Co-creative research with persons in vulnerable situations

Level - Target audience

This specialist course targets a diversity of PhD researchers in the field of social sciences, humanities, life sciences and the arts. The participating PhD students are also invited to bring along their co-researchers with lived experience.


dr. Clara De Ruysscher & dr. Jasper Feyaerts
Faculty: Psychology & Educational Sciences - Department: Special Needs Education / Department of Psychoanalysis & Clinical Consulting
E-mail: /

Other members of the organising & scientific committee

Prof. dr. Wouter Vanderplasschen (Department of Special Needs Education)
Prof. dr. Stijn Vanheule (Department of Psychoanalysis & Clinical Consulting)


There is a growing consensus in research on persons in vulnerable situations that participants’ lived experiences are of central importance. However, current research practices show a wide variety of ways in which these lived experiences are embedded, ranging from merely collecting participants’ voices to conducting research that is fully controlled by people with lived experience themselves.

This specialist course focuses on the relational ethics and methodological implications of shaping research processes with persons in vulnerable situations in co-creative and dialogical, rather than monological, ways.


As social scientists, we often engage in research endeavours with persons in vulnerable situations. Whilst the lived experiences and perspectives of these research subjects are often considered of great importance, academic research still tends to (re)produce a scientific monologue in which, ultimately, the researcher has the last word on the subject’s experiences (Beresford, 2005; Frank, 2005; Granek, 2013). In this specialist course, we will focus on a fundamental question of relational ethics that often remains unaddressed: how can monological research dynamics be reshaped into a real dialogue between people with and without lived experience? Additionally, we will focus on the methodological implications of dialogical research, in which researcher (without lived experience) and participants/co-researchers (with lived experience) co-creatively work together throughout all phases of the research process, from formulating research questions to co-authoring scientific publications.


The aim of this specialist course is to invite PhD students to reflect upon their position as researchers and to rethink traditional researcher-participant relationships in more dialogical ways. Also, we want to instil a continuously heightened awareness of the inevitable but crucial entanglement of knowledge construction and relational ethics when engaging in research with persons in vulnerable situations. Based on the above, the general objective is to inspire PhD students to (re)shape their research practices with persons in vulnerable situations in (more) co-creative ways.


The course will be spread over four training days, each consisting of two main parts.

Each morning session (3 hours) will consist of two lectures by (international) experts in the field of co-creative research.

The afternoon part (2 hours) will take the shape of an interactive session, in which the participants engage in debate with the experts based on questions and dilemmas prepared by the students. Additionally, in anticipation of each training day, participants will be asked to read the texts and materials provided by the course organizers.


