Case Study Method in Psychology (2023)

By Dr. Saul McLeod, updated 2019

What is a case study research method?

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).

The case study research method originated in clinical medicine (the case history, i.e. the patient’s personal history). In psychology, case studies are often confined to the study of a particular individual.

The information is mainly biographical and relates to events in the individual's past (i.e. retrospective), as well as to significant events which are currently occurring in his or her everyday life.

The case study is not itself a research method, but researchers select methods of data collection and analysis that will generate material suitable for case studies.

What is an example of a case study in psychology?

Case studies are widely used in psychology and amongst the best known were the ones carried out by Sigmund Freud, including Anna O and Little Hans.

Freud (1909a, 1909b) conducted very detailed investigations into the private lives of his patients in an attempt to both understand and help them overcome their illnesses.Even today case histories are one of the main methods of investigation in abnormal psychology and psychiatry.

This makes it clear that the case study is a method that should only be used by a psychologist, therapist or psychiatrist, i.e. someone with a professional qualification.

There is an ethical issue of competence. Only someone qualified to diagnose and treat a person can conduct a formal case study relating to atypical (i.e. abnormal) behavior or atypical development.

(Video) Case Study Method(Research Methods in Psychology) Studying Psychology is Fun (SPF)،😇

How is a case study conducted?

The procedure used in a case study means that the researcher provides a description of the behavior. This comes from interviews and other sources, such as observation.

The client also reports detail of events from his or her point of view. The researcher then writes up the information from both sources above as the case study, and interprets the information.

The research may also continue for an extended period of time, so processes and developments can be studied as they happen.

Amongst the sources of data the psychologist is likely to turn to when carrying out a case study are observations of a person’s daily routine, unstructured interviews with the participant herself (and with people who know her), diaries, personal notes (e.g. letters, photographs, notes) or official document (e.g. case notes, clinical notes, appraisal reports).

The case study method often involves simply observing what happens to, or reconstructing ‘the case history’ of a single participant or group of individuals (such as a school class or a specific social group), i.e. the idiographic approach.

The interview is also an extremely effective procedure for obtaining information about an individual, and it may be used to collect comments from the person's friends, parents, employer, workmates and others who have a good knowledge of the person, as well as to obtain facts from the person him or herself.

Most of this information is likely to be qualitative (i.e. verbal description rather than measurement) but the psychologist might collect numerical data as well.

How to analyze case study data

The data collected can be analyzed using different theories (e.g. grounded theory, interpretative phenomenological analysis, text interpretation, e.g. thematic coding).

All the approaches mentioned here use preconceived categories in the analysis and they are ideographic in their approach, i.e. they focus on the individual case without reference to a comparison group.

Interpreting the information means the researcher decides what to include or leave out. A good case study should always make clear which information is the factual description and which is an inference or the opinion of the researcher.

Strengths of Case Studies

Strengths of Case Studies

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

Case studies allow a researcher to investigate a topic in far more detail than might be possible if they were trying to deal with a large number of research participants (nomothetic approach) with the aim of ‘averaging’.


Because of their in-depth, multi-sided approach case studies often shed light on aspects of human thinking and behavior that would be unethical or impractical to study in other ways.

Research which only looks into the measurable aspects of human behavior is not likely to give us insights into the subjective dimension to experience which is so important to psychoanalytic and humanistic psychologists.

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.

The method is therefore important for psychologists who adopt a holistic point of view (i.e. humanistic psychologists).

Limitations of Case Studies

Limitations of Case Studies

  • Lacking scientific rigour and providing little basis forgeneralization of results to the wider population.
  • Researchers' own subjective feeling may influence the case study (researcher bias).
  • Difficult to replicate.
  • Time-consuming and expensive.
  • The volume of data,together with the time restrictions in place, impacted onthe depth of analysis that was possible within the available resources.

Because a case study deals with only one person/event/group we can never be sure if the case study investigated is representative of the wider body of "similar" instances. This means the the conclusions drawn from a particular case may not be transferable to other settings.

Because case studies are based on the analysis of qualitative (i.e. descriptive) data a lot depends on the interpretation the psychologist places on the information she has acquired.

This means that there is a lot of scope for observer bias and it could be that the subjective opinions of the psychologist intrude in the assessment of what the data means.

For example, Freud has been criticized for producing case studies in which the information was sometimes distorted to fit the particular theories about behavior (e.g. Little Hans).

This is also true of Money’s interpretation of the Bruce/Brenda case study (Diamond, 1997) when he ignored evidence that went against his theory.

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How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2019, August 03). Case study method. Simply Psychology.

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

APA Style References

Diamond, M., & Sigmundson, K. (1997). Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-term Review and Clinical Implications. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 151(3), 298-304

Freud, S. (1909a). Analysis of a phobia of a five year old boy. In The Pelican Freud Library (1977), Vol 8, Case Histories 1, pages 169-306

Freud, S. (1909b). Bemerkungen über einen Fall von Zwangsneurose (Der "Rattenmann"). Jb. psychoanal. psychopathol. Forsch., I, p. 357-421; GW, VII, p. 379-463; Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis, SE, 10: 151-318.

