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Design for empathy in mental health

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erika

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Dec 18, 2011
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My name is Erika, in London...

I am new in this forum so I am still a bit lost...

I am doing a personal Design for Empathy project in the university (Is my last year). I am not an expert in mental health, I have been reading quite a lot (and personal experience/friends), but you know theory and practice is not the same, and less in this subject. I need your help guys because I am doing design for people in these situations (specially relationships between people who had been diagnosed and families or friends). is about designing objects and things to create conversation and understanding between people having a bad time or good time due to "mental health" and their families and friends. I have been reading a lot about the subject and I think this has to be seen from different perspectives (including design) because as lots of you say, sometimes is empathy and time what these relationships need (Empathic therapy an emerging field), not fast solutions from a doctor.

Until know, I did some everyday object (caffe makers, folk, pencils, plates, water jars, ) that in some way or other express some feelings around the subject. But the important thing is that they are distorted in a dream-like way, and that there is not a valid or not valid response to it, there is not a better opinion about it either. This makes a possibility of discussion around the object and scenario that helps further conversation with someone, without anyone being right about it. As props.

Looking forward for your opinions and experiences!

Thanks,

Erika,
 
McMurphy's Ghost

McMurphy's Ghost

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Until know, I did some everyday object (caffe makers, folk, pencils, plates, water jars, )
Where can I see these items. Are they for sale?
 
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Petalsoup

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so would these be items to be used in therapy or family discussion or something as ice breakers? or just an approach to design of furnishings/objects etc that you feel may be useful in therapeutic environments, hospitals etc?

tbh I struggle to see how a dreamlike object would help put more empathy into a discussion? It might break the ice, and it does sound interesting, but I'm not sure I can see how it relates to empathy. I think there must be better ways to encourage meaningful and genuine interactions, and that it is best if the environment is very relaxed and comfortable, without anything surprising or jarring like an upside down jug with 4 handles or something.

On the other hand, my t has a stupid clock with a giraffe that she pulls out of her handbag and often comments on to break the ice, so maybe I am talking out of my arse. but the giraffe clock is just silly and a bit of a laugh, if she was using some kind of object d'art to break the ice, I think I would laugh at her rather than with her.
 
McMurphy's Ghost

McMurphy's Ghost

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so would these be items to be used in therapy or family discussion or something as ice breakers? or just an approach to design of furnishings/objects etc that you feel may be useful in therapeutic environments, hospitals etc?

tbh I struggle to see how a dreamlike object would help put more empathy into a discussion? It might break the ice, and it does sound interesting, but I'm not sure I can see how it relates to empathy. I think there must be better ways to encourage meaningful and genuine interactions, and that it is best if the environment is very relaxed and comfortable, without anything surprising or jarring like an upside down jug with 4 handles or something.

On the other hand, my t has a stupid clock with a giraffe that she pulls out of her handbag and often comments on to break the ice, so maybe I am talking out of my arse. but the giraffe clock is just silly and a bit of a laugh, if she was using some kind of object d'art to break the ice, I think I would laugh at her rather than with her.
I see what you are saying. To be honest I should say I am as anti therapy as I am anything biomedical (from a personal perspective, I understand other people get something out of it) but what I like about this is that it is a new idea.

Even if they are just functional objects with a design concept that includes a mental health element then it seems a nice idea. I'm not sure I have grasped the whole concept either but instinctively I like it. Anything that gets away from traditional concepts about what professional people think "helps".
 
E

erika

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Dec 18, 2011
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12
hi again,


The objects could break the ice, or make put your own viewings in something external as a prop. The empathy comes as a result of this discussion or conversation...

They are not objects about empathy themselves. They are objects that contribute to a further discussion?

But the project is open and is now looking about what is the best thing, actually.The projects itself research what design could do, how...

The subjectivity in the functionality of the objects creates a " save" non-judgmental area. Actually to avoid no-one laughing about the other...


who is your t? I didn't understand the clock thing... seems interesting...
 
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Petalsoup

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She is my therapist. She brings her clock so we can keep track of time. I guess that could potentially seem a little awkward, to start a session by basically reminding the client to make sure they stick to the hour, so she has this silly clock with a giraffe on it and says some silly little thing like 'oh better get the giraffe out' to break the ice each time and so the time issue doesn't seem as formal. And we both understand why she has the clock and why she makes the silly little comment about the giraffe, and so we start off on an equal, relaxed, empathic footing.

I can see where you are coming from with your idea, but I think the kind of object you are planning sounds like modern art, which is lovely but probably only within the frame of reference of about 50% of the population, of those only maybe 50% think modern art is worth discussing, and of those who knows how many would actually feel comfortable using modern art discussion to break the ice.

When I want to get a conversation going with my Ma and she is all emotional or we aren't getting on, I get out the guardian crossword and we work on that and can then chat more easily. With my children, i would discuss something which is familiar to them. With my friend, I might discuss literature. Empathy is about finding a common wavelength, and I'm not sure random water jugs would do that for the majority of people, everyone is different.

Just my opinion of course :D it does sound really interesting and I would love to see your stuff or hear how it goes!
 
Fluffymum

Fluffymum

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i think i see what you mean, thing is if my CPN in our therapy sessions pulled out a big concrete watermellon and asked me to discuss it I'd probably piss myself, I know; I sound judgemental and have probably got this idea all wrong.

