Elizabethtown College students use reality TV to help those with spinal cord injuries
If you watch reality documentaries, you might witness people dealing with dwarfism in a large world, going through life with multiple spouses or combating morbid obesity. What some viewers might not realize is the ability of these shows to serve as teaching tools. At Elizabethtown College, one professor and her students in the Department of Occupational Therapy (OT) completed a qualitative research project to discover how to help clients with spinal cord injuries utilizing reality TV. Qualitative research is used to explore subjects and provide insight into topics being examined.
Terri Dennehy, lecturer of occupational therapy at E-town, used her personal field experience as a spinal cord therapist as inspiration for teaching the use of popular culture to help patients with spinal cord injuries.
“We were looking at learning in different formats,” said Dennehy. “We always think of learning in traditional formats like the classroom. We decided we would look at mass media. And one aspect that applies to us is the amount of docu-reality TV shows.”
The professor and her students began their research by watching the documentary-reality show “Push Girls,” about five young women with spinal cord injuries. Meghan Serik, a 2016 Elizabethtown graduate who took part in the research, believes pop-culture is key to helping patients learn and cope.
It’s our responsibility to be innovators in education and research”
“Our clients are thrown into a whole new way of living that seems a lot harder, and they may lose a sense of belonging, but there is a community out there—the Push girls, social media, support groups,” said Serik via an email interview. And watching people with spinal cord injuries do things is a lot more real to our patients than watching able-bodied therapists discuss adaptable ways of functioning.
The students researching the show began their qualitative research as part of their graduate year in the OT program. While they were not able to obtain transcripts of “Push Girls,” each viewed the 14 episodes of the show five times to analyze the content, systematically.
The students connected with two of the characters from “Push Girls” who thanked them for their work on the project.
“We are ‘people’ people,” said OT graduate student, Kathryn (Fritchman) Joe ’16. “[It was great] being able to teach our clients to speak for themselves … and breach those topics that nobody wants to talk about but everyone is curious about.”
The groups’ research was presented at the annual OT graduate symposium and at the 2016 Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association. Dennehy has hopes of getting the work published to continue the conversation about alternative forms of therapy education with client populations.
“It’s our responsibility to be innovators in education and research. I t’s nice to be an out-of-the-box thinker and be doing things no one else is doing,” said Dennehy. “The cool thing about E-town is that we do have support to do creative, innovative types of things, and I really appreciate that.”