The Value of Narrative Practices

Something I often ponder: What is so valuable about seeing your story told, either in your own words or through the words of others? As someone who adores writing, I find words comforting – a way of organising the messy, cluttering thoughts in my head (hence, the name of this blog).

This weekend, I read an article by Carmen Ostrander on narrative practices in therapy. This article explores different ways words and narratives can be used in therapy and how it might influence people’s thoughts and approach to things. Ostrander claims that this can “provide engaging departure points for alternative accounts of lived experience with outcomes that are unique to the individual,” (2017 p. 56). As human beings, we are quite accustomed to the idea of telling or listening to stories. An article in The Atlantic on ‘The psychological comforts of storytelling’ says: “Humans are inclined to see narratives where there are none because it can afford meaning to our lives, a form of existential problem-solving,” (Delistraty, 2014). This is similar to the concept Ostrander tries to use in her therapeutic practices – alternative approaches to therapy by engaging a clients creativity. She does so by looking at few different ways of narrative practice: documentation, invitation, collaborative note-taking, rescued word poems, letter writing, waitlist letters, bibliotherapy, medicinal words and the written word.

The practices that caught my interest in particular are: the written word, collaborative note-taking and rescued word poems. These three practices link well to my proposed question of the value of seeing your narrative told in the words of your own or the words of others.

Ostrander highlights the importance of the written word. Listening and speaking can sometimes include a tangle of words and thoughts. Writing allows you to neatly tie together certain ideas and the most prominent or important thoughts/phrases/words your mind has latched onto; “writing provides an alternative means of expression, and a different way to hear what is being said,” (Ostrander, 2017 p. 62). This reminded me of a lovely piece written by Claire of excerpts from her journal. There is something quite entirely wonderful about seeing the narratives you have constructed of yourself at a particular moment in time. Ostrander goes on to explain how these constructions are valuable in understanding yourself, your problems and becomes a point of connection in your communities. While I think all of this is true, there is definitely much more to be said about the kind of reflection the written word offers us as individuals. Looking back at your words from the past is almost a form of time travel. It gives you a sharp contrast of who you were then and who you are now.

However, what happens when others take part in writing your narrative?

Ostrander looks at collaborative note taking, as a way “to adopt a decentred approach that fosters a sense of joint ownership over the documents and files,” (2017 p. 57). She actively chooses to show her clients the notes she has taken over their session and allows to them to change the words she’s written. This is a brilliant insight into the importance of being careful with the words of others. I’ve talked about this in a previous blogpost, where I question how we can respect the narratives of others, especially when individuals can be quite concerned with self-presentation. Ostrander has a lovely approach to this with her collaborative note-taking. She explains it by saying a joint examination allows for someone to have “ownership of what is said about them,” (2017 p. 57). This indicates that even when we let others take charge of our narrative, it is important that we have the most control over it. The way we should undertake writing the narratives of others is to remember that we are simply a vessel for their voices – let them do the guiding.

Rescue-word poems allow for some creativity while listening to the narrative of others. Ostrander uses it to “capture points of resonance, evocative images, words that zing and sparkle,” (2017 p. 58). She writes out words, phrases, sentences that her client has said and shows it to them at the end of session. The experience she talks about here reminded me of Kris Christou’s article, ‘Words are powerful entities which convey the values of an individual‘: he created a lumen5 video using words his mother said to him. She was surprised that those words actually came from her. However, having your own words repeated back to you in such a way can be quite confronting. A classmate of mine has said that it was rather weird to see your own words reflected that way. Ostrander acknowledges this as well, saying this method has not always been positively received. However, I do think there is merit to this practice. It allows you to understand how others might perceive your words; how they might engage with the narrative you are trying to present. Sometimes, it can provide a new perspective of your values.

This article was insightful and strengthened my love for narrative writing. I will end this on a quote from Ostrander’s article that encapsulates the value of narratives.

“[Stories] flourish when they are written, spoken, shared and witnessed, extending beyond ourselves, connecting to others, in chorus, in community,” (2017 p.63).

