conduct a combined quantitative/qualitative study into teenagers, sexual knowledge, attitudes, experiences and behaviour.
Since 1997 I have been engaged in work with colleagues from Applied Social Studies, Education and Adult & Continuing Education on Reflective Teaching & Learning. The objectives of our work focused on developing knowledge, teaching materials and assessment procedures to support reflective learning on professional education courses. Reflective learning is a constructivist, phenomenological approach to learning based on the ideas of Dewey (1933), Schon (1983), Kolb (1984), Lyons (1998), Nakkula (1998) and Seidal (1998). Kolb's loop concept suggests that experience is acted upon through reflective observation that in turn acts as a basis on which active experimentation followed by feedback, produces change in behaviour. This process encourages students to develop a sense of their own value base and how this relates to theories, methods and professional ethics. Reflective learning is an approach to learning that encourages one to develop a framework of values, knowledge and skills that can be added to, modified and expanded throughout their lifecycle.
As I see teaching and research as being firmly interwoven, in 2000 I engaged in the process of constructing a teaching portfolio, a documentation of the collaborative process of intentional enquiry into aspects of my teaching. A primary goal of teaching is enabling students to develop the skills of enquiry - these are also the fundamental skills of research. The collaborative research I have undertaken with Drs. Murphy & Halton has been focused on developing methods of engaging with students in terms of developing an understanding of their knowledge construction. This work resulted in a being awarded a UCC Presidents Award for Research on Innovative Forms of Teaching and Learning in 2002 and a range of journal publications. The phenomenological underpinnings of this work mirrors the theoretical underpinnings of humanistic and existential approaches to counselling psychology both of which are among the areas I teach at a postgraduate level.