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7 Examples of Vignettes in Clinical Psychology Research

by Suleman


            The use of theories can be an important way for a counselor to understand how to treat clients. Each one can improve the communication between counselor and client and can help them form a more fulfilling relationship. In the three vignettes that were chosen for this research, it was clear that there were many situations where a theory could be used to explain the behavior of the individual. In the case of Janessa it was clear that she is overworked and overburdened. She generally needed some assistance to help her get through her day. Her husband faced the stigma that many African American men face that cause them to feel disenfranchised and discouraged. Bryce and Collen have many issues that are important to know that any gay or lesbian couple who is raising a family would experience. They need the support of friends and family as well as the resources to make sure that Jake is taken care of if something happens to Collen.

Examples of Vignettes in Clinical Psychology Research

            Baxter is going to need legal intervention because he may be a sociopath and he may not be able to gain anything from treatment. Justin and Joseph are also going ton receive legal intervention because they are going to have to pay for the crime and make restitution which are things that they have not put into play; they will also need to make arrangements for their families to be taken care of in their absence. Fernando will also need to change the way he thinks about the world because he will probably be deported when the law finds out that he has been making false I.D. cards. Dwayne needs a new job and Tiffany needs to get away from Dillan before he does kill here. All of these stories have in common that the people are in some sort of crisis. They are going to have to change the way they look at their lives in order to move forward. Each theory would have to be worked through with each individual in order to make sure that the theory was the best one to meet their needs.


            Janessa is a single African-American mother of two children. She works two jobs just to be able to afford rent, bills and other necessities for she and her two young children. They live in a low-income neighborhood and her two children attend a nearby public school. The school has little resources for any type of arts programs let alone educational programs. The teachers are tired, overworked and underpaid. When not in school, Janessa’s children are cared for by her mother who also lives with them. The children’s father, Jamal, is unemployed and unable to find work. He does not contribute to the financial needs of his children because of no job. Janessa is the sole breadwinner for the family and it is a difficult situation for her because she wants her children to have a better life. She is unable to move them at the current time and they are not getting the best they could in the school in which they are enrolled. Janessa knows this but she feels that she is trapped in the job that she currently has and must continue it until she comes to better circumstances. Though she has some drive to get to a better place she currently does not have the resources to do so.


W.E.B. Dubois would say that she is a “victim” of society and the fact that it does not recognize her as a total human being the way that white people are seen. Central to Dubois though would be the fact that Janessa’s husband could not find a job. This may mean that he is unskilled except in certain fields and that he is feeling like he cannot be a part of society because he is a Black man and not respected. Dubois would have expected that this reaction that Jamal had was something that brought out certain attitudes in Jamal (e.g. not being able to find a job) that were not his fault (Williams 2005). Luhmann would say that this family needs more communication with the systems that are around them. Although this may not be what Jamal would want there is a possibility that he could get welfare or job search resources if he were to communicate with social service agencies about this need. The family may be able to get food stamps which would help them in the long run to at least get a start. At some point the family will need to communicate outside of their current structure in order to get the things that they need. The family will need to get involved with more training if they are to move forward. Also, the family may need to engage in family counseling as a way to bring them together. At the present time it seems that Janessa is attempting to hold the family together while she also works. She is taking care of everyone and this may be difficult for her to continue over time. A local community college program may be a good way to start but she would have to find a way to fit it in with the two jobs she is working. In the future it could be beneficial to her in order to find a better job that would take care of the rent, bills and other things she needs. The future of this family is uncertain if they do not get to a place where the family is striving better financially and the children are going to a better school. In one sense Janessa is having to do everything for the family and is acting as a single parent. Jamal seems to not do anything except sit around the house and he is not in charge of anything. The household is run by the grandmother and Janessa so it is in some sense a single parent household. Cherlin suggests that single parents are in need of networks and that when they do not have them it is difficult for them to continue working within such a shallow space (800). In Janessa’s situation she is going to need assistance eventually to get out of the humdrum of her existence.