Case Study Examples

'We do things together' A case study of 'couplehood' in dementia Using mixed methods for evaluating an integrative approach to cancer care: a case study Freud's Case Studies Little Hans - Freudian Case StudyH.M. Case StudyAnna O - Freudian Case StudyGenie Case Study – Curtiss (1977)

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How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2019, August 03). Case study method. Simply Psychology.

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(Video) Types of Case Study. Part 1 of 3 on Case Studies


What is case study method answer? ›

The case study method is a learning technique in which the student is faced a particular problem, the case. The case study facilitates the exploration of a real issue within a defined context, using a variety of data sources (Baxter et al., 2008).

How do you answer a case study in psychology? ›

There are several steps to writing an answer to a case study assignment:
  7. STEP 7: SUBMIT.

What is the best way to answer a case study question? ›

How to Approach a Case Interview
  • Listen to the case. Take notes and rephrase the question to make sure you've got all the information.
  • Clarify the problem. Ask good questions to clarify and show your understanding of the problem.
  • Analyze the problem. ...
  • Structure an answer. ...
  • Share your answer. ...
  • Summarize your findings.

What is the case study method in psychology? ›

A psychology case study is a thorough study of a single person, community or event that relies on observations, facts and experiments to gather information. Psychologists collect information for a case study through psychometric testing, observation, interviews, experiments and case study archives.

What is case study method with example? ›

Case studies involve analysis of small data sets, such as one or two companies, that may lead the researcher to gain some insights about trends in relevant industries. For example, a case study about the Mitsubishi car company might be used to generalise about similar companies in the automobile industry.

How do you solve a case study example? ›

Preparing the Case
  1. Read and Examine the Case Thoroughly. Take notes, highlight relevant facts, underline key problems.
  2. Focus Your Analysis. Identify two to five key problems. ...
  3. Uncover Possible Solutions/Changes Needed. Review course readings, discussions, outside research, your experience.
  4. Select the Best Solution.

How do you pass a case study interview? ›

Case interview tips
  1. Understand the issue; ask clarifying questions as needed.
  2. Identify the underlying assumptions.
  3. Summarize specific issues and findings.
  4. State your recommendations.
  5. Outline next steps and expected results/impacts.

How long should a case study answer be? ›

While the guidelines and template contain much detail, your finished case study should be only 500 to 1,500 words in length. Therefore, you will need to write efficiently and avoid unnecessarily flowery language.

How do you win a case study? ›

Analyzing a case involves five steps: reading the case, understanding the problem or main point of the case, pulling out important information to solve the problem or create new ideas, analyzing that information, and compiling that information. These steps can be done in a different order or even at the same time.

What is the fastest way to memorize a case study? ›

Condensing Information On One Side

Writing out information on one side of A3 or A4 can be a very useful way of arranging the case study. It will make it easier for your student to memorize. By writing down notes, the student will be forced to read and process the material that will reinforce learning.

What is the most appropriate method when doing a case study? ›

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. 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).

What makes a good case study question? ›

Your case study questions should ask about your product or solution's impact on the customer's employees, teams, metrics, and goals. These questions allow the client to praise the value of your service and tell others exactly what benefits they derived from it.

Why is the case study method important? ›

Students recall concepts better when they are set in a case, much as people remember words better when used in context. Cases teach students how to apply theory in practice and how to induce theory from practice. The case method cultivates the capacity for critical analysis, judgment, decision-making, and action.

What is the purpose of a case method? ›

The case method is a participatory, discussion-based way of learning where students gain skills in critical thinking, communication, and group dynamics. It is a type of problem-based learning.

What is an example of case studies in psychology? ›

Some famous examples of case studies are John Martin Marlow's case study on Phineas Gage (the man who had a railway spike through his head) and Sigmund Freud's case studies, Little Hans and The Rat Man. Case studies are widely used in psychology to provide insight into unusual conditions.

What is a good example of a case study? ›

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.

How do you write a simple case study example? ›

Writing up your case study
  1. Introduce the topic area of the report.
  2. Outline the purpose of the case study.
  3. Outline the key issue(s) and finding(s) without the specific details.
  4. Identify the theory used.
  5. Summarise recommendations.