References

Delistraty, C. 2014 ‘The psychological comforts of storytelling’ The Atlantic, 2 November, viewed 21 August 2017 <https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-psychological-comforts-of-storytelling/381964/&gt;

Ostrander, C. 2017, ‘The chasing of tales: Poetic licence with the written word in narrative practice’ International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work vol. 16 no. 2 pp. 55-64

Feature Image: Power of Words (2011) is by Antonio Litter shared under CC BY-SA 3.0

Reflecting on Research

After weeks of sweat, tears and high levels of caffeine, I have finally reached the end of my research project: male behaviour on Instagram. To get to this point, was honestly quite a struggle. In the two years of being at university, I was most worried and unsure with this assignment. First, because I haven’t done a research project before. Second, because I kept feeling like I was not doing as well as I should be. I constantly felt like I did not know the answers, or I was not going to get any results. Thankfully, in the end I did – here is my reflection on how I got there.

At the very start of this journey, I already had to learn to adapt. My initial idea was too broad, so I scoped it down to a smaller scale: men and their relationship with Instagram. After publishing my survey online, I was hopeful. I had interesting questions and I was ready to analyse the answers. Days went by, but my response level stayed at a grand total of eleven respondents. At this point, I was biting my lip and vigorously picking at my nails every time I opened Google forms.

In hindsight, there were many ways I could’ve approached this situation calmly instead of letting my brain turn into a mess. One of the key aspects in any research project is flexibility. It is so important to be able to tolerate unclear or ambiguous situations. Duncan (2013) states, dealing with ambiguity “requires relinquishing control – even though a solution isn’t always guaranteed – to make room for new and emerging connections to crystalize into a clear direction.” I was so caught up, thinking I had somehow failed (before I could even get started) I forgot to consider alternate options. And that maybe I didn’t fail – I just needed a new direction.

Miriam Giguere says it is important to be able to value uncertainty and not knowing as it leads us to more creative solutions (Tedx Talks, 2014). It took me awhile to apply this to my own research, but when I did, I got outcomes. I spoke to my tutor, Kate Bowles, who suggested looking at interviews as a research method. Initially, I was worried because I didn’t know if I could get enough information for a report. After carrying out the interviews, I found it was far more insightful hearing the candidates talk about their experience using Instagram, as opposed to just looking at responses from a survey.

This also meant that I had to approach my research differently. I am no longer simply collecting data to present. I am presenting the narratives of two different individuals.

The key thing I have to consider: how to be ethical and not misrepresent any of the interview candidates. As a researcher you have a duty to respect those who have agreed to be part of your work.

As my main source of data came directly from interviews, I needed to make sure I convey the responses of those candidates in an ethical manner. In a report on doing research into female incarceration, the author states she wants her “research sensitive to individual participants and research context,” (Tilley, 1998, p.317). While hers was a much broader issue with more complexity involved, it was important to consider this in my research as well.

I was a female doing research into male behaviour on Instagram. I own an Instagram account and have my own views and relationship with the platform. Both interview candidates were aware of this. It is important to consider that this might factor into the way they answered some of the interview questions. Would they be comfortable saying anything that deviates from the norm of how males behave on Instagram? If they did think anything different, would they express it to someone from a different social demographic to them? Even with these questions in mind, I decided to take their answers for what it is. This is the information they have consented to sharing with me, a researcher – this is the information that I’ll use.

At the end of the day, the presentation of that data depends on me. The key thing here is “when I analysed transcripts, themes I was able to imagine emerged, whereas others remained unearthed,” (Tilly, 1998, p.325). The information presented was what I saw in the transcripts, I decided what stayed, what didn’t. I decided on which quotes to use. The way to handle this power imbalance, as suggested in Tilly’s report, was to go back to your candidates and show them your findings. This is exactly what I did. I sent screenshots of my findings from their interview, making sure they agreed to being represented that way. As a researcher, I learnt it is vital to maintain a good relationship with your candidates and to respect the information they give you.

I learnt so much from this project: about conducting research and about myself – as a person, student and researcher.

Keep an eye out on this blog for the finalised results of this research.