            Bryce and Collen are in an interracial same-sex relationship. They have been a couple for two years and they live together in a home that they own together. Bryce has a five year old child from a previous marriage. Bother men share parenting responsibilities for their son Jake. Bryce has been diagnosed with cancer and although they were married in Canada, a same-sex “marriage” is not recognized in Washington where they are now living. The challenge is that if Bryce dies Collen will not be seen as the “legal” guardian or parent of Jake without proper precautions. The challenge for Bryce and Collen is that they are going to need legal advice and they will need to put into place legal documentation. The first step may be for Collen to legally adopt Jake. Collen would have to put in a petition to adopt Jake as his co-parent. In Washington this could be done according to Seattle Gay News:

            In Washington, a same-sex partner can legally adopt the birth child of his or her partner,   provided the child’s other birth parent relinquishes or has parental rights terminated. If there is no other legal parent (i.e., the child was adopted by one partner as a single parent from a foreign jurisdiction or state or was born as a result of assisted reproduction), then the adoption can occur without the need for a termination hearing or relinquishment. (DuCharme, 2006).

This would be the best way to resolve the challenge. It seems that the birth mother has already relinquished her rights to Bryce since he is living with the couple. However, it would be a good idea for Bryce to talk to the birth mother about the adoption so they have no surprises in the end. This should be done now before something happens to Bryce and it should be their first concern at this time. In order to put this vignette into sociological context it has to be looked at from the standpoint of a “social problem.” Although gay marriage is not a social problem in order to fit it into a theory it has to be looked at in this way unfortunately. The reason for this is that many social theories speak about the order of society and how its members fit into it. Since same-sex marriage is so controversial, it is looked at as a “social problem.” If it is looked at through the eyes of human sexuality it would seem that the theory of Social Evolution might best fit the context of this situation. In this theory it is evident that all species have had some form of homosexuality so it stands to reason that there would also be humans that were a part of homosexuality as the mind does think differently sometimes. According to the Journal of Evolutionary Philosophy some evolutionary theorists have believed that society has evolved so that some members would not be reproducing to balance society’s needs. Although this is not a “social problem” for this particular couple it is a good theory to look at it through for this discussion. Another area that this couple will need is grief counseling. If Bryce becomes ill and ends up in hospice it will be a good idea that both Jake and Collen have grief counseling before, during and after Bryce’s death. This will help them stay as a strong family and make sure that the transition for both of them is a strong one. This means they will need to rely on what Goffman said regarding The Self. Both men will need to rely on themselves more totally than they have before if they are to make sure that Jake is well taken care of upon Bryce’s death. Another area that Collen will have to face is the fact that he is a single parent once Bryce is gone. He will have to deal with many of the same situations that heterosexual parents deal with when their spouse dies. Powell and Downey did a study of same sex parents and found that there were no significant differences between a child living in a opposite sex parenting situation or a same sex one. So, some of the ideas that say that same sex parents are not a good situation are not based on fact. It is clear that both Collen and Jake will have difficulty as they move forward but if they set a solid foundation for them to be together later it will work out well.

