Using Literary Drama to Educate Health and Human Services Students

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Theories of violence, abuse and recovery can be taught in the classroom, but there are many factors that make this a challenge.  Getting all the students in a class on the same page in respect of each case example is only a part of that problem.  The subject matter can turn clinical students off and not infrequently the great moral divide between victims and perpetrators invites empathic concern/ professional curiousity for the former and outrage/ condemnation of the latter.  In truth, there is no great divide between victimes and perpetrators.  I am not saying that all people who are damaged by abuse go on to be perpetrators of violence, but some do.  The point is that I cannot find reason to have understanding only for those victims who manage to avoid being violent to others.  Of course, we are obliged to ensure further acts of violence are prevented and it is here that the great divide, in the minds of society, politicians and clinical students, fails our purpose.  You cannot prevent violence enacted by those who have been damaged without first understanding.  Without this, there is a risk of making it worse.  Recently there has been some recognition of this in the initiative known as Trauma Informed interventions.  

The Last Truth began as a project to offer students a different means of learning about individuals, commonly described as personality disordered and who are at risk of being violent.  I thought, if I could have students read literary drama designed to narrow the great divide and illustrate the challenges faced and challenges created for others by damaged people, it would save hours in the classroom.  It would also connect students to the lived experience of being damaged, of having to be vigilent, always suspicious of the motives of others, angry or frightened of the world, in a way that would not allow people of this kind to be cast aside with condemnation.  Students might arrive at class with a shared foundation knowledge, hopefuly with professional curiosity, and maybe the beginnings of the empathic understanding that all clinicians need if they are to have an impact on suffering and on future violence.  See below for what university educators around the world think of the idea.

The next blog will be about spotting the boogeymen.  Can our methods for determining Risk of Violence, really tell us who is hiding in the bushes?

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Here are some results from my approach to a number of academic institutions that provide education in human services in Canada, England, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand.  I asked if a manuscript like The Last Truth, supported by a companion workbook, to assist in the training of students would be helpful.  The response has been very encouraging.  Speaking on their own behalf a number of leading university educators have said the following;

"I think it is a terrific idea and we are so short of good materials for use in teaching". (Deakin University, Australia)

 “In our D.Clin.Psy.  we emphasize the importance of context and psychologically based formulations for understanding people's behaviours, … so your thoughts echo ours.  I like the idea of using literary methodology because, as humans, stories are an excellent medium for furthering understanding.  I would encourage you to proceed and will be interested in seeing how this develops”. (Staffordshire University, UK) 

“I often used to suggest to students and trainees that they read certain works of fiction to increase their understanding of mental illness, or surviving abuse, for example.  I have however not thought about this in the kind of detail that you have clearly been able to give to it.  The idea of a linked series sounds interesting, and would give students a chance to explore things in depth.” (Oxford University, UK)

"It makes good intuitive sense to me to pursue the project you outline. Sadly some aspects of the field seem to remain characterised by the unduly formulaic and narrow rather than wider ranging and contextual understanding that I try to convey in my work with postgraduates…. One observation would be that the approach you outline may readily lend itself to applications beyond psychologists under training or supervision to include a full range of health and social care professionals." (Durham University, UK) 

“My initial reaction is that this could be a book that could have wider use, and that could be a recommended text for universities and the kind of workshops we do.” (University of Central Lancashire, UK)

"I think that sounds like a really interesting idea… any way that can increase understanding can only be a good thing. The idea of using novels as a route sounds very exciting". (Bath University, UK)

“I think this sounds like a really valuable resource.  I think it would really help bring the material to life and help highlight how complex these cases, and the relationships between PD and violence, can be.” (University of Ontario Institute of Technology)

"Your idea sounds really interesting and I am sure we could use this kind of resource on our Forensic and Clinical courses at Victoria." (Victoria University of Wellington)

The Last Truth will open the way for other books and associated companion guides, each depicting personality disorders of various kinds and illustrating diagnostic criteria, the layers of presentation and posing challenging questions about assessment, treatment and management in addition to inter-agency working and ethical concerns, through the medium of story telling, and in the case of students, supplemented with companion guides.

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