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Durham University

Centre for Medical Humanities

Policy, Practice and Practitioners

Medical humanities has traditionally been focussed on the idea of ‘humanising’ the medical practitioner, recognising the potential for bio-science training to neglect aspects of human experience that are fundamental to understanding the patient and to good clinical care. This continues to be an important aspect of our work but our approach acknowledges the wider personal, professional and policy context in which individual medical care takes place and within which it plays a relatively minor part. Taking perspectives from outside the context of medical practice, we are able to take a critical view of the way in which that practice has evolved, to question the assumptions that underlie it, and to work with practitioners who are interested in developing new therapeutic approaches. Felicity Callard and Angela Woods lead on our work in mental health that is challenging diagnostic categories in psychosis and examining discriminatory practices toward mental health service users. So much health-related care is negotiated, delivered and determined entirely outside professional clinical contexts: in the home, via the media and in the policy context. Our work, especially that of Sarah Atkinson, Mary Robson, Mike White and a number of our postgraduate students, examines the nature of non-professionalised practice in arts in health and links with government policy on health, wellbeing and happiness to explore its effects on communities and individuals. Our view of current biomedical hegemony over health practice and its concerns is influenced by long view that is both historically and culturally informed. Thus the work of Jane Macnaughton and Corinne Saunders on the arts, the body and concepts of beauty explores the ways in which ideas and practices of the past can provoke stimulating questions in relation to modern medical practice.

Our work in this research cluster is enabled by strong collaborations with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP Special Interest Group in Medical Humanities), the Durham University and Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust Joint Special Interest Group for Psychosis, and the Mental Disability Advocacy Center (an international human rights organisation specializing in research, advocacy and strategic litigation focused around mental disability). In addition, through our Arts in Health Associate, Mary Robson, we have on-going relationships with community projects in Tilery School, Stockton-on-Tees, Kirklees, and Sunderland. The regular meetings we hold with these groups have galvanised our thinking about research directions and enabled us to ensure that our research is making a difference.

Future work in this cluster will focus on deepening our relationships with general practice, the mental health sector, and with the arts and health consultancy organisation, Common Knowledge. We are keen to involve practitioners in these areas directly in our research and to that end a professional doctorate scheme is under development as well as a new MA in Medical Humanities. We plan to extend our interdisciplinary approach to health conditions from its current focus on mental health to look specifically at respiratory disease through the new project Breathing Spaces, which extends work conducted by the Smoking Special Interest Group. A second phase of work on Hearing the Voice is also being developed.

To find out more about this research email: