Collaborative Work – Artistic therapy following laryngectomy

Wednesday 7th September 2016

By Zoë Shacklock and Gaby Smith

  • Donatella Maraschin (London South Bank)
  • Evangelos Himonides (UCL)
  • Thomas Moors (physician)

Takeaway points:

  • Digital platforms have a huge therapeutic potential, creating and supporting communities of care and reconfiguring traditional forms of medical communication
  • Narrative and performance are transformative practices of care, boosting feelings of confidence and recognition amongst sufferers, and holding the promise of broader political/social change

Maraschin, Himonides and Moors introduced us to their work on artistic outreach with people who have undergone a laryngectomy. A laryngectomy is an invasive procedure in which the larynx is removed – afterwards, you lose your voice (completely or partially), and your ability to eat and breath changes. This has a big influence on social confidence and wellbeing.

Voice rehabilitation therapy that revolves around acting and singing tends to be most effective – patients show better control over their voice, a broader pitch and volume, better endurance, and an improved ability to express emotions. Performative therapy also greatly improves social confidence.

The team produced a documentary about the therapy, hoping that the confidence benefits could be distributed more broadly and globally – watching the experiences of fellow laryngectomy patients helps create an affective community. In line with the broader theme emerging throughout the conference, narrative becomes a crucial form of self-care, allowing people to tell their own stories and identify with shared stories.

A practical discussion of the collaborative network followed, discussing the logistics of organising such a diverse collection of interests and people: grant applications, future directions, online platforms. They introduced a few ideas for using digital platforms in creating therapy communities, emphasising the need to find new forms of medical communication. Their ideas include AV testimonials, Skype as a platform for live interaction, gaming and other interactive tools, and databases of information and narrative.

Digital platforms have a huge potential for making a lasting difference in patient wellbeing on a broad, even global scale. But the team stressed the importance of getting this right – how do you find the balance between database and storytelling, between medical discourse and immersive participation?

Finally, Evangelos Himonides talked about his experience of recording the alaryngeal voice, highlighting the importance of finding ways to measure and analyse it that remains attentive to its particular affordances. He stressed the importance of communicating the voice, which has the potential to transform the social sphere. Finally, he suggested that understanding a voice and communicating that voice is ultimately a way to foster that voice, presenting these mediated/artistic practices as always already a practice of care.

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