  • dr. Alison Faulkner (Affiliation: National Survivor User Network (NSUN, United Kingdom)) is a survivor researcher, having had a dual career as a mental health service user and researcher for over 30 years. She has been self-employed since 2002 and has worked for most of the major UK mental health charities, including NSUN (the National Survivor User Network), Mind and Together for Mental Wellbeing. In recent years, much of her work has focused on peer support from a survivor perspective. Alison has personal experience of mental distress and of using mental health services, including inpatient care, medication, psychotherapy, A&E and crisis services.
    Contact details:
  • dr. Clara De Ruysscher (PhD) (Affiliation: Department of Special Needs Education (Faculty of Psychology & Educational Sciences, Ghent University)) is a member of the research group on addiction and recovery. Her expertise can be situated at the crossroads of mental health care and addiction, as a large part of her research focuses on persons with complex mental health needs, i.e. the comorbidity of substance use disorders and serious mental health problems. By using action-oriented, ethnographic and co-creative research methods, her research provides her with a unique insider perspective into the everyday realities of persons with complex mental health needs.
    Contact details:
  • Peter Tomlinson (Affiliation: Department of Special Needs Education (Faculty of Psychology & Educational Sciences, Ghent University)) is an expert by experience and researcher at the Department of Special Needs Education. He also active as a peer worker in different mental health care settings, such as Villa Voortman, PC Dr. Guislain and VZW Domos.
    Contact details:
  • dr. Ottar Ness (PhD) is professor of Counselling (Norwegian University of Science and Technology / VID Scientific University), adjunct professor at the Family therapy and systemic practice training (VID Scientific University) and advisor at the National Competence Centre for Mental Healthcare. His training, research and policy interests focus on relational welfare and well-being focused on citizenship, public value, and social justice. Especially, he is interested in recovery in mental health care and substance use. He is also interested in family therapy and relational therapies. 
    Contact details:
  • Arjang Omrani is a filmmaker and audio-visual anthropologist, engaged with audio-visual, sensorial and collaborative modes of presentation in anthropological studies with major focus on Phenomenology and Embodiment, Migration and Transculturality. He produced several feature length and short films-videos that have been presented in different international film festivals, academic programs and art exhibitions. 
    Affiliation: Member of research group of Culture & Education (Ghent University), lecturer at the Visual Anthropology, Media and Documentary Practices Master course (University of Muenster, Germany)
    Contact details:
  • dr. Jessica De Maeyer (Director of EQUALITY//ResearchCollective – HOGENT) is lecturer at the department of Social Educational Care Work, HOGENT University of Applied Sciences and Arts. She is director of the interdisciplinary research centre EQUALITY//ResearchCollective, HOGENT. In this centre she coordinates different projects that focus on enhancing the quality of life and human dignity of people in socially vulnerable situations. She has extended research experience in in the field of substance abuse, mental health and hard-to-reach populations. Her main research subjects are Quality of Life, users’ perspectives, harm reduction, outreach, strengths-based work, citizenship and qualitative research methods.
    Contact details:
  • dr. Nev Jones (Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences – University of South Florida (USA)) is a mental health services research and community psychologist with a focus on early intervention, community-based mental health services, racial/ethnic/structural inequities, participatory methods and the phenomenology and sociocultural determinants of psychosis, disability and recovery. She is strongly committed to stakeholder participation in all aspects of mental health policy and research and the work of a deep re-imagining. 
    Contact details:
  • dr. Jasper Feyaerts (PhD) is a FWO postdoctoral researcher and member of the research group on phenomenological approaches of the lived experience of psychosis. He has research widely, both philosophically and empirically, on the meaning and value of the first-person perspective in mental health research, and in psychosis research in particular. His work has been dedicated to the valuation and promotion of the voice of mental health service users, both in fundamental and applied mental health research.
    Affiliation: Department of Psychoanalysis & Clinical Consulting (Faculty of Psychology & Educational Sciences, Ghent University) – Center for Contextual Psychiatry (Department of Brain Sciences, KU Leuven)
    Contact details:
  • Prof. dr. Dina von Heimburg works as an Assistant Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and as a public health coordinator in Levanger municipality. She is particularly interested in co-creation and relational welfare as approaches to local public health work, and how the settings of everyday life and meeting places in the community can influence the development of health, well-being, social justice and sustainable societal development. Her PhD project (for PhD in sociology at Nord University) is an action research project called “It takes a village: social inclusion among families with children in kindergarten”.


  • 29 September 2021 – 20 October 2021 – 10 November 2021 – 1 December 2021
  • online via Zoom as long as the corona measures require distance learning. As soon as physical training sessions are possible, the course will be organized at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences.

Tentative program

9.15 – 9.30: welcome
9.30 – 10.15: first lecture (introductory reflection)
10.15 – 10.30: coffee break
10.30 – 12.30: second lecture
12.30 – 13.30: lunch break
13.30 – 15.30: interactive seminar with the students and lecturers

  1. Day 1 – Co-creation through arts-based research
    Lecturers: Arjang Omrani (UGent, University of Muenster) – dr. Jessica De Maeyer (EQUALITY//ResearchCollective)
  2. Day 2 – Co-constructing social change
    Lecturers: dr. Ottar Ness (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) and Prof. dr. Dina von Heimburg
  3. Day 3 - The role of experiential knowledge in mental health research
    Lecturers: dr. Alison Faulkner (National Survivor User Network) – dr. Clara De Ruysscher & Peter Tomlinson (UGent)
  4. Day 4 – Psychosis in public mental health: intersecting disadvantage
    Lecturers: dr. Nev Jones (University of South Florida) – dr. Jasper Feyaerts (UGent)

Registration fee

Free of charge.

The no show policy applies.


Please follow this link:

Teaching materials

In preparation of each training day, participants will be provided with a number of scientific publications. Also, the presentations used during the different sessions will be available for the students.

Number of participants

Maximum 30 participants. The plenary morning sessions will be open to PhD students and other interested researchers.

Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

Evaluation will be based on active participation during the different sessions. PhD students are expected to take part in at least 3 out of 4 training days.