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Narrative Medicine and Medical Narrative

December 2, 2011

Tags: narrative medicine, medical narrative, illness as narrative

At a narrative medicine workshop at Columbia University, I learned that narrative training with stories of illness "enables practitioners to comprehend patients’ experiences and to understand what they themselves undergo as clinicians." In The Wounded Storyteller, Arthur Frank writes about restitution narratives (in which the narrator, expecting to get well again, is focused on the technology of cure), chaos narratives (in which the narrator sees illness lasting forever, with no respite), and quest narratives (in which illness is transformative, as the storyteller gains insights and becomes someone new).

Assuming that this is as new a field to most of you as it was to me, I am posting below some links to help you explore:
Narrative Medicine blog (an extension of the work, discourse, teaching and learning that takes place in the Narrative Medicine Program at Columbia University -- "Practicing clinical care with the ability to recognize, absorb, interpret, and be moved by the stories of illness")
Pulse—voices from the heart of medicine (excellent Web-only journal) and Pulse: Voices From the Heart of Medicine - The First Year, anthology edited by Paul Gross and Diane Guernsey
Narrative Medicine Rounds, lectures or readings presented by scholars, clinicians, or writers engaged in work at the interface between narrative and health care. Rounds are held on the first Wednesday of each month from 5 to 6:30 pm in the Columbia University Medical Center Faculty Club, followed by a reception. Rounds are free and open to the public. Podcasts MAY be available.
Stories in Medicine: Doctors-in-Training Record a Different Type of Patient History (Margot Adler, NPR, 10-28-03)
Family Medicine (official journal of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine; check out its feature “Lessons From Our Learners." Often publishes personal essays, 55-word stories and poems.
Poetry and Prose Rounds (Washington University, which provided some of the following links)
Fifty-five Word Stories: “Small Jewels” for Personal Reflection and Teaching by Colleen T. Fogarty (Family Medicine, June 2010), PDF
Narrative Medicine Heals Bodies and Souls (Lorrie Klosterman's interview with Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Utne Reader, Sept-Oct 2009)
What to do with stories: The sciences of narrative medicine (Rita Charon, Canadian Family Physician Vol. 53, No. 8, August 2007, pp.1265 - 1267)
Illness as More Than Metaphor (by David Rieff, Susan Sontag's son, NY Times Magazine, 12-4-05)
How to Do a Close Reading (Patricia Kain, Harvard University Writing Center)
Close Reading of a Narrative Passage (K. Wheeler, Carson-Newman College)
Explorations: An E-Journal of Narrative Practice. See for example: Re-membering Pets: Documenting the meaning of people’s relationships with these family members by narrative therapist Barbara Baumgartner
Literature, Arts, and Medicine database (NYU hosts)

And here are some books on the subject (there are many more). If you order something after clicking on one of these Amazon links, we get a small commission, which helps support maintaining this website:
The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition by Arthur Kleinman
Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness by Rita Charon
Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process by Lewis Mehl-Medrona author of Coyote Wisdom: Healing Power in Native American Stories
Psychoanalysis and Narrative Medicine, ed. Peter L. Rudnytsky and Rita Charon
Theft of the Spirit: A Journey to Spiritual Healing by Carl Hammerschlag
The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics by Arthur Frank ("for academic medical collections"). Frank writes about restitution narratives (in which the narrator, expecting to get well again, is focused on the technology of cure), chaos narratives (in which the narrator sees illness lasting forever, with no respite), and quest narratives (in which illness is transformative, as the storyteller gains insights and becomes someone new). Frank is also the author of At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness

Adapted from a section of Life Story Writing (the healing powers of narrative) on my site about Dying, bereavement, loss, grief -- and aging with spirit