The potential of literature and poetry.
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Literature and poetry are being increasingly used as learning resources in professional health care educational curricula (McKie & Gass 2001; Tschudin, 2003; McAteer & Murray, 2003; McKie et al 2008). Less attention has, however, been given to specific ways in which engagement with these resources might enhance health care professionals’ understanding of the experience of service users, carers and of their own practice with a view to improving health and social care practice. In this chapter, we argue that literature and poetry have the potential to deepen professional understanding by literary devices such as metaphor articulating, effectively, some of the most complex, elusive and subtle aspects of human experiences. Literature and poetry have the potential to enable professionals to develop ethical perception and imagination. The close attention that can be developed from reading poetry and literature is, arguably, transferable to practice contexts. Professionals can develop the ability to see more clearly the salient aspects of a practice situation. This is a precursor to ethical and professional practice. Poetry and literature are not the only resources that can be used to develop ethical perception or ethical practice. Insights from qualitative research and the visual arts are also valuable for enhancing ethical perception and ethical practice. We begin with a general discussion of the relationship between the arts and health and social care offering some critique as well as a discussion of the benefits of the arts. We then discuss, more specifically, the potential of poetry and literature and consider claims that they enhance ethical perception. Metaphor is a common literary device and we consider its potential in relation to the experience of illness, distress and caring. In later sections we provide examples of literature and poetry in relation to the experience of: service users, carers and professionals. We discuss practical ways in which the educationalist might adopt this approach in helping students and others to better understand and respond to the views and experiences of service users, carers and other professionals in different therapeutic and caring contexts.