Students Use Stories to Promote Healing

The photo features from left to right HPU students Jessica Mackintosh, Megan Jordan, Dalton Sheppard and Pennybryn resident Liz Aversa writing a poem.

The photo features from left to right HPU students Jessica Mackintosh, Megan Jordan, Dalton Sheppard and Pennybryn resident Liz Aversa writing a poem.

HIGH POINT, N.C., April 7, 2015 – High Point University students are using stories to help improve the health of the residents at Pennybryn at Maryfield.

Students that are enrolled in the service learning class “Narrative Medicine in Action,” meet with residents of the retirement living community each weekend for workshops filled with laughter and poetry. The students and residents read and act out poems together, use artful images to generate creativity and end the workshops with the creation of a group poem or story.

“The workshops allow us to apply the theories we have learned in class,” says Tayla Curran, HPU student. “We’re learning how to create an empathetic bond between speakers and listeners. Truly listening and being present in the moment is a benefit to both parties.”

Multiple scientific studies show that reading and reciting poetry out loud can lower blood pressure, regulate heart and breathing rates and activate regions of the brain associated with introspection and memory. Writing poetry has been shown to increase immune system function, improve mood and decrease pain in individuals suffering from chronic pain.

Pennybyrn 3

The photo features HPU student Megan Jordan (left) and Pennybyrn resident Faye Morris (right).

“Combining young and old together helps to heal the spirit and mind through the various life experiences and each in their own way have so much to offer the other,” says Sarah Shelton, facility director at Pennybyrn. “Poetry is a wonderful way of expressing feelings and experiences that you may not even know you have issues with and in sharing, heal.”

Yet the workshops go beyond poetry and images. The students and residents join in camaraderie, bridge the generation gap and create lasting friendships. They share with each other, and learn that each has compelling life-stories to tell.

“The goal of these workshops is to replace the solitude that often dominates assisted-living facilities with meaningful and empathic interaction,” says Allison Walker, professor of the service learning class.

HPU has been holding narrative medicine workshops at Pennybyrn since January 2014.

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