The Arts in Health Psychology

Critical health psychologists have also taken up the call to engage more with art-based approaches to researching health and illness. These approaches use art-based methods—performance (theatre, reader’s theatre, etc.), image generation (drawing, painting, film, video, etc.) and creative writing (poetry, flash fiction, graphic novels, etc.)—to engage participants, interpret findings and disseminate research outcomes. Camic (2008) provides a review of arts and health interventions in the areas of health promotion and prevention, illness management, clinical assessment and improvement of health-care systems, and offers a range of suggestions for incorporating the arts in health care across a wide range of clinical and community settings. Denzin (2010) has argued for a performance studies paradigm that takes a performative approach to social science research and dissemination, and “understands performance simultaneously as a form of inquiry and as a form of activism, as critique, as critical citizenship” (Denzin, 2010, p. 18). An example of this approach is presented by Gray and Sinding (2002), who reworked their data from focus groups discussion with breast cancer patients and interviews with oncologists into a dramatic theatrical performance about people with metasticised breast cancer. The performance was presented to audiences—hospital staff, cancer patients, their family members and the public—in several locations, and provoked debate and discussion about the nature of health care. Projects like these illustrate how health psychologists can move from interpreters of a situation to participating in its transformation.

Murray and Tilley (2006) have also explored the use of the arts as a means of community engagement. Their research aimed to raise awareness of occupational health and safety within community groups in the fishing industry in Canada. They worked with community groups to develop a range of artistic productions including drama, song and visual arts as a means of exploring the issue of safety. Art therapy and dance therapy have also been found to be beneficial in helping people deal with illness (see, e.g., Bradt, Shim, & Goodill, 2015; Collie, Bottorff, & Long, 2006). Art has also been used in the service of data representation. For example, Owton (2013) explores how creative analytical processes, using narrative poetry and visual art, written and drawn respectively from interview transcripts, can interact to provide new ways of knowing about asthma in sport. Creative writing has also been used to illustrate and give insight into illness, such as 55-word flash fiction stories depicting moments of medical diagnosis (Various Authors, 2015) and the value of novels for health education and insight into illness (Kaptein & Lyons, 2009). Although not widespread, the value of arts-based research in health psychology has considerable potential. As Murray and Gray (2008) have noted, arts- based approaches can enhance the depth and scope of data collected, allow participants to express illness and disability issues that are not easily verbalised, provide new forms for interpretative work, and provide enhanced ways to communicate research findings. Such approaches lend themselves well to critical work, where epistemological bases, researcher positioning, and the questioning of who benefits from research come to the forefront. Arts-based approaches can promote this kind of critical engagement in research practices.

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