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Saturday, July 9 • 08:30 - 10:00
Session 3D: Therapy as Performance/Performance as Therapy

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Being with the Text: Mindfulness and Self-Compassion in An Informal Peer-Support Comic Community for Young Adults - Penni Russon

Do you suffer from “feelings”? Do you have a “problem”? Do you need “advice”? www.advicecomics.tumblr.com  

Advicecomics.tumblr.com is an informal peer support service. The site consists of questions sent in by readers, most often addressing issues common to young adults in their teens and twenties, such as meeting a partner, ending a relationship, family problems, sexual health, anxiety, depression, work and study, and navigating the future. A group of emerging cartoonists with no mental health care background draw the responses, for no payment. Of particular note is that cartoonists develop a persona, a fictional character, from whom the advice comes. Sometimes light-hearted, sometimes serious, the responses use the direct and indirect language of comics to illustrate new ways of considering the question, particularly by drawing attention to the values, needs and thinking styles – and the gaps and silences – that inform the problems at hand. This paper looks at the strategies used by contributors of Advicecomics through a combination of textual analysis and semi-structured interviews to examine the ways in which contributors have tackled questions of representation, embodiment, empathy, vulnerability and subjectivity. Our interest in Advicecomics began with a larger research question: what constitutes ethical literacy (and literary) practice in an online youth mental health intervention? In attempting to answer this question we were drawn to the potential of comics to model strengths-based mindfulness and self-compassion for young people. This led us to collaborate with Marc Pearson, founder of Advicecomics, to create bespoke therapeutic material for young people to use in our MOST (Moderated Online Social Therapy) systems.

Illuminating Truths: Comics as a Stage for the Sharing of Taboo and Trauma - Amerisa Waters

Sexual trauma is a pervasive problem across the world as is the control of information around reproductive health. The forms of sexual trauma are many and the harmful effects individuals experience from them are also greatly varied. Information on, and access to, reproductive and sexual health are contested topics with information on each obscured in rhetoric-filled debates. Comics have the capacity to provide rich visual narratives of reproductive health and sexual trauma. The affective engagement of comics of readers allows for a empathetic interaction with the narratives and a kind of being present with the stories that have historically been silenced. This presentation explores the complex communication of taboo topics and experiences of trauma through comics. An analysis of such works as

Abortion Eve (1973), Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf: A Sex Education Comic Book (2014), and Becoming Unbecoming

(2015) reveals the ways visual narratives offer more complex tellings of the narratives of taboo and trauma.The use of the visual illuminates the truths of the lived experiences of reproductive and sexual health as well as the truths of trauma and its aftermath. It is these truths that are not able to be conveyed through text alone. Through comics, a different kind of telling of these stories is made possible. 

William J Doan: Limbo: A Journey Into Severe Traumatic Brain Injury

When your sister says, “I saw what you used to do in the barn,” you listen. When she says it from deep inside a coma, you really listen. Drawn from a graphic novel titled Limbo, in development for the Penn State Press Graphic Medicine series, this presentation is about two siblings and the desire to connect across the great divide of a severe traumatic brain injury. Their connection is the discovery of how deeply they’ve become part of each other, making it possible to dance, laugh, and say goodbye from somewhere beyond the mind and the senses.

Psychiatry as Groundskeeping: Mother Come Home and the Priority of "Little Systems of Explaination" - Tammy Birk

In Paul Hornschemeier’s Mother, Come Home, a father, David,and his young son, Thomas, attemptto survive the death of the boy’s mother. The death itself—understood as T, both Timeand themoment of traumatic impact—rendersthe world illegible, particularly for David. However, Thomas, our narrator, stagesa valiant effort to manage theirshared grief and blunt the impact of his mother’s abandonment. Most creatively, he declares himself a ‘groundskeeper,’ a custodian of order and predictabilitywho provides a ‘thin veil of normalcy’in a world emptied of reason and rightness. Thomasdons his lion’s mask and goes about his work, fantastically creating a world where mothers don’t die and fathers are protectedfrom self-destruction. This loving illusion sustains the two—until Davidenters a clear depressive crisis and is hospitalized. At this point, I argue that thesupervising psychiatriststeps forward to perform a more clinical and less fantastic version of ‘groundskeeping’for Thomas’s father. Encouraging him to seek a decisive‘anchor in reality,’ or some ‘island of order’on which he might spend his days with less desire to ‘grab hold of that lost thing,’ the supervising psychiatrist tries to move Thomas’smelancholicfather in the direction of a more manageable mourning--that is, a loss that one can survive. Visually overwhelming and overpoweringDavid in a series ofopposing panels, the psychiatrist urges a new set of facts that are incontrovertible: she’s dead, you’re here, and yourson needs you. ButDavid—newly aware that ‘in the vacuum, everything’s nonsense is amplified, unbearably’—has lost the capacity to trust that facts lead to anything but further absurdity. Symbolization—whether in language or logic—only works to create what the psychiatristcalls “little systems of explanation” that fend off the unthinkable thing: that meaning is neither stable nor reliableand absurdity runs the numbers.Both dramatizingand refuting the fantasy that mother andmeaning can come home, Hornschemeier’sMother, Come Homeoffers a complex reading of the child and clinician’s hope that psychic order can be restored if we can learn to perform with a ‘thin veil of normalcy’and trust in the redemptive power of‘groundskeeping’the disaster itself.

avatar for Tammy Birk

Tammy Birk

Director, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Otterbein University
Tammy Birk is the Director of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program and Assistant Professor of English at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.  She is the co-editor of Globalization and Global Citizenship: Interdisciplinary Approaches (Routledge, 2016) and various... Read More →
avatar for William (Bill) Doan

William (Bill) Doan

Professor of Theatre, Penn State
Bill Doan is a writer, educator, and artist. A professor of Theatre at Penn State, his most recent play, Drifting, premiered at Dixon Place Theatre in New York City in 2015. Doan is adapting the play for the Graphic Medicine Book series at Penn State Press and has had two pieces published... Read More →
avatar for Penni Russon

Penni Russon

Creative Writer-Researcher, University of Melbourne
Creative writer and YA author, doing a PhD on interdisciplinary collaboration, making strengths-based therapy about mindfulness and self-compassion for online youth mental health. She didn't choose comics, comics chose her. They sat baying outside her bedroom door until she said... Read More →
avatar for R. Amerisa Waters

R. Amerisa Waters

Institute for the Medical Humanities, University of Texas Medical Branch

Saturday July 9, 2016 08:30 - 10:00 BST
Room G12