Telling tales in School of Health

From winning rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to using an ancient Yiddish tale to teach nurses, the School of Health in Social Science is at the forefront of using the arts to share its research and teach students.

A performance of the play Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox, by Skimstone Arts

Storytelling, drama and literature are a few of the media the School has recently employed to bolster traditional academic expressions.

Mental health on stage

The play, Jack and Jill and The Red Postbox, made its debut in early 2013. It used 89 anonymous transcripts collected during Professor Charlotte Clarke’s research project, Risk & Resilience in Dementia, to tell the fictional story of Jack and Jill, who suffer from dementia, and those who live with them.

As head of school, Professor Clarke commissioned Skimstone Arts to create a piece of art that would reach as wide a section of the community as possible, as an alternative to just producing an academic report.

The play has toured the UK ever since appearing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2013.

We have a strong commitment to reach as wide a range of people as possible – from the public to practitioners and to other academics – and communicate our work. The arts is an incredibly powerful tool for doing just that.

Professor Charlotte ClarkeHead of the School of Health in Social Science

Writer in residence

In 2012 author Nicola White became the first ever Leverhulme Writer in Residence with Nursing Studies. Thanks to a grant from the Trust, White was both a catalyst and a recorder for the department.

She encouraged and develop nursing students to tell their own stories and experiences through creative writing. By the end of her residency in 2013, she reflected on the life of the department in a blog, in public lectures, and in her own writing.

Shortly after finishing her residency, in October 2013 White won the Dundee International Book Prize.

Telling tales

Storytelling is arguably the oldest of all the art forms. Alette Willis, a professional storyteller and novelist, uses the oral tradition in her work within the School.

She has experimented with storytelling in teaching. With nursing students she told a traditional Yiddish story about how a personified Truth is not accepted until it puts on Story’s clothes.

The students were then asked to reflect upon how this relates to the patients they care for and the stories they tell about them. Storytelling encourages empathy and lateral thinking, according to Willis.

She has also worked with fellow academic Liz Bondi to bring creative practice into research. They created a play to stimulate discussion about religion and spirituality amongst counsellors.

Art has long been used in therapy, so it is not so alien to introduce it into the research and teaching in the School. For centuries there has been a link between well-being and art, this is just building on that in an academic context.

Alette WillisLecturer and storyteller

Other projects

Elsewhere in the school Rosie Stenhouse has used digital storytelling in Nursing Studies and Deborah Ritchie appeared at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe as part of an event about facing death.

Confidence is growing within the School for using the arts to communicate research outcomes and in teaching. The creative projects over the past year promise to be only the beginning.

Related Links

The School of Health in Social Science

Jack and Jill and the Red Postbox

Nicola White's blog