Shame and Medicine Exeter
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About us

Shame and Medicine is an interdisciplinary research project that is based at the University of Exeter and the University of Birmingham, with a collaboration with a clinical partner at Children’s Health, Ireland, in Dublin.

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The overall aim of the project is to research the role of shame in various aspects of health and medicine, including clinical practice, patient experience and medical student education.

The project is engaging a team of researchers in social sciences, cultural studies, medicine and philosophy to investigate the philosophy and cultural representation of shame in medicine, while also doing empirical studies looking at shame experiences in current healthcare practices and professional culture, particularly exploring how race, ethnicity, class and gender impact on the experience of shame.

The Shame and Medicine project will provide evidence that will improve the quality of health services and enrich our understanding of the experience of shame as it relates to health, professional practice and education.

More about the Research Topic

Shame is a powerful force in the everyday experiences of patients, medical students and healthcare practitioners.

For patients, it has been associated with treatment avoidance, increased burden of illness, and negative health outcomes, while also being recognised as a force that can sometimes motivate positive changes to lifestyle and health. As a result, shame and shaming are often used in public health campaigns.

Shame has been identified as a negative, yet frequently present, aspect of medical education

Shame can influence how healthcare practitioners perform, interact with patients and other professionals, and cope with adversity. It is a factor in burn out, stress and suicide among health care workers.

In addition, shame has been identified as a negative, yet frequently present, aspect of medical education. Shame is also a strong theme in medicine’s cultural outputs, such as medical reality television (e.g., Embarrassing Bodies), medical memoirs and medical genre writing.

Despite the prevalence and significance of shame within various aspects of medicine and healthcare, at present, our understanding of the impact of shame, its many varieties, and other related negative self-conscious emotions within medical contexts is incomplete.

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Some background

Shame and Medicine has been running since 2015. In 2019, we received a Collaborative Award from the Wellcome Trust (£1.46million) which will fund our project until 2025. We are excited to commence this new stage of research which will involve a strong interdisciplinary team investigating the many facets of shame in our experience and in relation to health and medicine.

The main objective of Shame and Medicine is to broadly examine the role of shame in health and medicine.

We are always looking for collaborators and interested in hearing from patients, practitioners, students, academics, artists, clinicians, and members of the public. Get in touch if you are interested in learning more about what we do and who we are.

More about the Project Team

Shame and Medicine is led by a philosopher Luna Dolezal (Exeter) and a social scientist Matthew Gibson (Birmingham) and involves a close collaboration with a clinician and bioethicist Barry Lyons (Children’s Health, Ireland). All three have written extensively about shame. We are also joined by Farina Kokab (Birmingham) who is a postdoctoral researcher on the project.

Luna’s book The Body and Shame: Phenomenology, Feminism and the Socially Shaped Body (Lexington Books, 2015) considers shame through the lenses of the philosophical frameworks of phenomenology and social constructionism, providing a theory about how shame is the central mechanism by which social forces ‘shape’ the body. Drawing from feminist scholarship, she writes about cosmetic surgery as a means to demonstrate how shame can literally ‘shape’ the body through elective medical interventions.

Matthew’s book Pride and Shame in Child and Family Social Work: Emotions and the Search for Humane Practice (Policy Press, 2019) explores the role of shame and pride in social work, providing original insights into how these emotions play out within professional practice. Matthew explores how shame is embedded within the structures of society, but experienced as an individual phenomenon, and is used as a mechanism of control in relation to professionals and service users.

Barry is particularly interested in professional behaviour and regulation, and in the emotional aspects of medical care. He has devised curricula and teaches on these subjects with medical undergraduates and doctors-in-training. He is a member of the Irish Medical Council’s Ethics and Professionalism Committee that drafted the 8th edition of the Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners (2016). Barry’s unique position as a practicing clinician (consultant anaesthetist), a medical educator and an academic researcher and bioethicist is a great benefit to Shame and Medicine, providing a clinical grounding for the theoretical reflections on the nature and experience of shame.

Farina is a Research Fellow and Behavioural Scientist with a background in Psychology and Social Research. Farina has applied her understanding of these fields to work in health inequalities, social support, chronic disease prevention, women’s health and maternity, and mental health and emotions. She works primarily on qualitative and mixed-methods projects.