 

References

Dugan, M. ‘Tolerating Ambiguity’ Know Innovation, weblog post, viewed 5 June 2017 <http://knowinnovation.com/2013/04/tolerating-ambiguity/>

Tedx Talks, 2014. Tolerating ambiguity — being OK with not knowing! | Miriam Giguere | TEDxSoleburySchool, online video, 16 June, viewed 5 June 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ0tS2vBEIA&feature=youtu.be>

Tilley, S.A. 1998 ‘Conducting Respectful Research: A Critique of Practice’ Canadian Journal of Education, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 316-328

 

Men & Instagram: An Update on My Research Project

A month ago, I decided I was going to take up a research project on the validations we get from posting things on social media. I did my preliminary research on Instagram and how that might effect self-esteem and the way we portray ourselves.

One thing I found really interesting was that almost all the articles or research I read were specifically geared towards females. According to Omnicore, 68% of users on Instagram are female. It isn’t too surprising that Instagram is a female dominated platform, from the numerous beauty/fashion products using Instagram as a marketing tool to the various forms of diverse makeup promoting positive body image and self love. Rachel Simmons, author and researchersays females have always been told that they will be valued for their appearance. Instagram is a platform for them to get that validation especially because of societal expectations on women. However, that is not what I’m going into now. There are many articles and research done into this that shed some light on the complexities of Instagram and it’s relationship with females.

What was interesting to me was that when I did look into how men used Instagram, most of what I found was just people making parodies of how females treat Instagram. There are things like this video on Instagram Husbands and this article called “What if Guys Acted Like Girls on Instagram

There was a lack in any kind of information on how men interacted with Instagram, why they do or do not have an account, if it makes a difference to the way they view themselves and the effects on their self-esteem. Aaron Barksdale, in this article says male body image issues are dismissed as a non-issue for ‘real men’.

There are a lot of factors and societal norms to consider in this instance. There are also different intersections to consider such as race, sexuality and gender identity. However, I think my first line of research would be a short survey to find out broadly what men think about using Instagram and if they care about how they come across on the platform.

If you want to check out or take part in this survey, you can do so here: https://goo.gl/forms/Sp7gPo8qm1BpbK0o1

 

The more likes, the merrier the person

I watched an episode of Black Mirror recently. In this episode, we lived in a world where our value/currency was determined by our online ratings. The more 5 stars others gave our pictures, our statuses and even our interaction with them in real life, got us a higher average rating. In this world, the ‘richest’ people were those who had an average rating higher than 4.5. The jobs we could get was also based on our ratings, for a better career we required a higher average rating. This episode really struck out to me because I felt like this was a reality we could be heading towards and are partially in.

A lot of us care so much about the reception towards what we post online. People always want more likes/retweets. In this era creating a viral video is something we want to achieve, for some, by any means possible. I remember friends telling me in high school that the optimal time to post photos on Instagram is between 8-9pm on Fridays and between 3-4pm on weekends to ensure more likes.

nobodylikesyou-580x500
(Source: vanitybuzz.com)

This made me ask myself; How much do we value the validation we get from social media? So I decided why not base my research around this question. I’m so curious to know the extent to which we care about social media posts. Does it affect our mood if there isn’t enough likes? How does the number of likes we get affect our self-esteem? Do we change parts of our personality because we know it’ll get more likes or views? In an era where a large part of our identity is portrayed in the online sphere, it’s important to know how this change in our way of life impacts the way we build our character.

 

In order to get the information for my project I will mainly be conducting interviews and focus groups with different people as well as publishing an online survey for general public opinion. As secondary research, I will also look at journal articles and public data online to help me broaden my understanding of the role social media plays in validating people’s thoughts, pictures, comments etc.

Social media has been a huge part of my life, especially throughout my developmental years. I used to struggled when it came to not having that many friends on Facebook or not getting a lot of Instagram likes. I think this project would be a great chance for me to look at how others that use social media deal with their need for validation. I am also aware of my biases and personal opinions on this topic so I shall do my best to avoid it from affecting this research project.

Overall, I am very excited to embark on this research project that will hopefully dissect our behaviour on social media.