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Exploring psychiatry through images and objects
  1. Charlotte L Allan1,
  2. Maria Grazia Turri1,
  3. Kate Stein1,
  4. Felipe N Da Silva1,
  5. Jim Harris2
  1. 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Charlotte L Allan, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, Headington, Oxford OX3 7AW, UK; charlotte.allan{at}

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Mental illnesses, unlike physical disorders, are widely thought of as unseen, or as ‘all in the mind’. Although psychiatry is not often thought of as a pictorial discipline, we describe how images and objects from the Ashmolean Museum have been used to encourage reflection on core clinical issues through an innovative teaching programme: ‘Exploring psychiatry through images and objects’. This forms part of the Ashmolean University Engagement Programme, which encourages use of the Museum's collections in teaching and research at Oxford across the full disciplinary range of the University.

For doctors, and for psychiatrists in particular, close observation and attention to visual cues can reveal vital information pertaining to the clinical encounter. Psychiatrists make inferences from what they see in their patients beyond what their patients tell them; to remain reflexive about their own responses to non-verbal cues is a complex task. Exploring images relating to psychiatry and mental illness presents a similar reflective challenge, which offers a framework for gaining unique insights into clinicians’ understanding and practice.

This programme for psychiatrists (consultants and junior doctors) encouraged careful observation of images and objects to stimulate discussion of how mental illness, emotional distress and related themes have been represented visually. The aim was to consider alternative viewpoints through which to understand patient’s experiences, clinicians’ own responses and societal perspectives on clinical …

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  • A version of this article was successfully submitted for the Association of the Study of Medical Education (ASME) Educator Innovator Award, 2014.

  • Twitter Follow Jim Harris at @AshmoleanUEP

  • Funding The Ashmolean University Engagement Programme is funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. CLA, KS and FD are supported by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and Oxford University Clinical Academic Graduate School (OUCAGS). CLA is additionally supported by a Junior Research Fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford.

  • Contributors CLA wrote the first draft and all authors contributed revisions and approved the final version. All authors have been involved in the design and planning of teaching sessions and sessions have been taught by JH.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.