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Child Case Study Assignment Psychology

At some point in your study of psychology, you may be required to write a case study. These are often used in clinical cases or in situations when lab research is not possible or practical. In undergraduate courses, these are often based on a real individual, an imagined individual, or a character from a television show, film, or book.

The specific format for a case study can vary greatly. In some instances, your case study will focus solely on the individual of interest.

Other possible requirements include citing relevant research and background information on a particular topic. Always consult with your instructor for a detailed outline of your assignment.

What Is a Case Study?

A case study is an in-depth study of one person, group, or event. Much of Freud's work and theories were developed through the use of individual case studies. Some great examples of case studies in psychology include Anna O, Phineas Gage, and Genie.

In a case study, nearly every aspect of the subject's life and history is analyzed to seek patterns and causes of behavior. The hope is that learning gained from studying one case can be generalized to many others.

Unfortunately, case studies tend to be highly subjective and it is sometimes difficult to generalize results to a larger population.

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.

The case study of Genie, for example, allowed researchers to study whether language could be taught even after critical periods for language development had been missed.

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 otherwise impossible to reproduce phenomena.


There are a few different types of case studies that psychologists and other researchers might utilize:

  • Explanatory case studies are often used to do causal investigations. In other words, researchers are interested in looking at factors that may have actually caused certain things to occur.
  • Exploratory case studies are 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.
  • Descriptive case studies involve starting with a descriptive theory. The subjects are then observed and the information gathered is compared to the pre-existing theory.
  • Intrinsic case studies are a type of case study in which 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.
  • Collective case studies involve studying a group of individuals. Researchers might study a group of people in a certain setting or look at an entire community of people.
  • Instrumental case studies occur when the individual or group allows researchers to understand more than what is initially obvious to observers.


There are also different methods that can be used to conduct a case study:

  • Prospective case study methods are 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 are those that 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 individuals life to determine risk factors that may have contributed to the onset of the illness.

Sources of Information Used

There are a number of different sources and methods that researchers can use to gather information about an individual or group. The six major sources that have been identified by researchers are:

  1. 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.
  2. Interviews: One of the most important methods for gathering information in case studies. An interview can involves structured survey-type questions or more open-ended questions.
  3. Documents: Letters, newspaper articles, administrative records, etc.
  4. Archival records: Census records, survey records, name lists, etc.
  5. Physical artifacts: Tools, objects, instruments and other artifacts often observed during a direct observation of the subject.
  6. Participant observation: Involves the researcher actually serving as a participant in events and observing the actions and outcomes.

Section 1: A Case History

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Your Diagnosis

Provide your diagnosis and give the appropriate Diagnostic and Statistical Manual code. Explain how you reached your diagnosis, how the clients symptoms fit the diagnostic criteria for the disorder(s), or any possible difficulties in reaching a diagnosis.

Section 2: The Intervention

The second section of your paper will focus on the intervention used to help the client. Your instructor might require you to choose from a particular theoretical approach or ask you to summarize two or more possible treatment approaches.

Some of the possible treatment approaches you might choose to explore include:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.


  • Do not refer to the subject of your case study as "the client." Instead, use his or her name or a pseudonym.
  • Remember to use APA format when citing references.
  • Read examples of case studies to gain and idea about the style and format.

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 can be 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.


Gagnon, YC. The Case Study as a Research Method: A Practical Handbook. Quebec: PUQ; 2010.

Yin, RK. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Sage Publications; 2013.

Lansing Community College
Division of Arts and Sciences

Psychology 200: Introduction to Psychology
Spring Semester, 1997

Writing Assignment 1: Due 2/27/97

Design a research project in which you incorporate one of the following techniques:
  • Correlation study
  • Case study
  • Naturalistic observation
Correlation study -- Design an instrument (e.g., a questionnaire) to measure a specific hypothesis and collect data on at least 30 people. You may have the class fill out your survey if you wish. In addition, I may be able to arrange to have other intro. psychology classes fill it out.

