Storytelling for Health was a conference that was so much more than the sum of its parts, and which underlined the central importance of storytelling for health, well-being and health-care services. As Andrew Davies, Chair of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, in his opening addresses at both the Posters and Displays Reception on Thursday evening and the opening plenary with keynote speakers on Friday morning so eloquently expressed in the context of the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board’s strategy, storytelling and the arts are “not just a nice addition”, they are “central”.
One notable theme which came across from the constellation of talks, workshops and sessions was the value of story-telling, arts and humanities to assist people/patients in becoming and remaining well. The transformational effects of the arts and humanities constitute a measurable health and social benefit, ranging from reduced drug intake, quicker recovery to relieving pressure on hospital and healthcare services.
The poignant performance and videos delivered by Re-live on Thursday evening underlined in a truly moving manner the value of storytelling in helping those with mental illnesses move on and accomplish things beyond their expectations. In addition storytelling has an important role to play in palliative care and as we age.
However, storytelling not only benefits those with illnesses and chronic conditions, it facilitates the continual development of those working in healthcare so that they become more responsive and provide the best care. It is instrumental in pedagogy promoting the training of nurses and medical students with Amanda Page explaining how storytelling nights can be valuable aids in nursing education and Rachel Leyland expounding how medical students use stories to make “sense of the messy and difficult bits” when dealing with patients’ and their experiences. In addition, Jo Odell’s presentation on “The use of stories, collaboration and creativity in the evaluation of the Patients First Programme” furnished examples of how storytelling could be used to assess the learning of nurses. The long term gains from such instruction were endorsed in Clive Weston, John Rees and Cindy Hayward’s talk on reading and response to medical students’ written reflections (reflecting, reading, writing, responding), amply demonstrating the potency of storytelling to profit and sustain the practitioner as well as the patient, once it becomes embedded in clinical practise.
Moreover, through narratives patients, those with chronic conditions, can become collaborators, can become active in managing their needs. Peta Bush raised the merit of using patient narratives, stories documented on collage boxes to inspire and inform the design for care process. Instead of producing wearables (to support joints) in neoprene, which are “hot, sweaty, and factories for bacteria”, with noisy intrusive velcro fastenings, that do not fit with wearers’ identities, you can co-design more empathetic devices with their input, drawing inspiration from jewellery, nature and so forth.
The poster and exhibition display, in which I was privileged to have a poster on “Tinnitus Narratives: Encounters with heterogeneous noises” which addressed the use of stories and language in researching and providing care pathways for those living with tinnitus, featured a diverse range of projects and approaches. Rebecca Smart and Jack Eastwood’s poster on “Untold Stories” addressed the impact of storytelling and multimodal arts psychotherapy on an older adult mental health inpatient ward, whilst Helen Prior and Mind Cymru in their Poster on “Telling it like it is- stories of mental health” focused on how personal stories can be used to support the mental and emotional health of people and their communities, raise awareness, challenge stigma, and influence service delivery. Evidence of the depth and variety of the approaches can be sensed by the juxtaposition of Emma Lazenby and ForMed Films’ work in creating powerful films for medical education on topics such having a baby after post-natal depression and Allison Galbraith’s sharing of the Playlist for Life’s use of life-story and music in dementia care. Alongside the posters were exhibitions which included the Storytelling Cloak, a tie-dyed cloak, in which each tie dye represents a storyteller from the storyteller training in health care settings programme, decorated with woollen flowers from knitters around the UK. The final flower for this cloak, intended to reclaim well-being, is one which will represent the Storytelling for Health conference delegates’ responses.
The flowers, stories and conversations which commenced at this conference will live on and generate new narratives and initiatives.