Neurodivergent awareness week internationally was March 13-19 (www.neurodiversityweek.com). This was a week to celebrate neurological differences, to raise awareness of the strengths and challenges that neurodivergent face.
I am a final year PhD student at the University of Galway, Ireland, conducting research in psychology and digital health. In this blog, I want to share some reflections about my experience conducting research in an academic environment that foregrounds traditional research perspectives in health psychology and the different challenges I have faced on account of this.
When asked about my sexual orientation I tend to hesitate, offering up an answer ranging from a firm “straight” to a questioning “pretty much straight?”, depending on who I’m with. It’s become a joke amongst my friends—after years of doing research as a (mostly?) straight cisgender woman about rainbow peoples’ experiences and wellbeing, I’ve become less sure of my answer over time. And maybe this is what we’d expect: that the more time we spend thinking about the labels people use to describe themselves, the more our own labels shift and change.
“Critical psychology? Oh that sounds so negative, let’s call it ‘reflective psychology’ instead!”
This was the first response I received when I told a psychologist that I was starting a PhD in critical psychology. It was a weird combination of toxic positivity and misunderstanding about what critical psychology actually is. It was a failure to acknowledge that it’s a particular space and perspective ‘within’ and ‘without’ psychology’s disciplinary boundaries (Parker, 1999). So you can’t really go around renaming it just because you don’t like the sound of it.
Bratislava in Slovakia is a beautiful city, and this was my initial motive for getting to the EHPS 2022 conference. I know it well, having first visited in 1990, not that long after the massive ‘Velvet Revolution’ student protest filled the streets there, following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall a few days earlier. In a matter of weeks the former Soviet states of Eastern Europe overthrew communism – a move made possible by the Russian President, Mikhail Gorbachev, and his policies of perestroika and glasnost (Do look them up if you don’t know them, they paint a very different Russia from Putin’s Soviet Era today).
‘We are who we are as much because of our relationships with non-human animals as because of the human ones, and we do ourselves a great disservice – and probably great harm – by denying or ignoring this.’
Podberscek et al., 2000, p. 2
In embarking on a new research adventure we often construct accounts (rationale / scientific justification) for the why, what, and how of the project. These accounts are recipient designed, tailored to the audience – whether that be a funding body, key stakeholder, or curious colleague. I’ve said before that it is important to have a ‘passion project’. The simply labelled Dog Talking and Walking project is currently mine, and I hope to convey the value of, and enthusiasm for, taking connections with canines seriously in this blog (see Haraway, 2003).
Critical health psychologists generally want to practice acts of allyship through and beyond their work. In this post, Brett Scholz presents a call to go beyond thinking of consumers as participants in your research practice, and to instead ensure you collaborate and engage with consumers in epistemic practices.
Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) is widely accepted in most public health and family planning approaches. However, power imbalances between healthcare providers and patients make many women feel as though they are coerced into taking LARC. There is little research that considers the nature and quality of patient-provider interactions, including issues of power and women’s agency, as most scholarship in the field focuses on access. Concerns about the potential for coercion, lack of patient-centeredness, or uncritical LARC promotion are therefore under-explored, especially among ‘high-risk’ women who experience poor health and social outcomes. This study takes a much-needed look at how providers’ perspectives influence their recommendations to patients and the changes that must be implemented to help patients regain autonomy over their reproductive choices.
Rachel Fox explores how doctor-writer narratives often depict fat people in dehumanising and hurtful ways, and argues they need to be reframed with empathy.
During my six years as a student in the medical humanities, I’ve become quite familiar with the “doctor reflecting on a memorable patient encounter” genre of publication. These stories often follow a similar structure: anecdotal introduction, explanation of patient/case/doctor’s own training, dramatic or otherwise significant event, then conclusion with a broader lesson and/or resolution for the author. Stories that take this form are compelling and familiar; readers get to vicariously experience the stakes of medicine with the security of closure awaiting them at the end, while the doctor-writer gets a cohort of witnesses for their perspective on some significant part of their practice. At their best, these stories “humanize” the experience of medicine, giving a personal voice to the intimacies within a seemingly indifferent system. But I have yet to see a story of this genre that humanizes fat people.
When I first started my PhD- an exploration of recipient experiences of online, unregulated sperm donation- I became fixated on trying to understand why people would choose this route to parenthood. Most of the things I’d read about online sperm donation were fairly sensationalist news articles which portrayed a ‘black market’ and an online ‘underworld’ where people were going to search for and donate sperm. I felt that in order to design a study where I could encourage people to tell their stories free from stigma and shame, I needed to first have some idea of the context of donor insemination in the UK, including who was choosing online sperm donation and their reasons for doing so. Why weren’t people choosing, for example, donor insemination at a fertility clinic? What were the benefits and drawbacks of online sperm donation? How did the social, cultural, and economic context of donor insemination in the UK inform what was happening online?
Earlier this year, there was a paper published about the research that explored the influence of dance on embodied self-awareness and well-being (Braun & Kotera, 2021). The findings of this study provided evidence for dance as a booster of health, the way for coping with and prevention of stress, depression and loneliness, and enabler of individual and community transformations. This study was conducted applying the qualitative research method of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Often, research methods remain in the shadow when reporting about research. In this blog, I would like to shed more light on IPA that is a particularly useful method in exploring individual embodied experience with health and its impairment, and is rooted in idiography, phenomenology and hermeneutics (Smith et al., 2009).
This blog post has been adapted from one of Andrea’s presentation at ISCHP’s 12 Biennial Conference in September 2021. Andrea was one of the recipients of the emerging researcher award.
When I consider the question of what a feminist health psychology is, I can’t help but think of myself, wandering between disciplines and literatures, trying to find a place where I feel at home. I think about a young Andrea who, despite having embodied so many privileges, felt like her emotions were too much for everyone. I think about how shrinking myself and trying to please everyone have been strategies I’ve adopted to fit into societal ideas about who I should be. I think about how in graduate school, I began to embrace a louder, more outspoken feminism that encourages emotion, sensation, and commitment to filter through and drive what I do. I think about the theorists and scholars who taught me that being critical, and being feminist, might mean seeping outside of boundaries—corporeally, theoretically, methodologically.
Climate change and social isolation and loneliness pose serious
threats to human health, and particularly in the case of the former, to our
survival and that of our planet. These issues are an ever-present and growing
reality for those who already experience greater vulnerability and
marginalisation due to age, poverty, racial inequality, sexuality, gender
identity and disability [1, 2]. However, for those with greater
privilege in the West, climate change in particular may generally be an
abstract reality, with adverse consequences for lived experience only just
beginning to be felt.
The field of critical psychology can seem overwhelming.
I speak from personal experience. I completed my PhD in a department that was entirely positivist (‘scientific’), with the exception of my supervisor who encouraged me, despite being in the first month of my PhD, to attend the 2011 ISCHP conference in Adelaide. For me, critical psychology has been as much a professional as it has a personal (re)education into the world.
Charlotte Paddison reflects on what it means to be ‘critical’ in the context of health psychology. Is this about being dismissive? About being negative? No, not at all!
Lecturing is great. And not least of all because you get all sorts of interesting questions from students. Recently, I was asked what does being ‘critical’ mean?
Being ‘critical’ can mean different things to different people, in different contexts. The Oxford dictionary describes it as “expressing adverse or disapproving comments or judgements” and “involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work.” Neither of these quite fit the bill for describing critical perspectives in the context of health psychology. Continue reading →