Sharing stories in psychology

Alana James (Royal Holloway, University of London) reports from a fringe event at the Society's Annual Conference.

At a fringe event on Psychology and Literature, members of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio reflected upon different styles of sharing stories in scientific and creative writing.

Anne Goodwin, retired Clinical Psychologist, described the new experience of being judged by the literary quality of her words as well as their content when creating her debut novel, Sugar and Snails. Goodwin contrasted the subtleties of writing fiction, of showing not telling and deliberately leaving matters open to interpretation, with the requirements of scientific writing to tell precisely and logically. Andy Miller, retired Educational Psychologist and Honorary Professor (University of Nottingham/University of Warwick), has however discovered commonalities between scientific writing and poetry; each requires precision, with every word working for its place. Miller won the Yeovil Literary Prize in Poetry in 2011 with Attempting to interfere; he later realised that the poem’s imagery of planetary alignment had also appeared in an educational text he wrote around the same time as early drafts of the poem.

Sarah Dale, Occupational Psychologist, showed how elements of academic and creative non-fiction writing can be combined to share people’s stories. Her second book, Bolder and Wiser, brings together the stories of 20 women aged over 60, with reflections about what they could teach her about growing older. Author Alison Moore showed that fictional stories may inspire and have value for psychologists – she read from a letter she found online where a therapist had imagined a therapeutic encounter with the central character from her Man Booker-shortlisted first novel, The Lighthouse.

Articulating and sharing real stories can also have therapeutic value. Victoria Villasenor, Director of Global Wordsmiths - a Community Interest Company, outlined their 6 week training courses where members of marginalised groups learn how to write about their personal story. A collection of stories produced by each group is published, with the books launched in a bookstore event. Benefits reported for participants include personal transformations, increased self-esteem, and developing a support network. Groups which Global Wordsmiths have worked with include LGBTQ youths and older people, veterans and their families, transgender youths, refugee women, and people with depression.

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