            Baxter is a loner who has committed several rapes. It does not seem that he has any intention of stopping what he is doing and it does not seem that he has any remorse about what he has done. Although he came from a “loving” middle class family we cannot be sure why he has chosen rape as the way that he will go through life. Often there are challenges with families that could create a situation like this but going back into Baxter’s past may give some ideas. Baxter was often depressed and anxious which was something that was accepted by his family rather than looked at more closely. Baxter stayed to himself and he did not involve himself with friends or extracurricular activities. This could have been a clue to the family that Baxter has social problems. There are several sociological theories that describe and try to evaluate why an individual rapes. One of the most recent theories of rape comes from the team of Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer. In their book, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion they discuss rape as a social and biological situation. They make the case that it is a “normal” evolutionary process that has happened to fit with men’s natural aggression. They note that men may be getting more sexual stimulation from rape than people think. In their book they state that rape “is a direct adaptation, or outcome of natural selection that enables sexually disenfranchised men to procreate. Thus, rape falls under the category of “hardwired behavior” and all men are potential rapists” (Hansen, 2000, 3). This would support  evolutionary theory then if this were true for him because if we think about natural selection, it could mean that certain women are chosen by some rapists to procreate and continue the species (however sick this idea may seem). On the other hand, feminist theory suggests that rape is a matter of power and dominance over women. This could be what Baxter is experiencing since he has been a loner which probably means he does not have a positive regard for his victims. Bandura is one of the sociologists that studied aggression and he suggests that aggression comes from imitation and its reinforcement (Ellis, 1989, 12). Many popular theories of sexual aggression say that a rapist is often the victim of sexual assault by a family member early in their lives. If this were so it could suggest a reason for Baxter’s aggression towards rape but it may not define it. Certainly Baxter’s behavior is sociopathic in that he seems not to care that he has done these things. According to the DSM-IV a “sociopath” has many characteristics. Some of them include: glibness and superficial charm, manipulative and cunning, feels entitled to certain things as “their right,” can lie coolly and easily, incapable of loving, need for stimulation, has a history of academic and behavioral challenges and rage and abuse (Crime and Federalism, 2008). Baxter seems to fit this individual. In order for him to come under control he may need to spend time and while in jail have counseling for his aggression. He may also need medication for his depression and anxiety if they are still present. The prognosis for him may be that he stays in prison if he is truly sociopathic because he cannot control his need to rape. In this situation he may not be able to be admitted back into society if there is nothing done with him in prison to find out what is needed.

            Justin and Joseph are kidding themselves when they say they are embezzling funds and have taken precautions not to get caught; anyone in this situation eventually gets caught because at some point in the process they get greedy. It is not known from the vignette how much money has been taken but anything over $50 is going to be a major felony charge with possible jail time. It is obvious that Justin and Joseph do not feel that they are making enough money from their salary and they have found a way to steal the rest of what they need. Their spouses are not questioning the money possibly because they are not spending it extravagantly. If this is the case it may take longer for them to be caught. In order to justice to them we have to look at the sociological theories that have been used to talk about crime. Control theorists would see this as the fastest way for these two to get what they want because it is easier to steel money than to earn it and it is faster. In another viewpoint, Justin and Joseph may be stealing as a matter of survival. In this case the theory of economic determinism would apply and it would say that they acted out of self preservation which is more important than sticking to the rules; this is another aspect of one of Marx’s theories. In this process man takes care of himself and has an innate need for survival. This could be important to the defense of these two when they are caught but it will probably not allow them to go free. In a study by Treevan and Dryburgh it was found that when someone committed a crime that involved property it was due to “self gratification and utilitarian need” (Treeven and Dryburg, 2000 78). So, this could be the reason that Justin and Joseph are stealing but it seems like a very stupid thing to do since they both have families. There is another sociological theory that fits here and it is the Strain Theory. According to Robert Agnew’s account of Strain Theory when an individual turns to crime it is because of the strain that is put upon them. There are two major ways that staring shows up: As the idea that other people prevent the individual from getting what they want or you receive negative stimuli from people around you that are in control of whether you get something, or they take it from you (Crime Causation 2009). This strain is particularly difficult for adults because they are supposed to be able to take care of themselves. When they fail to achieve “money, status and respect” it puts a strain on them to get it some how. In many cases this means that they turn to crime in order to get the things they need. It would seem that Justin and Joseph at some time in their life had the problem of getting enough money. Perhaps they were met with bills beyond their imagining or they were deeply in debt. One or the other of them decided to see whether they could skim a little money from the company in order to meet these debts. As time went on, they found that not only could they get out of debt, but they could also get many of the things they wanted thus raising their status and respect.

