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Publication date: 13 July 2015

Kirsteen Beart, Adam Barnard and Hannah Skelhorn

This lack of knowledge and experience meant that students often found it difficult to engage with this very complex, conceptual and controversial area of health and social…



This lack of knowledge and experience meant that students often found it difficult to engage with this very complex, conceptual and controversial area of health and social care. The use of visual methodologies in learning mental health and illness was being examined here with a view to its potential for overcoming this obstacle in the students’ learning and further assisting students in their conceptual understanding of the subject. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


In total, 30 participants were recruited from a student population of 44 undergraduates studying a module at level three on mental health. Ethics and consent were secured by giving students full information to decide whether to be part of the study group. The methodology of interpretative phenomenological analysis was the philosophical framework used for the study and this was directed using a five-staged process. Data were collected through group discussions and collation of the students analysis of their visualisations.


Students in the study were encouraged to think about mental health and illness in a non-traditional way of learning. Visualisation of their own perceptions or pre-conceived ideas of MH were explored. This led to some very insightful learning which included not only learning about the subject from a holistic perspective but also a continual reframing of students’ conception of mental health and an enhancement of their understanding. They demonstrated this by developing skills in “self-reflection and professional values development” which are key skills of a mental health practitioner.

Research limitations/implications

The findings have implications for further research into how this type of learning can actually influence practitioners when they do work with people with mental health challenges and illness. This study was limited to a fundamentally theoretical plan for how the learning contributes to professional practice. It is also important to note that the students were also benefitting from the evidence, experience and value of the teaching and learning in a traditional sense so it is not completely clear of that influence of the innovative methodology. Therefore another aspect of study which could enhance the understanding of the influence of visualisation in mental health is to compare practitioners practice who use this technique to learn and develop and those who use a more traditional educational approach.

Practical implications

This research will inform the use of a pedagogy approach in education, learning and teaching about concepts of mental health and illness and contribute to professional practice in health and social care education.

Social implications

This paper makes contributions to mental health practice, visualisation, mental health education.


Overall, the study offers an opening into the value of visual methodology in mental health awareness, education and practice and a contribution to professional practice in mental health education.


The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, vol. 10 no. 3
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1755-6228


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