How to create understanding through storytelling

How to create understanding through storytelling

I’ve been invited by @ClaireOT and #occhat to write a post for their next chat on Tuesday 12February 8-9pm UK time. The occupational therapy chat them is inspired by a recently launched @LeedsandYorkPFT campaign entitled Sharing Stories with the strapline ‘harnessing creativity and sharing understanding’.

A bit of background – as a Foundation Trust we are a public benefit corporation as well as being part of the NHS. This means that anyone can become a member of our Trust. And once they become a member they are eligible to stand for election to our Council of Governors  which includes people with lived experience of using our services, carers, staff and members of the public.

Our campaigns – we have a membership of over 16000 and we want to make that count. We want to connect with them and involve them in a way which has meaning and purpose. Positively changing attitudes and behaviours towards people who use our services is at the heart of our organisational strategy. If attitudes change for the better then we hope our campaigns contribute to our purpose of improving health and lives. I know this all sounds a bit corporate but I want to show how are campaigns have a clear purpose and are an important part of our core business.

Sharing Stories – we’ve chosen Sharing Stories as our 2013 campaign because we know from the research that the best way to reduce stigma is face-to-face contact on equal terms. But we’re also interested in the research that suggests ‘imagined’ contact can have a similarly powerful effect. There is quite a bit of research on this topic and you can find out more by starting with this article here.

So our campaign aims to get people thinking, reflecting and talking about mental health and learning disabilities in lots of different ways. Here are just a few highlights:

  • A Book of the Month on a relevant topic which is being promoted in Leeds and York Waterstones and libraries plus a blog post and discussion
  • Regular editions of our Your Stories magazine plus a section of our website with people’s stories on our website which we hope to build on and develop over the year
  • A creative writer in residence – we are recruiting an individual who can spend time in our services helping people to tell their stories to share with others
  • We are also planning a 24 hour readathon to raise money for group reading and other related activities in services
  • Our Love Arts Festival  this year will have a sharing stories theme and we are hoping to include lots of events and activities related to storytelling.

Should we or shouldn’t we? telling our own stories in clinical practice – at our Leeds Sharing Stories launch event, we were joined by Peter Bullimore, chair of the Hearing Voices and Paranoia networks. He shared his own powerful personal story in which he described the importance of his OT in his path to recovery. He was clear that the fact she shared her own story was pivotal in their relationship – how could he be expected to trust and share with her if she didn’t share something of who she was with him? He argued that being a person as well as a professional is a critical part of engendering trust – this takes judgement and maturity and should always be for the benefit of the person you are caring for; it should never be about telling others what is best for them on the basis of your own experience. So should storytelling be woven into individual OT practice as well as in group work? And what would you share and not share of yourself? What should the boundaries be?

Working with OTs – our campaign is co-ordinated by the Communications and Engagement Team but we can’t do it on our own. We’ve been really thrilled by many positive responses from our staff, particularly OTs. I’d love to hear how you use storytelling in clinical practice and your views about sharing stories about yourself to build relationships and trust. I’d also love to hear any perspectives on the role of storytelling from people with lived experience of mental health difficulties.

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