Humans are storytellers; from our earliest ancestors sharing tales around a fire, to most of us creating and sharing content today on social media.
Just as there is a skill to storytelling, there also is in facilitating and listening to those stories – helping someone reminisce or talk through their experiences. If a health care professional is trained in such skills, it can even be a form of therapy for their patients or a source of data.
That is the purpose of the School of Nursing’s new online graduate certificate program in Life Story Practice and Research. Developed in collaboration with members of UConn’s International Center for Life Story Innovations and Practice and led by Juliette Shellman, associate professor and director of the Center, the 12-credit program will welcome its first cohort this summer.
“I became interested in reminiscence as an intervention through my clinical practice in long-term care and as a visiting nurse in home care,” Shellman says. “Whenever I asked my patients to recall memories, I observed a transformation take place. Talking about their memories and having someone listen took away the pain of their present situation.”
Reminiscence, or recalling past experiences, is a popular life story practice that can be conducted silently or out loud with others. But students in the program will also learn other techniques, such as guided autobiography, personal history, and memoir writing, from faculty around the globe.
“This program will prepare graduate students and professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to conduct life story interventions or programs with individuals, families, and groups,” Shellman says.
The program consists of two three-credit and three two-credit courses, some of which will be taught by School of Nursing faculty members, including Shellman, Millicent Malcom, Thomas Long, and Christine Tocchi. Life story professionals from around the world will also mentor students during their field work experiences and provide guest lectures in the courses. The certificate is designed for social workers, nurses, clinical psychologists, artists, writers, musicians, and personal and family historians.
If professionals apply life story methods effectively, a patient’s mental health and well-being can dramatically improve. Nurses and other health care workers who are trained in reminiscence and active listening also tend to be better at coping with the daily stress of caring for patients.
The new certificate program is a natural companion to UConn’s International Center for Life Story Innovations and Practice, which moved from the University of Wisconsin-Superior to UConn in April 2019. The center brings together researchers, educators, practitioners, students, historians, and artists from around the world to promote the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities through life story techniques.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is creating the need for life story work as a therapeutic intervention,” Shellman says. “Individuals require opportunities to tell their stories and come to terms with their experiences during the pandemic. This certificate program will prepare graduate students and professionals to meet the needs of individuals, families, and health care providers to help them heal.”
To learn more or apply to the Online Graduate Certificate in Life Story Practice and Research, visit life-story-certificate.online.uconn.edu. The application deadline is April 2.