New Internship Program Bridges Age Gap Through Positive Storytelling
At the Plano Senior Center, six students from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas worked with three senior adults in the once-a-week storytelling sessions.
An alternative internship program for students in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) at The University of Texas at Dallas has inspired a group of senior adults to rethink their approaches to life, and has impacted the students themselves.
The guided storytelling class was designed as an internship option for students with restricted schedules. In the inaugural 2017 spring session, 18 students met with approximately 25 seniors at two different locations. The class used facilitated, positively focused interviewing and group discussion techniques to help participants share their life stories.
“At first, I was really nervous about the whole process, but I was really happy to be a part of it and the outcome that we got,” said Diamond Bowers, a psychology senior who participated in the class.
Dr. Joanna Gentsch, director of Student Programs and Community Development for BBS, developed and led the program as a different kind of internship program, with a focus on positive storytelling.
“Since the students were not therapists, I didn't want them to start doing therapy. So we began with positive one-on-one storytelling using an interview process. As the semester progressed, it became more of a guided group narration because everybody got to know each other so well,” she said.
Focusing on the Positive, Learning Together
At the Plano Senior Center, six students worked with three senior adults in the once-a-week storytelling sessions. Both groups entered the program with some wariness, but settled into a comfortable time of telling stories and learning from one another.
“At first, (the senior adults) were kind of timid and shy and they really wouldn't share anything. But over time they were more open to us and they were happy to share their stories, because they felt it made them stronger,” Bowers said.
Much of the class discussion focused on aging. Lynn Vu BS’17 said the older participants began with a negative perspective of themselves, their families and their future. But that eventually changed, she said.
“They were very negative about aging and how things were changing. But throughout the semester you could see them becoming really excited to come to class, bringing little presents and making presentations, without being asked to do that. They just enjoyed having us there,” Vu said. “At the end of the semester, they wrote poems and cards and letters — just to express how much more positively they think about the world and themselves.”
Changing Perspectives on Life, Aging
Brandi Cooper was one of the senior adult participants in the class. She said the program was enjoyable and helped change her perspective on life.
“Because of talking about things from the past, and the rule that we were going to try our best to keep things positive, we were able to find the positives in bad situations that happened a long time ago. It started to make me feel real different about the past. It made me more forgiving, which was something that I have fought to do for a very long time. And it feels good,” Cooper said.
“We grew as a class and were able to connect with each other. It helped me see my life in a different, positive way.”
Another senior adult participant, Holly King, said the environment was safe and encouraging.
“We grew as a class and were able to connect with each other. It helped me see my life in a different, positive way,” she said. King said she felt encouraged enough to return to poetry writing, which she had not done in many years.
The students also got a lot out of the class. Gentsch said the students initially were fearful about aging, but quickly became excited about their lives ahead. Bowers said she looks forward to getting older.
“We actually ended up with something that was more meaningful than what we originally thought we were going to get,” she said. “Even though I'm 23 and I still have chapters ahead of me, I was really happy to hear the things that they had to say — so that we all can look forward to living life.”
Gentsch said the internship program will be offered again in the fall and the storytelling idea could be expanded to other community settings.
Dr. Joanna Gentsch (left), with Nicole Dubo and Farangis Ghaznavi, developed and led the program as a different kind of internship program, with a focus on positive storytelling.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].