CCCC 2019, Pittsburgh, PA
March 13-19, 2019
FOCUS AREA: Research
TITLE: Trauma-Informed Research Methods for Rhetorics of Health and Medicine
Words can be hurtful.
Although many of us learn this aphorism during childhood, when we grow to become adults who study language and communication, we tend to compartmentalize the types of words that can hurt and the harms they may cause. As rhetoricians of health and medicine, we often intentionally subject ourselves to potentially traumatizing discourses in the name of research. These discourses can come in the form of illness narratives, public health policy data, or ethics case studies. This observation that has largely gone unnoticed in our subfield (and in composition and rhetoric studies generally) because we tend to view textual study as value neutral and some genres, like narrative, as intrinsically positive or even liberatory.
In this presentation, I extend emerging research in psychology and traumatology to text-based research methods. In particular, I introduce and explain the concepts of “countertrauma,” being traumatized by experiencing others’ stories of trauma, and “counterresilience,” withstanding or overcoming the effects of countertrauma, and relate them to the work of rhetorics of health and medicine. I will illustrate these concepts with autoethnographic data from my own rhetoric research on mental health and qualitative data I’ve gathered from a sample of community mental health workers.
In addition to giving researchers tools to conduct safer, trauma-informed textual research, I invite them to understand trauma as a call to action. The presentation concludes with suggestions on how rhetoricians can use their text-based research to build community resilience and help heal those around us who suffer from trauma.
Textual research can be psychological harmful. Integrating concepts from traumatology into our research practices can make us and our communities more resilient to trauma.