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© Cambridge University Press 2007. Introduction Qualitative assessment has long made a central contribution not only to psychological approaches to health and illness but also to traditional medical practice itself. In taking a case history a medical practitioner is engaged in a process of interviewing a patient to find out about their experiences. During this process the questioning is flexible and is influenced by the patient’s previous answers. The practitioner must listen to and interpret what the patient tells them. The practitioner then uses their own explanatory framework to try to understand the patient’s experience and determine an appropriate course of action. These processes of adaptable questioning and interpretation are central to qualitative assessment. In qualitative assessment, the researcher (or practitioner) begins with a question about experience or process, flexibly seeks out the information to answer that question and then uses interpretative skills to provide an explanation and understanding of the phenomena of interest. The development of explanations often highlights changes or interventions which can be implemented to enhance health care provision. Also central to traditional medicine is the use of the concept of cases, for example in everyday clinical practice and as exemplars in teaching. The study of cases in health psychology has been reinvigorated by Radley and Chamberlain (2001) and is well suited to qualitative, rather then quantitative, approaches to assessment. A wide variety of qualitative methods has been applied to the study of health and illness.

Original publication





Book title

Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health and Medicine, Second Edition

Publication Date



314 - 318