An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of Long-Term Mentoring Relationships from the Youth Perspective
When mentoring programs are well-designed and well-implemented, young people can experience positive gains in a number of social, emotional, behavioral, and educational areas. While some of the processes underlying mentoring relationships have been explored, the voices and perspectives of participants themselves have thus far been largely excluded from the mentoring literature. The lack of participant voice in mentoring research suggests that an important source of empirical and interpretive information is unavailable to the field in the process of designing, implementing, and researching mentoring programs. This study used interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) to explore how youth participants in the Friends of the Children (FOTC) mentoring program experience and understand their long-term mentoring relationships. This study used an innovative approach to IPA that combines traditional phenomenological techniques with poetry writing as a key interpretive tool to explore the interplay between the content and meaning of participants’ experiences. IPA methods were used to collect and analyze interview data from 12 FOTC participants who had been in the program for more than ten years and who had the same mentor for at least the last four years. Participants were selected purposively to maximize the potential depth and richness of the data. The study included several elements to ensure trustworthiness, including a reflexivity journal, an audit trail, and member checking. Findings suggest that for the participants in this study, long-term mentoring relationships meant: 1) unconditional support and commitment, 2) consistent and reliable help in difficult situations, 3) the chance to develop and appreciate one’s own identity, ii and 4) a path to expanded opportunities in many facets of life. Subthemes within each category are described and interpreted. The poems created from the interview transcripts provide powerful and complementary illustrations for emergent themes by capturing some of the emotional content that can be lost in the process of analyzing, categorizing, and describing complex human phenomena. Key recommendations for mentoring programs and social work professionals are provided. Implications for future research are also discussed.