Framing the Space
by Louise Younie

I have recently become more aware that I needed to become involved in my own creative work, to engage in this process that I am researching so intensely, not just to be looking at it from the outside, but to be experiencing it from the inside. So I invited an artist and educator (pseudonym, Clare) to facilitate a creative session with me. We spent a sunny afternoon in my kitchen and garden with a range of materials to see what might emerge. There was some fear on my part - the fear of nothing emerging, creating a space, having all the materials before me and just discovering a void, or at least nothing meaningful. However, I was determined not to control what emerged, to allow the materials and our prior conversation and sharing of favourite quotes to act on me as they would. My other fear was that of over-interpretation, trying too hard to produce something useful, engineering something that would fit neatly in with all that I am exploring. At times I stumbled or got stuck, like a branch lodged or jammed behind a rock as it journeyed downstream, however Clare would find ways to release me such that I could keep flowing where the current would take me. 

 

I allowed my hands to begin to mould and play with the materials, following a sense of wanting to put them together to clothe a certain space whose dimensions I did not know. I kept this up until, like coming home, I could rest with the piece in front of me.

 

After having produced the piece, we could see a number of the themes we had been discussing, metaphorically expressed. We had talked about inner and outer worlds (heartwood and bark), patterns, threads of interconnection and playfulness (wire). I wanted to frame my ideas and get a handle on my work (wooden door handle). I sought to do this without closing down the thinking space. I wanted a platform (the heartwood area) to explore further from, rather than a sealed and finished explanation that could be left on the shelf to go stale (wire overflowing the central space down over the bark). No fixing of ideas, like body parts in formalin – preserved and lifeless. I wanted there to be movement, freedom and life in my thinking and grappling with these ideas (wire springing and maintaining some of its own shape at the same time as being moulded). I also talked about students being trained to nail down the diagnosis and how I wanted them to see that there was so much more to consulting than diagnosis and treatment. Blue skies thinking was another idea raised (the dried blue petals of love-in-the-mist flowers).

 

 

My background is working part time as a GP and part time at the University of Bristol within medical education. My entry into general practice drew me into a new way of journeying with, listening to and learning from my patients. I discovered that there was much to doctoring beyond the application of my medically learnt knowledge and skills. I started to discover the importance of presence, silence, space and working with people’s stories as well as their symptoms. As part of encouraging a more holistic approach to health and healing I have alongside a GP colleague, initiated creative residencies at my GP surgery. This has been offered to patients who have become in some ways stuck and offers them an opportunity to engage with the creative process within a group dynamic.

My learning from my encounters with patients has fed back into my educational work with students. I run the first year medical student GP placement here at Bristol and a number of years ago, to broaden learning from these clinical placements, I initiated the option for students to submit a creative piece and reflection as an alternative to a reflective essay. This would allow students to engage with the languages of the arts as part of their reflection on a clinical encounter. I also run an optional course for second year medical students ‘Creative arts in health care’ where students engage experientially in the small group setting with the creative process themselves. These sessions are co-facilitated with a number of different arts tutors such as creative writer, music and arts therapist, artist in clinical residence and more. This course formed the basis of my MSc thesis where I discovered the potential for medical humanities education (group experiential creative-reflective learning) to facilitate transformative learning.

I am currently in the process of finalising my doctoral thesis (Doctor of Education). This is a heuristic inquiry focussing on ‘arts-based inquiry in medical education’. It draws on student creative work produced during their year one GP attachment. Through the dissertation I have developed a focus on student and patient voice expressed in their work and considered ways to increase the degree of reflexivity and narrative humility that students access as they think about their patient encounters. This I relate to accessing and developing ways of knowing and intelligences beyond logic and rational thinking, in particular within the interpersonal and intrapersonal realm. My ongoing passion is for bringing arts-based knowing into medical education, to stretch conventional academic discourse with poetic and evocative ways of knowing, opening up new ways for students to reflect on their clinical experiences, using the arts to foster connection and curiosity.

My doctoral research has led me personally deeper into the creative process as a cognitive tool to embrace more embodied and interconnected ways of knowing.  It has meant moving beyond music to taking the risk to engage with sculpture.