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Voices of Petersburg

Voices of Petersburg Project

In 2006, Susan Ohmer, Founder and Director of the Petersburg Mental Health Services (PMHS), and I joined skill sets to use digital storytelling for healing. It was a great success, from the point of view of both clients and counselors. Since then, we have repeated the workshop seven times. You can watch two movies about this project:the brief overview and the more detailed version.


Visit the Voices of Petersburg website, created by Emily Wray.



University of Alaska

When I started my work with Voices, I was a President's Professor at the University of Alaska. This was an internal distinguished professor position that allowed me to work with education, organizations and ultimately rehabilitation and mental health facilities in the areas of digital literacy, new media development, and use of media for personal expression, professional development and healing. After I retired, I continued to work with Voices because the experience is so gratifying.

Full Sail University

In 2011, the program was joined by two Full Sail University faculty: Kathy Craven, Director of the Media Communications program, and social media instructor, Emily Wray. Emily developed the program name,Voices of Petersburg, and program graphic. She secured a grant that allowed everyone to meet expenses for our 2015 workshop; we donate our time. And my wife joined the project! She has been invaluable in helping adminster the project and collect permissions to show and use client work.

Petersburg Mental Health Services

Our work at the PMHS usually begins with a group conversation. Clients, counselors and digital storytelling instructors talk about the stories that clients want to tell. Then clients write their scripts, usually with help from their counselors. Stories typically explore a difficult time or experience they are working through. They then read and record their scripts, which form the basis of their digital stories. They then identify images to support their narrative. Ideally, they use original images or photos, but often download them from the Web. Sometimes they add music and video Finally, they assemble their media into their digital stories. Their work becomes the basis of on-going therapy.

It's All About the Story

To me, the magic happens when clients and counselors work through their scripts. The writing process is inherently reflective. Given the purpose of the script in this workshop, it is intensely so. When they select media to support their narrative, they are doing more than selecting media.Their choices reflect a growing understanding of their situation and their stories. They are often stories they are trying to change.

Showing their stories

The group shows their work at the end of the workship, which completes the cycle of transformation. Participants have worked hard on their intensely personal stories, and are ready to show them to everyone. Nearly everyone signs a release form allowing us to show their work to the public. They realize they have something to say and that the world can benefit form hearing it, just as they benefitted from hearing the stories of their fellow participants.

The switch to iPads

Prior to 2015, we had used Mac laptops running an older version of iMovie- the newer versions were too cumbersome to teach and use within the context of a two-day workshop. This year, thanks to a grant procured by Emily, we switched to iPads. This was a great move. Besides being easier to use, we observed two changes: clients became more mobile, moving a lot more because the iPads are so portable. And their experience seemed to be more intimate, because they touched, rather than typed on, their machines.

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