            Dwayne is a master case of someone who really does not like his job and he is not in a position to make changes very quickly. It seems that Dwayne is behaving in a way that shows exactly how he feels about the job. In a Marxist point of view, he is reacting to the oppression of his capitalistic society. He understands that his boss is making more money than he is and that he is getting only peanuts to work as hard as he does. Although he works many more hours than required, he is unappreciated. The environment in which he works is very strict and he tries to make it better by keeping pictures of friends and bands in his cubicle but he knows he is not valued by the company. In order to get a better situation Dwayne may be able to pull upon the work of George Herbert Mead and find a way to arise in social interaction because it is clear that he needs the interaction of other people in order to do a good job. Mead also saw that people were creative and it seems that Dwayne is wasting away in his job. His next steps may be to get involved with some sort of work group that helps people find jobs. This job is probably in sales and it is something that he does not like so he feels unmotivated to produce. Burke and Fiksenbaum suggest that working in a job where an individual is unappreciated and overworked they have a tendency to not like their jobs. If that is the case people can also start having difficulties with their health when they are overworked (261).

            Tiffany will do well to get away from Dillan. In the entire time they have been together she has not seen that he is not going to get better. He is both psychologically and physically abusive which puts him in the category of a “batterer” and Tiffany is suffering from “battered women syndrome.” She is in a situation that is not going to get better until she really decides to do something about it.  In once sense it could be said that Dillan has the predisposition to violence because of the evolutionary theories presented by Thornhill and Palmer. In this new direction it is thought that for survival of the species men become violent. Of course this could be absurd to think this in light of the many different theories about why men beat their wives. Gilman saw that although men needed to be aggressive that in her day (and now she probably would say) it is not necessary for a man to be so aggressive and a woman to be only in a maternal role because they are not pitted to a world of survival anymore. Gilman also suggests that women become less able to deal with their surroundings when they allowed men to start taking care of them instead of taking care of themselves (Gillman, 1898 Chap. 4). It is clear that Dillan is going to have to get help for his battering and violent behavior and there has to be some way for Tiffany to get out of this situation. Dillan shows all of the signs of a batterer. He intimidates her with his words, he builds to a climax of violence and then he gives her gifts to try to makeup for what he has done. According to Rubinstein this creates the syndrome and it is difficult for Tiffany to get away from it. Dillan has escalated to the point of telling her that if she tries to leave he will kill her. Although she is now awaiting trial it seems that she may be able to show that she did this in self-defense. Dillan made a lot of threats and hopefully he made them in front of other people. She also has police reports where she reported that he was violent towards her and that she feared for her life. The next step for Tiffany is to get a good lawyer. The challenge for Tiffany is that it doesn’t say whether she has family or other people around her besides Dillan. Dillan has been able to work with her and control her every move. Although control theory does not exactly apply in this situation because she does not have anyone available to her to help her get out of this situation.

            It is clear that Dillan also needed assistance. He is exhibiting sociopathic behavior as he is not only hurting her but telling her that he “loves” her and can’t bear having someone other guy even talking to her. This makes no sense and is an irrational thought pattern for him. According to a Psychology Today Article, “Can Batterers Just Stop?” a study was done at the University of Washington that found that 80% of men who batter do a “slow burn” on their way to the aggressive incident. They have contempt for women but also have a need for them at the same time (64). In order for them to improve they have to learn “emotional regulation” which also means that they need to go through a program in order to affect change within them. The challenge is that when a woman is involved with a sociopath he will not stop battering and it may end as it did with Dillan. Another challenge is that many women who go to a shelter do not stay there; they eventually go home to their husbands. The study also brought out an interesting point: In the society where most men live they are not taught to regulate their emotions. Instead, they are to be “manly” and not show any. Because of this they have no idea what to do when they have intense feelings. Habermas’ idea of the public sphere can come into play in this situation too because Dillan is going to show a different face to the public than he does at home. He has no real system that works for him so he acts out in anger rather than in rationality.

