Commentary—Extending the Boundaries of Systematic Case Study Research: Conceptual and Methodological Issues


  • Robert Elliott
  • Susan Stephen
  • Anna Robinson



systematic case study research, autism, emotionally focused therapy for couples, qualitative research, case studies, clinical case studies


In this commentary we discuss the two examples of systematic case study research in this issue: Miller et al., (2021), who continue the development of the quasi-judicial Panels of Psychological Inquiry method by applying it to a child client with an autistic spectrum condition; and Bohart et al. (2021), who apply their research jury approach to a video recorded case of Emotionally-Focused Therapy for couples.  We open by briefly summarizing the main issues addressed in our previous commentary (Stephen & Elliott, 2011), which involved the same authors; we also note some key developments in systematic case study research over the past ten years.  The rest of our commentary is divided into three parts. First, we look at more general conceptual issues in systematic case study research, including situations in which systematic case studies are likely to be most useful; the problem of overly broad research questions; the definition and assessment of outcome; and the thorny issue of causality.  In the second part, we turn our attention to methodological issues raised by the two articles, returning to the questions of what counts as evidence in systematic case study research (here the use of observational methods for assessing client change and change processes), but also to the processes by which research judges or jurors make decisions about knowledge claims and methods for generalizing from one case to other cases. In the final main section, we offer more substantive commentary on Miller et al. (2021), from the point of view of autism research. We start by putting the DIR/Floortime intervention in context before raising key diagnostic issues that we think circumscribe the case and spelling out uncertainties about the nature of the intervention used. We round off this section with a set of proposals for future systematic single case research on interventions for autism.  We close our commentary with a brief set of recommendations.

Author Biographies

Robert Elliott

Robert Elliott

Susan Stephen

Susan Stephen

Anna Robinson

Anna Robinson






Robert Elliott's "Hermeneutic Single Case Efficacy Design," Part 2, and Elliott et al.'s Commentary