Humanities Institute

Spring 2019 Health and Humanities Seminars and the Narrative of Health

Wed, June 12, 2019
Spring 2019 Health and Humanities Seminars and the Narrative of Health
Dr. Lynn Harter, Ohio University (Photo by Daniel Cavazos)

By Alissa Williams, HI Program Assistant

There are three primary things that shape the direction of a narrative: the intentions of the person telling the story, the rhetoric they use to tell it, and the reception by those who hear it. The first three speakers from the Spring semester’s Health and Humanities Research seminars each constructed their own narratives in the intersectional space between health and the humanities. As a continuation of the HI’s Pop-Up Institute that took place in May of last year, the Health and Humanities Research Seminars aim to encourage dialogue that pushes against the boundaries between health and the humanities as a means of providing new insights into both the health care system and cultural and personal definitions of “health” itself.

On February 26, 2019, Dr. Lynn Harter, Professor and Co-Director of the Barbara Geralds Institute for Storytelling and Social Impact in the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, kicked off the seminar series by presenting on “Narratives, Health, and Healing: Exploring the Therapeutic Potential of Storytelling in Health Contexts.” Dr. Harter, who makes films documenting the value of art and storytelling in health care, started off with a photo of a lung and the assertion that this photo was indeed more than what meets the eye. She claimed that we all view images through the lens formed by our identity. The events in our lives that have led us to become who we are impact what and how we see. According to Dr. Harter, giving people the opportunity to dictate their own narratives in a time and place where they may feel a loss of control over what is happening in their own bodies can serve as a means of empowerment. Self-expression and narration are tools that can help patients to make sense of their experiences and navigate an unfamiliar terrain. Narratives also have the power to provide guidance to those who are going through similar circumstances.

March 4th’s HHRS was led by Dr. David Ring, Associate Dean for Comprehensive Care, Professor of Surgery and Perioperative Care, and Professor of Psychiatry at Dell Medical School. Dr. Ring’s talk, “Hacking Your Mind for Health,” argued that the way our brain interprets data from our bodies has the power to manipulate the perception we have of ourselves, potentially leading to physical pain that would have otherwise been nonexistent or less intense had we not focused on supposed “deficits” in our current state of being. This concept also brings up another underlying issue present in both the health care industry and the world today: our minds are capable of being influenced by external sources without us even realizing it. This occurrence can further exacerbate or even create insecurities that can have negative implications for our physical and mental health. According to Dr. Ring, taking measures that help us to shift our own self-narratives can improve our own health and lead to a more resilient society. By slowing down our minds to become a spectator of our own thoughts, we can reclaim the power we have over our own mental state as a means of generating a narrative that focuses on our attributes as opposed to our shortcomings.

Dr. Alison Kafer, Embrey Associate Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at UT Austin and author of Feminist, Queer, Crip, gave her talk on April 1st on “After Crip, Crip Afters: Ambivalence and Temporality in the Work of Disability Artists.” Dr. Kafer’s talk sparked conversation about the rhetoric used to describe and address states of physical and mental disability, and how this rhetoric often generates a discourse of exclusion that negatively affects those whom it is attempting to describe: disabled individuals, or those who may self-identify as “crips.” In health care settings, the rhetoric utilized in addressing patients with disabilities tends to be medicalized and centered around diagnosing deficits. Although the intentions of health care providers are to improve the quality of life of those affected by these conditions, they need to recognize that alternative inquiries are possible, ones that choose to focus on the beauty and individuality brought upon by these conditions as opposed to the deficits they impose on the people they affect. In a world that often pushes us to see the glass as half empty, Alison Kafer believes we should make a conscious decision to look at these “debilitating” conditions as ones that have implications for care and relation, thereby creating a safe space for the narratives of all people, crip or not, to be heard, seen, and addressed with the same amount of validity as their counterparts.

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