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Sensory Storytelling, Imagination and Wellbeing

Series Conveners

Freya Bailes (School of Music)

Maria Kapsali (School of Performance and Cultural Industries)

Anna Madill (School of Psychology)


Scholarly research has focussed on the many ways in which wellbeing can be enhanced by engaging in creative practice, but there is a surprising gap in our knowledge about the function of imagination and imagining in the creative process and its impact on wellbeing.

When it comes to therapeutic interventions for wellbeing and/or mental health, the potential role of imagination is perhaps more apparent in therapeutic arts interventions (e.g., play therapy, art therapy) than it is in the talking therapies that have traditionally predominated in the West. 

There are instances when talking is not only potentially detrimental to one’s wellbeing (e.g., PTSD), but also impossible (e.g., for non-verbal and marginalised individuals). Here, stories must be told differently.

Sensory storytelling involving different art practices and sensory registers such as physical theatre, composition/musical improvisation, puppetry, or painting, gives a non-verbal ‘voice’ to the individual participant, and affords a level of understanding of the individual’s affective experiences. 

The overarching research question to be asked through this series is How can sensory storytelling help us question and understand relationships between imagination and wellbeing?

Theoretical, artistic, methodological, and therapeutic concerns are relevant to this question, and to answer it well, the series brings together expertise in areas ranging from visual methods and mental health, music psychology, to physical performance practice and immersive technologies.

The core team will join with interested parties from both academic and non-academic spheres to address the following aims. 

Aims of the Series

  • To examine synergies between different modes of sensory storytelling (e.g., sound/music, visual arts, physical performance) in relation to wellbeing and imagination
  • To draw on scholarship from different disciplinary perspectives to identify emerging research questions that relate wellbeing to sensory storytelling practices
  • To explore the potential for innovative research methods and emerging immersive technologies to understand and document processes of sensory storytelling, imagination, and wellbeing
  • To collaborate with arts-for-wellbeing practitioners to discuss practical applications for sensory storytelling across the arts to benefit wellbeing
  • To explore the potential of storytelling to function as a means for knowledge exchange within a scholarly setting

Events in the Series

 Workshop ‘How do different modes of sensory storytelling, imagination and wellbeing intersect?’ (24 November 2021)

Webinar ‘Sharing practice in sensory storytelling, imagination, and wellbeing’ (10 March 2022)

June 13 2022: Sandpit session ‘Methods and technologies to understand and document processes of sensory storytelling, imagination and wellbeing’ (by invitation)

Project symposium ‘Sensory storytelling, imagination, and wellbeing’ (15 September 2022)

Vlogs in the Series

Workshop snippets

On 28 February 2022 we met for our first event of the series, which was an online workshop. After a welcome to the event, attendees met in breakout groups to describe a personal experience of using sensory imagination in a way that impacted their wellbeing.

Each of the series convenors then took it in turns to speak about what has influenced their perspective on the topic of Sensory Storytelling, Imagination, and Wellbeing. These are available as short vlogs below. 

Dr Maria Kapsali - 'Forms of Vitality'

Professor Anna Madill - 'Transitional Objects'

Dr Freya Bailes - 'Embodied Imagination'

Sadler series research assistant Lizzie Wright is in conversation with Dr Adam Strickson.

Dr Strickson is a Senior Teaching Fellow in Theatre and Writing in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds, and a freelance artist.

Sadler series research assistant Lizzie Wright is in conversation with Professor Paul Cooke.

Professor Cooke is based in the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures at the University of Leeds.

Currently leading: Changing the Story: Building Civil Society with, and for, Young People in Post-Conflict Countries

During the interview, reference is made to the following project: Madill, A., Hugh-Jones, S., Graber, R., Mirzoev, T., & Cooke, P. (2018-2022). The Big Picture: Adapting PhotoVoice to enhance psychological, social & cultural insights into & prevention & treatment of youth substance use in India. ESRC/AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund


Sadler series research assistant Lizzie Wright is in conversation with Professor Nicola Shaughnessy.

Professor Shaughnessy is a Professor of Performance at the University of Kent, who led the AHRC-funded project 'Imagining Autism'.