Visual Embodiment of Psychosis: Ethical Concerns in Performing Difficult Experiences

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Katherine Mary Boydell
Carmela Solimine
Siona Siona


Arts-based health research has increased dramatically in recent years. Many academics are collaborating across disciplines including health and social sciences, humanities and the arts. Using artistic modes of research representation allows for a different way of participating and may enhance the likelihood of making an impact (negative or positive) on the audience and, consequently, on artists and researchers. This paper focuses on the concept of ‘dangerous emotional terrain’, used to describe the potential negative impacts of using the arts, in this case dance, in research dissemination. We focus on a seldom-explored area – the impact on artists embodying research results of difficult lived experiences. The potential for harm to performers engaging in arts-based research requires consideration. Actors and other artists and their experiences of depicting suffering and pain, for example, remain relatively unexplored. What are our responsibilities to performers taking on this role? What are the ethical implications of engaging in such work? This paper explores these questions and identifies four strategies to tackle emotional impact: reflexive practice, creation of a safe and supportive environment, address issues of audience, and focus on balance between types of performance, and between work and home.

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How to Cite
Boydell, K., Solimine, C., & Siona, S. (2015). Visual Embodiment of Psychosis: Ethical Concerns in Performing Difficult Experiences. Visual Methodologies, 3(2), 43-52.
Author Biography

Katherine Mary Boydell, Department of Psychiatry University of Toronto Research Institute The Hospital for Sick Children

Dr. Boydell is with the Community Health Systems Resource Group and Senior Scientist in Child Health Evaluative Sciences the Research Institute at the Hospital for Sick Children and Professor in Departments of Psychiatry and Dalla Lana School of Public Health at University of Toronto. She is also Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Program in Theatre at York University. She is Honorary Visiting Fellow in the Illawarra Institute of Mental Health, University of Wollongong, Australia. Her research is both methodological and substantive; substantively, it focuses on understanding the complex pathways to care for young people experiencing a first episode of psychosis, the use of new technologies in child and youth mental health, and the ‘science’ of knowledge translation. Methodologically, it focuses on advancing qualitative inquiry, specifically, in the area of arts-based health research. She has published more than 100 journal articles and has a newly released text titled Hearing Voices: Qualitative Inquiry in Early Psychosis.