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Learning from stories of mental distress in occupational therapy education

Susan Walsh (Department of Allied Health, Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK)

The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice

ISSN: 1755-6228

Article publication date: 12 September 2016




The purpose of this paper is to describe processes of learning from personal experiences of mental distress when mental health service users participate in occupational therapy education with tutors and students who have also had experiences of mental distress.


A post-structural theoretical perspective was applied to stories which emerged from the research process. Semi-structured group and individual interviews were used with three service users, three students and three tutors (including the author) who had all had, at some time in their lives, experiences of mental distress.


Stories based on previously hidden personal experiences of mental distress began to shift dominant understandings. Further, as educators, service users challenged whose authority it is to speak about mental distress and permitted different narrative positions for students and tutors. However, technologies of power and technologies of self of powerful discourses in professional education continued to disqualify and exclude personal knowledges. Learning from stories requires a critical approach to storytelling to expose how hidden power relations maintain some knowledges as dominant. Further, learning requires narrative work, which was often hidden and unaccounted for, to navigate complex and contradictory positions in learning.

Social implications

Although storytelling based on personal experience can help develop a skilled and healthy mental health workforce, its impact will be limited without changes in classrooms, courses and higher education which support learning at the margins of personal/professional and personal/political learning.


Learning from stories of mental distress requires conditions which take account of the hidden practices which operate in mental health professional education.



This research would not have been possible without the involvement of Jim, Karen, Pauline, Caroline, Kevin, Phil, Sally and Jane who kindly gave their time to share their experiences.


Walsh, S. (2016), "Learning from stories of mental distress in occupational therapy education", The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 220-233.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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