            Fernando is going to be the one who is the most in trouble in this country because of the way that immigrants are treated. He has always believed in the “American Dream” but the only way that he thinks he can get it is through crime. He watches his parents work long hours for bosses who are dominant and he sees they have no real time to relax with the family. They work for minimum wage and are mistreated. Fernando decided this was not what he needed to do in order to get ahead and that it was more lucrative for him to steal his way to the American Dream. By stealing people’s identities and giving to people who need to come into the country, he feels he is living the American Dream because he has a new BMW, his own home and the clothes and jewelry he wants; he also gets to eat in find restaurants. What Fernando doesn’t understand is that this is not the American Dream but it is a major felony that he has involved himself in. This means that when he gets caught, and he will because people always do, he will not only lose everything he has now, but he will spend jail time. Alfred Schultz would say that this is one of the “lifeworlds” that Fernando lives in and that the people that he is working with are those whom he has the most interaction with on a continual basis. They talk together and understand each other’s needs — in this case to live the American Dream. In Fernando’s view he is just getting a piece of the American Dream and he does not see this as a crime: he has a product that other people want. Marx would say that what Fernando is doing is very entrepreneurial and it is the only way that he is going to get the most from the capitalistic society. He might have argued that this was one way of “self-emancipation” and that it would be something that Fernando was going to buck the system of the ruling class. Although this is against normal laws in the United States, it would not be against what Marxism taught because it means that the individual is using their ingenuity to get past this situation. Weber would argue that the work ethic that Fernando’s family bought into was nothing more than capitalism at the expense of the people. He would say that it is based on religion and therefore not something that everyone would necessarily want to ascribe to unless they were religious. It is also clear that Fernando does not have access to enough systems that could help him find legitimate work. It is not known whether he has training but it is assumed that he does not have much in the way of training and may not have a high school diploma. The reason this assertion is felt is because he does not want to be in a minimum wage job with a domineering boss like his parents. If he were educated he would not be stuck in this type of environment for work. Fernando seems to be getting involved in a situation that will eventually land him in the criminal justice system as just another “immigrant” who is in trouble. He has not thought about what will happen to his family if he gets caught or the fact that he will lose everything that he has gained. Crime does not pay well in America if an individual gets caught and it seems that greed will always lead them to getting caught.


            The seven individual cases described have many difficulties that are important to notice. They are generally the types of situations that most counselors would find in their practice if they are going to work in an agency. Usually these cases may not be those who would come to a counselor willingly if they were in private practice. Some of them may be court appointed to go to therapy to change their lives after they had been in trouble.

            Theories are often a starting place for new counselors or social workers because they can help them to identify some of the challenges that people face in our society. They can be a foundation for information gathering and an opportunity for the counselor to grow.

Works Cited:
  • Burke, Ronald J., and Fiksenbaum, Lisa. “Work Motivations, Work Outcomes, and Health: Passion Versus Addiction.” Journal of Business Ethics: Supplement 84. (2009): 257-263.   Proquest Database [Document ID: 1648854611].
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  • DuCharme, Elaine G. “Adoption, surrogacy agreements help Gay couples”. Seattle Gay News, p. 5. 2006. 21 April 2009. <http://www.sgn.org/sgnnews34_48/page5.cfm>.
  • Ellis, Lee. Theories Of Rape. Inquiry Into The Cause Of Sexual Aggression. 1989. London: Taylor and Francis Publishing. 21 April 2009. < http://www.googlebooks.com>.
  • “Evolution and Homosexuality”. The Journal of Evolutionary Philosophy. 2006. 21 April 2009. <http://www.evolutionary-philosophy.net/homosexuality.html>.
  • Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Women and Economics A Study of the Economic Relation Between   Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution. 1898. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co. 21 April 2009. < http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/gilman/economics/economics.html>.
  • Hansen, Susan. Review of A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. By Thornhill, Randy and Palmer, Craig T. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. 2000. 21 April 2009. <http://www.bridgew.edu/SoAS/jiws/June01/Susan.pdf>.
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