Case study -- Find a child with whom you do not have a close relationship (an acquaintance is fine). Interview the child's parent(s) and other adults that are close to the child (e.g., grandparents, teachers), and, if possible, observe the child in as many contexts as possible (e.g., home, school, playground). Then, pick a theory of child development (e.g., Erickson) and apply it to "your" child.

Naturalistic observation -- Observe a specific behavior (e.g., nonverbal communication) at the mall, zoo, family gathering, restaurant, etc.

All research papers should have the sections listed below. The length guidelines are suggestions. They do not need to be followed to the letter, especially if you are doing a case-study.

Introduction (1/2 page)

In most cases, researchers do not start from scratch. That is, there is usually an already existing body of knowledge, before the researcher designs his/her study. In fact, studies usually build on previous studies and are designed to answer questions raised by previous research. For example, if you wanted to examine gender differences in nonverbal communication, your study may be motivated by 1) previous studies that showed that people do, in fact, communicate without speaking and 2) previous studies that showed that there are gender differences in verbal communication.

The introduction should, therefore, contain a brief summary of related research that has already been done, and explain how your study will add to the existing body of knowledge. The hypothesis of your study should be found in this section.

Method (2-3 pages total) Each of the following should be a subheading:

  • Study participants -- who are you studying: # of people, gender, age, and other relevant demographic information should be included here.
  • Instrument -- If you are using a questionnaire, it should be described here. What kind of questions are you asking (e.g., true-false, multiple-choice) Give a few sample questions. If you are doing a case study, this is the place to describe the method you used to collect your information (e.g., interviews, observations). If you are doing an observation, what specific behaviors are you looking for and how are you measuring them?
  • Procedure -- This is where you describe exactly how you collected the information. Be specific here. If you did interviews: Did you ask everyone the same questions? What sorts of questions did you ask? If you did an observation: where were you located? Did the study participants know they were being observed? If you did a questionnaire: Was it administered individually or to an entire group? Was it read to the participants or did they have to read it themselves? These are just examples. You probably will need to include some other information as well.

Results (1/2 - 1 page)

What did your research reveal? Just state the findings. Do not interpret or evaluate anything. You will do this in the next section. This section should be brief and to the point.

Discussion (1/2 - 1 page)

This is typically the most enjoyable part to write, but it is also often the hardest. This is where you should interpret and evaluate your study. What do your results mean? You should discuss your findings in reference to your hypothesis. If you did an observational or correlational study: Did your study support your hypothesis? Theorize why it did or did not. If you did a case study: Did your findings fit into the theory of development that you picked? Explain why you think they did or did not. For everyone, did anything surprise you or did everything come out just as you expected? Are there any follow-up studies that you think should be done?

The paper should be 4-5 pages in length. It must be typed and double-spaced with standard margins. You should have a cover sheet with your name, the course, date, my name, and the title of the paper. You must photocopy the article and attach it to the paper. You must also have a reference section (i.e., bibliography), properly citing the article and any other sources you use (e.g., your textbook). It is expected that you use additional sources, beyond your textbook.

This assignment is worth 75 points and will be evaluated according to the criteria below. Please note that this information is identical to that in your syllabus and is only included here for your convenience.

  • Writing quality and style (Approximately 20% of the grade) -- You must precisely follow the assignment requirements outlined in the preceding pages. Your ideas should be expressed clearly and specifically, and the paper must be free of grammatical errors and typos. Overall neatness is important.
  • Content accuracy and depth (Approximately 80% of the grade) -- What you write should be accurate, based on the current psychological literature. Be sure to give credit to others through citations and references.
Your work should reflect a great deal of thought and organization. It should demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the topic, beyond that provided by the textbook.

Any assignment that is not handed in on the due date will be marked down 25% of the allotted points for each class period that the assignment is outstanding. Late means anytime past the end of the class period that the assignment is due. Thus, a paper handed in two class periods after it is due is marked down 50%. I will not accept papers after the second class period following the due date. All papers not handed in by that time will receive zero points.

I encourage you to submit drafts of your papers to me, prior to the due date. I will review your draft and return it to you with comments and suggestions. This will often improve your grade.


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