How do you summarize a case study? ›

Tips For Summarizing A Case Study
  1. Read the Entire Study. The first step in summarizing a case study is to read the entire study. ...
  2. Identify the Main Points. Once you've read the entire study, the next step is to identify the main points of the study. ...
  3. Write a Clear Summary. ...
  4. Use SEO Optimization. ...
  5. Edit and Proofread.
Dec 14, 2022

What are the 4 most important parts of case study? ›

4 Parts of an Effective Case Study
  • Ditch the norm. You've seen that tired, old case study template a million times: ...
  • Show the cost of inertia. A more useful approach is to spell out how much not solving their problem could eventually cost. ...
  • Prove your value. ...
  • Create a more effective format.
Mar 18, 2016

How do I ace a case study exam? ›

Answering case study questions
  1. Start by identifying the theories and concepts covered in your course. ...
  2. Practice reading case studies and identifying relevant information. ...
  3. Practice relating concepts and theories to real-world situations: ask lecturers and check textbooks for practice examples.
Oct 25, 2022

Can you fail a case study interview? ›

Sometimes, you may get all of the answers right in a case interview but still be rejected. One reason why this may happen is that you're “too slow” in solving the case. Being “too slow” does not mean you need to talk faster. It means you are asking too many questions to figure out a conclusion for one part of the case.

How hard are case study interviews? ›

Case interviews are among the hardest job interviews for business candidates. Passing rate is only 10% to 20%, with each candidate facing 4-6 case interviews for one consulting recruitment process.

How many interviews are enough for a case study? ›

Marshall et al. [74] present a list of established qualitative researchers with their recommended minimum number of interviews. These range from 6 to 50, and as few as 3 per case for comparative case studies.

How many questions should you ask in a case study? ›

Candidates usually ask 2 – 3 clarifying questions to start the case interview. However, some case interviews will need no clarifying questions while other case interviews may need more than 3. The answer depends on how unclear the case background information is.

What is a good number of participants for a case study? ›

Summary: 40 participants is an appropriate number for most quantitative studies, but there are cases where you can recruit fewer users.

What makes a case study strong? ›

Good case studies include key details that show how the customer got from A to B using the product—something you don't get with customer reviews. Don't make your reader work too hard to visualize the story. If you can use images and videos, use them!

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

3 Key Components of an Effective Business Case Study
  • The Problem. One of the strongest appeals of business case studies is that they address real life problems. ...
  • Solution Options. The Solution Section of a business case study essentially builds the case for the sponsor's product or service. ...
  • The Results. ...
  • Conclusion.
Oct 31, 2009

How can I memorize 10X fast? ›

Just so you don't waste your time on memory tips that are NOT going to 10X your memory...
  1. Eat right.
  2. Drink water.
  3. Get a good night's sleep.
  4. Take Omega-3.
  5. Meditate.
  6. Exercise.
  7. Learn a new skill.
  8. Socialize.

How do you get high marks in a case study? ›

Steps to a top-scoring impact case study
  1. COMMENT. ...
  2. Articulate how specific groups have benefited and provide evidence of significance and reach. ...
  3. Give no grounds for doubt that the research was at least of internationally significant quality (warranting two stars or higher)
Jul 12, 2018

How do you memorize psych studies? ›

Take Notes: Read through your materials slowly and write down key points. Write down any questions you have about the materials that you can later discuss with your classmates or course instructor. Test Your Understanding: Quiz yourself on the material you have just read.

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

The case study method often involves simply observing what happens to, or reconstructing 'the case history' of a single participant or group of individuals (such as a school class or a specific social group), i.e. the idiographic approach.

What is the most important part of case study? ›

1. A compelling executive summary. One of the most important components of a case study is a powerful executive summary. It lets your reader know what they're getting into, and how they might relate to and benefit from what they'll learn.

What do you learn from a case study? ›

Case studies develop skills such as:

Problem solving. Analytical tools, quantitative and/or qualitative, depending on the case. Decision making in complex situations. Coping with ambiguities.

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. The researcher should define the uniqueness of the phenomenon, which distinguishes it from all others.

What is case study method quizlet? ›

The case study method often involves simply observing what happens to, or reconstructing 'the case history' of a single participant or group of individuals (such as a school class or a specific social group), i.e. the idiographic approach.

What is the best definition of a case study? ›

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

What's the definition of a 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 the best definition of a case study quizlet? ›

What is the best definition of a case study? a detailed description of one person. A problem with defining abnormal behavior in terms of deviation from statistical norms is that the definition. does not specify how unusual the behavior must be to be considered abnormal.

What is the main focus of case study? ›

Case studies focus on the complexity, dynamics and circumstances of a single case (sometimes called a phenomenon). Multiple research methods are used. Cases are intensively explored in-depth, retrospectively, currently and sometimes over time.

What are the 4 important parts 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.
Feb 1, 2022

What is an example of case study in psychology? ›

Sam was team captain of his soccer team, but an unexpected fight with another teammate prompted his parents to meet with a clinical psychologist. Sam was diagnosed with major depressive disorder after showing an increase in symptoms over the previous three months.

What is the importance of case study in psychology? ›

Advantages of case studies

They allow researchers to observe and record information about rare, impractical, or unethical conditions and behaviours. They provide researchers with new evidence to support psychological theories. They help researchers develop hypotheses that others can study or add to in the future.


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