Senior adults and a group of UT Dallas students bonded over a topic few enjoy speaking about — aging.
The guided storytelling class was part of an alternative internship program for students in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) with restricted schedules. In the inaugural 2017 spring session, 18 students met with 25 senior adults 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,” psychology senior Diamond Bowers said.
Joanna Gentsch MS’96, PhD’06 is director of student programs and community development for BBS. She developed and led the program as a different kind of internship, with a focus on positive storytelling.
“Since the students were not therapists, I didn’t want them to start doing therapy,” Gentsch said. “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.”
Much of the class discussion focused on aging. Lynn Vu BS’17 said the older participants began with a negative outlook about themselves, their families and their futures. But that eventually changed, she 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,” Vu said.
Brandi Cooper, one of the senior adult participants in the class, said the program was enjoyable and helped change her perspective.
“We were able to find the positives in bad situations that happened a long time ago,” Cooper said. “It started to make me feel real different about the past. It made me more forgiving. And it feels good.”
Students said they initially were fearful about aging but quickly became excited about their lives ahead.
“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,” Bowers said.
The internship program will be offered again and the storytelling idea could be expanded to other community settings.