Improving health outcomes through narrative intervention

A group of researchers from the departments of English and Comparative Literature, Medicine, and Occupational Therapy have teamed up to study possible connections between writing and health in a new interdisciplinary study called “Writing Diabetes.”

Improving health outcomes through narrative intervention click to enlarge Dr. Jordynn Jack is the study's principal investigator and the director of the UNC Writing Program.

This project asks whether the process of writing narratives can be directly correlated with positive health outcomes. Over the course of an eight-week workshop, study participants will learn techniques of narrative writing and compose illness essays centered on the experience of living with a long-term health condition.

During the workshop, participants will be guided through pre-writing, organizing, drafting, and revising their diabetes stories.

“We hope to demystify the writing process and empower people to make strategic, intentional choices in their narratives,” said Jen Stockwell, English PhD student, study coordinator, and workshop leader.

By emphasizing the writing process, researchers will teach participants to view writing as a craft or occupation.

“Writing is a powerful occupation that each person can experience differently,” said Sue Coppola, professor, division of occupational science and occupational therapy, Department of Allied Health. “For example it may be a creative process, a skill to master, an escape, a reasoning process, a challenge, a reckoning, a measure of wellbeing, an outlet, or any combination of meanings.”

The confidence and coherence participants gain as writers may contribute to an overall sense of agency regarding their condition. In addition to improvements in quality of life, researchers will document changes in hemoglobin A1c levels to measure the quantitative outcomes of this narrative intervention.

Data in the Details

The stories diabetes patients tell are a form of untapped data that can best be understood through interdisciplinary research in the health humanities. Researchers will analyze the narratives written by diabetes patients to identify factors that correlate with health outcomes.

Further, the research team will submit workshop-generated writing to narrative analysis using concepts drawn from literary and rhetorical theory, narratology, and computational discourse analysis.

Writing for Health

“As someone who has taught writing for over 15 years, I’ve seen how writing about their experiences can transform students lives--especially when they work on their writing in small peer groups,” said Jordynn Jack, PhD, the study’s principal investigator and the director of the UNC Writing Program. “We think the same effects might be possible for people with diabetes. We want to see if writing groups can offer a new kind of peer support and education.”

For more information about study recruitment, visit http://hhive.unc.edu/now-recruiting/

The Writing Diabetes project is supported by a Fostering Interdisciplinary Research Explorations (FIRE) Grant through the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.