I think nice interest works of art in waiting rooms and receptions and in therapy rooms would be nice and would relax the air a little, perhaps in a therapy room they may help the person to loose concentration which wouldnt be good, whereas for other situiations when trying to get a new person to open up it may be a nice ice breaker; perhaps they could have a 'first time therapy' room with these pieces of art so they can be discussed if the right topics dont come up but tbh i still think that drags away from the point of why the patient is there!

for me being on the autistic spectrum this sort of art which is meant to bring out feelings just wouldnt work, if its a sculpture of an antelope on a swing i wont get the reason behind that, to me it is purely a sculpture of an antelope.....on a swing. See what i mean.
And then some people if they are a little high or paranoid may be completely beyond distraction by these items.

I dont know maybe iv got the idea completely wrong, i know the nice art work on the walls at the mental health outpatient department is lovely too look at and can bring emotions out.
 
greebobeebo

greebobeebo

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Where does empathy fit in? I don't see how using an object to 'break the ice' would help create empathy in others. Empathy isn't something that can be taught in my opinion.

I have met someone in a fairly sensitive line of work who, when asked if he had any empathy, leant back spread his arms out and said 'what do you think?'
 
McMurphy's Ghost

McMurphy's Ghost

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I think some people are missing the point. The objects are not necessarily for use in a professional context. If I am right the objects are supposed to enable conversations between family and friends. The role of the object is to mediate the conversations by providing a loci (in this case a thing) that both parties agree not to be judgemental about and just accept for what it is. Because it has mental health concepts woven into the design it acts as a proxy for the mental health issues under discussion. In this way empathic or nonjudgemental conversations can take place.

I could be wrong but at the moment that is what I am understanding is the point. It is nothing to do with therapy as provided by therapist. Although it could.
 
A

Ainsworth

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i have the witches tarot

i remember one of the therapists i seen had a little box of trinkets. silly things like badges with cartoon characters on it, crystals, stones, figures etc
 
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Apotheosis

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i have the witches tarot
Do you use them much? There is something that I find therapeutic in handling/shuffling cards - used as a tool for divination; appeals to the more intuitive/non-rational/unconscious/spiritual side.

i remember one of the therapists i seen had a little box of trinkets. silly things like badges with cartoon characters on it, crystals, stones, figures etc
Yes - it's therapeutic I think. It's nice to hold & look at interesting things - I used to pick up all kinds of stuff; bit's of car engines, badges, stamps, cards, posters, bottles, shells, all kinds of things. I'm a lot more selective these days. I knew someone that used to collect 'found' car hub caps; & had covered the walls in them.

People often fill their houses up with ornaments & 'stuff'; things that they find pretty, or are drawn to - people collect things. It's comforting to have some nice pictures on the wall, a bookshelf of interesting books, a dish full of crystals & stones, some interesting ornaments. I go through phases of wanting different things; & wanting to know about them; it's been books on certain subjects, watches & clocks, lighters, wooden boxes, coffee tables, crystals, torches, small hand tools (screwdrivers etc), radios, chess sets, film, music, cameras, computer equipment/electronics/Hi-Fi, & information on different subjects, & now at the moment it's tarot card decks. Every time I get this bug to look into a subject; I'll start looking into it all to the N'th degree. I've been researching the tarot - & looking through hundreds of decks on-line.

There is so much of interest & knowledge 'out there' when things are looked into - so many subjects & areas - the more that I look at anything the more that there is. The subjects of mental health, alternative healing, spirituality & psychology are massive areas - I'll never exhaust them - even if I had many lifetimes of looking at them. The tarot itself could be a lifetimes work. I feel it's the same with the 'Self' - when we start to look more deeply at ourselves; through self observation; there is no end of depth & variety in who we are; our experiences, emotions, thoughts, feelings, responses, behaviours, reactions, dreams, imagination, hopes, fears, loves, etc - let alone going on to observe life in all it's infinite variety; & others.

A lot of people seem caught up with television & clothes - neither I have much interest in; beyond the necessity to wear clothes. Cars seems to be another thing that people get obsessed over. I suppose it's just about anything. There does seem such a need in us to acquire 'things'; & to categorise, understand, collect, & display, be it in museums or private collections. It must be some kind of refection of the nature of who we are/the human mind. This materialistic age must also have it's deeper roots in some of these aspects of who we are.
 
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razza

razza

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My therapist owns a box of "strength" cards with cute animal pics and the names of different strengths/values on them. She pulls them out for example for people to discuss what values they used to have, what values they think they are living by now, and what values they would like to live by etc... The words and also pictures are great discussion starters.

I bought my own set of cards plus matching stickers as I think they are cute and inspirational and a great tool.


Strength Cards
 
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A

Ainsworth

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Do you use them much? There is something that I find therapeutic in handling/shuffling cards - used as a tool for divination; appeals to the more intuitive/non-rational/unconscious/spiritual side.
i do use them alot, i started off using them for other people. sometimes i find the answer escapes me
 
deathandsequins

deathandsequins

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Oct 24, 2011
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hey, a fellow designer!

I personally like the idea of cards or some kind of small set of objects with images on them, or perhaps small, simple figurines of some kind. I like the idea of something that can be held and "fidgeted" with, with very vague imagery so that the user(s) can put their own meaning on each one, which could generate discussion. For example, if you had a set of cards with images of certain scenes such as a table set out for dinner or a forest path or something, each person could discuss how they perceive that as relating to themselves. Or maybe a set of sort of vague shapes (maybe made from plastic or something) that could be a number of things, and the users could discuss what they see each thing as and how it relates to how they are feeling.

Hope that helps, I could just be talking rubbish!
 
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