Personal profile

Research interests

Helen Johnson is a Principal Lecturer in Psychology and Co-Director of the Centre for Arts and Wellbeing, working at the intersection of critical social science, community psychology and arts-based/led inquiry.  She researches in 3 related fields: (i) innovative, arts-based research, with a particular focus on participatory poetic inquiry (ii) applications of the arts to support individual/community health and wellbeing and (iii) spoken word communities and practices. 

Helen is a social scientist with a background in Psychology and Sociology, and a spoken word artist with over 20 years' performing experience.  Her ground-breaking, cutting edge research is united by an interest in the arts, particularly spoken word and creative writing, as transformative means through which to enhance individual and community wellbeing, build critical resilience and transform the ways in which academics work with and for communities, particularly amongst those groups who are marginalized and excluded within wider society.  Helen is the founder of the 'collaborative poetics' method and network, which use participatory, arts-based research to explore/communicate the lived experiences of communities and individuals, and support the development of critical resilience.  She is Co-Director and Creative Methodologies lead for the Centre for Arts and Wellbeing, facilitator of the PGR Creative Methodologies Group, and an active member of the Centre of Resilience for Social Justice.   

Helen has received funding for her research from the Independent Social Research Foundation, National Centre for Research Methods and National Institute for Health Research, as well as undertaking numerous consultancy contracts with community organisations/groups, local Government and charities.  Her research has received international recognition, and she has set up productive working relations with scholars and artists across Canada (e.g. at McGill and Concordia Universities) and the U.S. (eg. at Louisiana State University).

Her current research includes:

  • Applying and refining the participatory, arts-based research method of  'collaborative poetics'
  • Developing an international research network for everyday creativity
  • Developing a model and resources for community-engaged research, underpinned by everyday creativity principles, working in collaboration with Nicole Monney and the Trust for Developing Cmmunities

Helen is a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College.

Scholarly biography

Helen’s ground-breaking, cutting edge research is united by an interest in the arts, particularly spoken word and creative writing, as transformative means through which to enhance individual and community wellbeing, build critical resilience and transform the ways in which academics work with and for communities, particularly amongst those groups who are marginalized and excluded within wider society. She has a strong and growing academic citizenship profile, with active international networks and partnerships across Europe, North America and Australia.  She actively contributes to developing, maintaining and leading on research and enterprise at the University of Brighton and externally through: research activities; consultancy work; doctoral examinations; community-university partnerships; reviews for articles, book proposals and research activities; and other public engagement work. 

Supervisory Interests

Helen supervises PhD and MD students with an interest in arts-based interventions in healthcare, education and wellbeing, and/or the use of creative, arts-based research methods.  She is interested in talking to doctoral applicants who are interested in researching creativity and the arts, with foci including: art therapy; arts interventions for health and wellbeing, including invisible chronic and contested conditions; social prescribing; creativity and the lived experience of dementia; arts education; spoken word and poetry slam; art worlds/communities; arts inclusivity; everyday creativity; and the artistic process.   She is also interested in supervising students who wish to work with creative, arts-based and/or participatory methods, including: poetic inquiry; autoethnography; photo voice; photo elicitation; collaborative poetics; and participatory action research.  Helen currently supervises four doctoral candidates, who are researching: the lived experiences of women with borderline personality disorder (including creative coping strategies); neurologic music therapy with young people with juvenile dementia; black people's experiences of intimacy and psychosis; and decolonial praxis in museum learning.  She has previously supervised and examined work covering topics that include: perceptions of frailty in the undergraduate medical curriculum; the impact of austerity policies on homeless people; spoken word with young offenders in a Macedonian prison; the performance and perception of authenticity in contemporary UK spoken word poetry; and NHS staff experiences of work. 

Knowledge exchange

Helen works to create and maintain robust community-university partnerships through consultation, research and networking with local and national organisations.  There is a strong emphasis on community engagement in her work.  In recent years she has established and maintained robust research and enterprise partnerships with a range of local community groups/organisations including Robin Hood Health, Creative Lives, Arts and Health South West, Brighton People’s Theatre, SoundCastle and the Hangleton and Knoll Project.  Her partnership working has led to a range of concrete impacts including the establishment of dedicated arts venue in an economically-deprived locale and the development of an arts-based curriculum to support people recovering from addiction. These partnerships have also fed directly into Helen's teaching, for example through the Social Research Practice MA module she coordinates, which forms research partnerships between students and community organisations leading to the production (and often publication) of social research reports by students.  

Approach to teaching

Helen began working for the University of Brighton in 2014, after previous posts at the University of Gloucestershire, University of Bath and University of the West of England.  She holds a Postgraduate Certificate of Higher Education in Teaching and Learning (passed with distinction) and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Throughout her career, she has sought to develop her teaching, learning support and assessment practice in line with the U.K. Professional Standards Framework for Teaching and Supporting Learning in Higher Education. She is particularly interested in applying active, student-centred learning approaches, which emphasise collaborative and interactive learning experiences. Helen teaches topics across the undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum particularly in Psychology, with foci including qualitative and creative research methods, critical community psychology and community engagement.  She also supervises student projects at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  Helen currently leads two modules: 'Community Engagement: Theory into Practice,' a year-long placement module available to all level 5 social science students; and Social Research Practice, an MA module in which students form research partnerships with/for community partners, designing, conducting and writing up their research.   She is also on the Humanities and Social Science Quality and Standards Committee.

Education/Academic qualification

Postgraduate Cert Teaching in HE (Distinction), University of Gloucestershire

30 Sept 201130 Jun 2012

Award Date: 1 Aug 2012

PhD, Texts in Performance: Identity, Interaction and Influence in U.K. and U.S. Poetry Slam Discourses. , University of Exeter

1 Sept 20051 Jan 2009

Award Date: 1 Jul 2009

Master, Peformance Poets' Accounts of Why they Perform, University of the West of England

1 Sept 20031 Dec 2005

Award Date: 1 Dec 2005

Bachelor, BSc (Hons) Psychology (First class)

30 Sept 199730 Jun 2000

Award Date: 1 Jul 2000

External positions

Fellow , Higher Education Academy, UK

1 Sept 2012 → …


  • BF Psychology
  • arts-based research
  • creative methods
  • creativity
  • arts and culture
  • health
  • education
  • collaborative poetics
  • participatory research
  • Community-led


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